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Ryan McClure, co-founder at Wateraware Collective

StartIn: Hello and welcome on our Spotlight series. Can you give us a quick introduction about yourself and your team?

Hello there! I’m Ryan, the co-founder and CTO of Wateraware Collective. Alongside me is Luisa Charles, our co-founder and CEO. We share a common degree path with both of us completing double masters from the Royal College of Art and Imperial College London. I pursued a degree in Innovation Design Engineering, which led me to move from Northern Ireland to London during the midst of the pandemic. During that time, I resided on a canal boat worked out of pubs, restaurants, and the Dyson library at Imperial, which eventually became a second home for me. On the other hand, Luisa specialised in Global Innovation Design, an exciting program that took her across the globe for different stages of her studies. Last July, shortly after our graduation, we established Wateraware and have been full throttle ever since with our work taking us to Finland and the Amazon rainforest in Guyana!

StartIn: Please also share a quick overview about your start-up. What are you selling, what is your business case, what’s your market / target group, and in which stage are you currently (MVP, funding, scaling, etc.)?

We are still in the early stages of development and have been working on a solution to tackle water pollution in different regions around the world where our core product is a unique combination of low-cost hardware, machine learning-driven software, and people power. Our sensing devices not only detect the presence of specific pollutants but also enable water hobbyists to integrate geospatial data on where people swim, kayak, surf, or paddleboard. This creates a network effect that helps to keep people safe on the water while empowering them to crowdsource critical data that will ultimately help solve the problem. We operate on a DaaS model where we sell this data back to different industries as so they meet legislation and avoid any fines to do with reporting pollution incidents.

We are currently in the midst of rolling out a pilot program with a group of around 45 wild swimmers in London which will see them take our sensing unit out with them on their swim to collect water quality data. Our goal is to revolutionise the way we approach water pollution by combining technology and community engagement. By working together, we believe we can make a significant impact in protecting our planet’s water resources and improving the lives of people who depend on them.

StartIn: That sounds cool! Environment is one of the big trends in start-ups nowadays. How did you come up with the idea to start Wateraware Collective?

Luisa and I first crossed paths at university whilst completing our master’s design projects focused on water quality. Our projects earned us both Helen Hamlyn Design awards from the Royal College of Art, which Northumbrian Water had sponsored. Following our wins, Northumbrian Water approached us with an exciting proposition to create a company with their support and develop a proof of concept. Upon accepting their offer it has been full speed ahead allowing us to really develop our proposition with the best industry support.

As a company, we have also been able to expand beyond our original focus and establish an NGO program in the Amazon Rainforest in Guyana and an educational program, Design Engineering for Climate Action, at St. Pauls Girls School.

From a personal standpoint, my background in Mechatronics, Systems Design, and Environmental Activism has been instrumental in my pursuit of finding new ways to address complex environmental issues through design. I was deeply affected by the concept of ‘Solastalgia,’ the existential dread caused by climate change, and it led me to a dark and lonely place. It was then that I realised I needed to take action and make a difference.

I firmly believe that it is critical for people to have hope and feel empowered to contribute to solving environmental issues, but unfortunately, there are limited options available, and environmental activism often carries a stigma. I was determined to make it more accessible, inclusive, and offer genuine hope and empowerment through things people love. These insights have become the driving force behind Wateraware’s core product offering today.

StartIn: What are the top three goals for the next six months?

  1. Roll out a successful pilot program with a wild swimming group
  2. Enhanced product development of our machine learning model
  3. Raise funding & expand team

StartIn: You have been part of Imperial’s VCC (Venture Capital Challenge) a freshly announced as one of five finalists. What were the biggest benefits for you taking part at VCC?

The coaching that was given as part of the program was absolutely amazing. Genuine solid advice that you can carry forward into actions. Another aspect was the networking opportunities, especially from the main final.

StartIn: Brilliant! To close off – what advise can you share with other students who also want to start a business during their studies as you did?

Well to begin, you may not even think you will start a business after university, I definitely didn’t expect to and it’s been quite the rollercoaster. I feel you really need to know how to trust and listen to your instinct. You have to be ready to learn fast and commit to what will be an intense period of your life – but also a very rewarding and exciting one. It’s a whole different world to typical ‘9-5’ giving you a lot of freedom, and sometimes it can get quite lonely and disorientating, so surrounding yourself with other founders and communities in the start-up space is very helpful. Lastly being super passionate about what you are doing and believing that you can make it happen is fundamental – it can be quite easy to get in your own head and think you may be making the wrong move on some occasions, but having a solid support network around you is key! Go make it happen! I’ll leave you with a quote which has always stuck firm in my mind:

When you grow up you tend to get told the world is the way it is and your life is just to live your life inside the world. Try not to bash into the walls too much. Try to have a nice family, have fun, save a little money. That’s a very limited life. Life can be much broader once you discover one simple fact: Everything around you that you call life was made up by people that were no smarter than you. and you can change it, you can influence it, you can build your own things that other people can use. Once you learn that, you’ll never be the same again.” – Steve Jobs

StartIn: Thank you very much for sharing your story!

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