Each month the NW Innovation Resource Center writes about a Whatcom County resident who has invented products that solve everyday problems.
Name: Matt Rose
Apana is the leader in automated water management for business. They save money for companies with their patented hardware and software products that save water, reduce compliance risk and strengthen supply chain and operational stability for their customers. Their complete water efficiency solution deploys advanced technology and real-time analytics to pinpoint waste and deliver intelligence to the frontline for immediate corrective action. Locally, the Chrysalis hotel recently installed the Apana system a part of their commitment to their water conservation program.
How did you discover there was a problem in need of a solution?
I was working for a company in the wastewater treatment industry when one of our customers came to us and asked for a solution to a compliance problem with buildings using more water than predicted. We built the customer a custom solution and then realized that many other commercial buildings had the same problem. Thus, Apana was born. It grew out of a need of a customer from an existing business.
What was the problem and how did you solve it?
The problem we were solving concerned eliminating inherent waste that goes on within commercial buildings. Once a commercial building is commissioned, the plumbing asset is no longer monitored. It’s behind the walls and ceilings and there are hundreds of failure points, not to mention all the people who use it that don’t always use it efficiently. What our product does is scan the whole system and where there is a problem our analytics can pinpoint the problem and guide the customer to a solution to stop the waste.
What were the biggest challenges you faced in getting started?
The hardest part of what we do is getting the right kind of technology to do what we need. You’d think in 2016 that would be really easy with all the innovations in technology, but what we needed did not exist. We were not satisfied with the off-the-self systems that were available and we made a decision to build our own. We were lucky that we were able to find the right group of experts to develop our system.
How long did it take to get the first prototype to the customer?
A few months; we had some setbacks and had to go back to the drawing board two or three times to get it right. As with most new product development in a new area, you start as a tinkerer and develop into an expert.
How were you able to start growing from that first customer?
Our system was saving our initial customer over 20 percent on water consumption and paid for itself in a year — this helped closed further sales. Positive results from those sales reinforced our value proposition. We then hired an experienced sales executive and started growing. Today we have 10 employees and we’re hoping to double that within a year.
What advice would you give to others who are just getting started?
Be flexible — realize it is an iterative process to create a product that will sell. Do not be afraid to pull the plug on your past work, because a lot of times a better way will come up and you just have to let go of what you have built — even if it took you a year to do it. We have seen companies that fall in love with their product while the customer needs are neglected. Focus on customers’ needs and adapt your product to meet those needs. Also spend the time to get good advisers — especially in areas where you lack experience.
Lara Merriam-Smith is the program manager for NW Innovation Resource Center, a Bellingham-based non-profit that helps inventors and entrepreneurs bring their ideas to life. For more information call 360-255-7870 or go online to nwirc.com.