Feature Story

Startup making waves in the conservation and IoT world

by Mary Ann Azevedo

iot and water

Do you work to save water as much as you do energy?

There are hundreds of companies focused on energy conservation. Far fewer have aimed to tackle the complex conservation of water.

Enter Banyan Water out of Austin, Texas.

Founded in 2011, the startup describes itself as a provider of data-driven water conservation for enterprises. Using its smart software, real-time monitoring and connected devices, Banyan has saved more than 2.3 billion gallons of water since its inception.

In 2016, apartment operator IMT Residential alone saved more than 47 million gallons of water across its 160-acre Riata community in Northwest Austin.

It has Banyan Water to thank for much of that.

CEO Gillan Taddune has a background in clean technology with a focus on renewable energy, but found the premise behind Banyan particularly interesting.

See also: Fixing the water crisis: There's never been a better time

"The world of energy has developed tremendously over the past 15 to 20 years but water is still operating in a more archaic mode," she said. "I think it's the last frontier and we need to develop technology solutions to solve these scarcity issues that are in front of us."

Water scarcity is a critical issue and Banyan attempts to tackle it through a technology solution for large users of water via a combination of a software platform that incorporates smart devices placed on a property. (The Water Project estimates that 783 million people do not have access to clean and safe water worldwide) The devices remotely track and monitor how water is flowing outside a building, or within a building.

"We grab all that data and feed it into our platform," Taddune said. "This gives the customer insight into how they're using water on a property."

Typically, commercial real estate operators don't realize there is a problem until they get a higher-than-usual bill, she pointed out.

See also: Startup uses open source technology to help make water safe and accessible

"They see if there's a spike or something wrong weeks later," Taddune said. "With our real-time utilization monitoring, if something looks a bit odd we can do something about it for them immediately."

The company has also designed a smart rate engine so it can completely mimic the utility rate environment in which an asset is sitting. It also has the ability to track water moving inside a building via an ultrasonic meter that can measure water as it's flowing inside a building.

"We can set various flow levels and provide insight into any type of anomalies that might be going on. The property will know in real time not only how many gallons they are using or saving, but also how much it's costing or saving them," Taddune said. "Through our technology we save large properties anywhere from 50 to 70 percent on outdoor irrigation."

Banyan also verifies all of our savings to its customers but pulling in their utility data into its platform so the customer can see what they were consuming before and after Banyan.

The startup serves 100 properties representing 520 acres. Customers include multifamily developments, corporate campuses and homeowner's associations. The company is continuing to build out its product to provide a more granular detail based on actual rooms in buildings.

It has raised $10 million since inception and is tracking 55 percent growth in 2017 compared to 2016. Growth in 2016 was up 85 percent over 2015.

Around the clock monitoring

Nikki Gavarrete, Riata's director of operations, acknowledged that irrigation expenses on large properties can be high. The Riata community is made up of 2,044 units alone.

"We could have leaks around the property and not know it," she said. "With Banyan looking at it on a regular basis, we're able to see these as they happen and our response time is quicker so we're able to proactive rather than reactive."

Banyan is particularly useful when it comes to identifying smaller, hidden leaks, Gavarete pointed out.

See also: Cisco 2016 CSR Report

"If it's a big leak, it's going to be very evident and we're likely to know about it," she said. "Banyan helps with spotting quickly the leaks that are not so apparent."

Banyan has been working with the Riata community since its inception in 2011. The 40 million gallons saved would equate to $211,000 in savings, and there has been a 73 percent overall reduction in irrigation water use, the company said.

Jed Smith, manager partner of Banyan investor Catamount Ventures, believes that water is one of the greatest misunderstood areas in commodities in our lives. (Catamount has also invested in Seventh Generation and Plum Organics).

"Many governments -- both local and federal – subsidize a lot of the spend (on water) so people don't really understand the waste and the energy it takes for water to be available to everyone," Smith said.