Q&A with Scott Bryan, President, Imagine H2O
Water has always brought Scott Bryan to fascinating places, situations and people.
Scott’s interest in water stemmed from his time at Colorado College, where his economics coursework took him to the depths of the Glen Canyon Dam and through the historic acequia systems that deliver water to farming communities in Colorado and New Mexico. In his professional career, he’s worked at the nexus of finance and sustainability.
In 2010, Scott left a career in the financial sector to lead Imagine H2O, a new organization focused on changing the way people think about water. Specifically, the team set out to inspire and empower people to solve water challenges through innovation.
Today, Scott is president of Imagine H2O, an internationally recognized startup accelerator that supports promising entrepreneurs bringing water innovations to market. The program connects promising entrepreneurs and innovations with world leaders in the water sector, government, and social enterprise to help turn new ideas into self-funding, high impact solutions. Imagine H2O has become a first stop for innovators bringing a solution to market. That’s because their impact is direct – new solutions to key water problems, and systemic – developing the Silicon Valley for water, and offering a path to market for promising entrepreneurs and innovations. Imagine H2O’s Accelerator participants represent 1 in every 10 dollars of early-stage investment in the water industry.
We had the pleasure of talking with this Levi’s®-wearing pioneer to learn more about his vision, how Imagine H2O is accelerating solutions to the world’s water challenges, and his Levi’s® (we couldn’t resist).
What attracted you to Imagine H2O?
People often associate the word “project” when they think of water solutions and nonprofits. So there is a temptation to think of solutions as isolated projects instead of scalable, systemic approaches. Imagine H2O views successful businesses as representing truly sustainable responses to water resource challenges. If supported in the market, they do not exclusively rely on charity or government support. So the idea of working with financially viable and impactful businesses appealed to my interest in solving water challenges.
Describe your average day there.
Each day begins (and ends) with a bicycle commute through Golden Gate Park and downtown San Francisco in my Levi’s Commuter shorts.
Working with a diverse network of entrepreneurs, investors and end-users in industry and municipalities is incredibly rewarding. In fact, I often tell people I have the opportunity to wake up every day and help people “solve” water. One day might include a deep dive with entrepreneurs participating in the Accelerator and helping them through the challenges of raising capital. Another day might be focused on meetings with investors and buyers of technology solutions.
The drought in California certainly brings more attention to our work with water solutions. With growing awareness, there is stronger demand for innovation. Thus, we’ve been fortunate to make some exciting hires and forge expanded partnerships with supporters. This makes for interesting days as we engage corporate leaders like Levi’s [editor note: LS&Co. was a proud sponsor of Imagine H2O’s 2015 Water Gala] while supporting entrepreneurs in the early stages of their business’ development.
Why is the issue of water important to you personally?
I am originally from Montana and had the good fortune to grow up skiing, fishing, cycling and backpacking throughout the Rocky Mountain West. I also benefited from parents and family who were actively involved in the region’s conservation community as well as tourism and agriculture. This instilled an awareness of natural resource issues and the value of water.
Today, as a California resident, it is hard to go a day without thinking about water. Although water issues are often politically divisive, especially in the West, I’ve learned that we all share an appreciation for this resource. This common experience is what draws me to water and Imagine H2O’s water innovation programming. We can accomplish a lot in water when we talk about what’s possible instead of focusing on the issues that divide us. Data, for example, is an area where we’re seeing diverse stakeholders identify a common interest in transparency. Although there’s more work to be done, the growing interest in data solutions demonstrates a willingness to go beyond politics and embrace innovation.
How will you know Imagine H2O has been a success?
I actually think we’ve become a success already. We’ve supported over 450 startups in more than 20 countries, and our accelerator portfolio represents some of the most exciting scalable solutions in the sector. Through this process, we’ve built a strong brand and reputation as the leading accelerator for water innovation. Obviously, there’s still work to do as water resources become increasingly stressed. But we’re optimistic about innovation’s contribution to creating sustainable solutions to pressing challenges.
What accomplishment are you most proud of?
In a brief period of time, and with limited resources, Imagine H2O created the leading platform for water innovation and entrepreneurship. I’m proud of the diverse group of people and companies who have made this organization a reality. I am especially proud of the fact that our portfolio companies represent 1 in every 10 dollars of early-stage investment in this sector. This not only validates our work model, it also sets forth a unique value proposition in which philanthropic dollars granted to Imagine H2O are leveraged by private investment toward our participating startups.
What legacy do you hope to leave on the world?
I hope that I will be remembered for being part of a generation that changed the way we think about water.
What’s your Levi’s® story?
As a third-grader, I was very proud of my acid-washed Levi’s with integrated red suspenders; Steve Urkel meets Marty McFly. Soon after buying the jeans during a back-to-school sale, my mother spotted an article about the environmental consequences of the acid-wash process. Although it was probably a PR nightmare at the time, I can honestly say that it was a pair of Levi’s that first raised my awareness about sustainability and consumer products. Fortunately, the acid wash process was improved before Silvertab jeans became popular in middle school. Today, I’m proud to wear Waterless jeans from Levi’s.
If your jeans could talk, what would they say about you?
I am a cyclist and the proud father of a toddler!
This is part of an ongoing series designed to feature people who are changing the world. Our Modern Day Pioneers are impacting everything from culture to social issues to the environment, and they’re challenging the status quo in a unique way. We hope these stories will inspire and empower you to live your life to its fullest in Levi’s®.