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United Utilities: Innovation Lab

United Utilities is the United Kingdom’s largest listed water company and manages the regulated water and wastewater network in North West England with a combined population of more than seven million.

In May 2023, we launched our fifth United Utilities Innovation Lab, building on a successful partnership with the water and wastewater company which goes back to 2017.

Designed to make services safer, faster and cheaper for customers, the 12-week Innovation Lab places enterprising young businesses at the heart of operations at United Utilities headquarters in Warrington, UK. During the programme, these businesses work alongside senior executives to test their solutions in a live environment and explore opportunities for longer-term commercial partnerships. In addition to addressing key business challenges, the Lab provides insight into the breadth of disruptive technologies reshaping the sector while inspiring the sort of entrepreneurial mindset that accelerates progress.

“Interestingly, all the suppliers we are working with would label themselves as small or startup and five of them had never worked with a UK water company before  They all have a completely different energy to a large corporate like United Utilities, which is exactly what you need to disrupt the status quo.”

Kieran Brocklebank, Head of Innovation at United Utilities

The four previous iterations focused on different innovation areas such as connected water and customer; proactive customer actions; safe and healthy worker; empowered, knowledgeable colleagues ; right data, right place, right time; future of water; systems thinking, circular economy & natural systems; future of water; digital network business, energy efficiency and net zero & natural solutions.

The fifth Innovation Lab will focus on the categories better rivers; low carbon construction; water efficiency; dynamic network management

L Marks’ Scouting Team promoted the Lab to 1500 businesses, making sure to target a diverse range of entrepreneurs, including those based in other countries or working in other sectors. Of the 80 applicants, 69 were invited to present their ideas at Pitch Day, with thirty businesses selected to join United Utilities teams at the company headquarters’ Innovation Centre. The teams came from France, Portugal, Canada, Australia, India and the UK with five entering the UK water industry for the first time.


The first four cohorts of the United Utilities Innovation Lab have been incredibly successful, with over 90 United Utilities employees taking part and mentoring the Lab teams, and with 100% of the teams running live trials during the programme, more than half of these leading to Framework Agreements.

In addition, following the first iteration of the programme, the United Utilities Innovation Lab was awarded the “Supply Chain and Excellence Award” at the Utility Week Awards 2018.

The Lab was recognised for making a difference in the way utility companies operate, collaborate and innovate to meet constantly developing consumer demand.


Canadian startup Emagin develops artificial intelligence tools to help facilitate and optimise decision making within the water industry. The team’s AI tool HARVI provides water and wastewater facilities with an operational intelligence platform supporting real-time decision making. In turn, it helps water companies become more reliable and better prepared for potential emergencies while driving down operational costs.

Emagin worked closely with United Utilities teams to gain insight into the specific challenges facing the network. The team was able to modify and tailor its standard platform offering, HARVI, with these insights, before running trials using data from the United Utilities network. The pilot trials were rolled out across different business areas in order to assess the live data analysis capabilities. At Demo Day, the team was able to project operational cost savings of over £200k based on one site alone.

It was recognised during the programme that Emagin had allowed United Utilities to achieve a 22% reduction in energy costs in areas where the technology had been trialled. Following the Lab, United Utilities confirmed a commercial agreement with Emagin for a scaled roll-out of HARVI across the network.

With this agreement, United Utilities became the first water company in the UK to introduce large scale artificial intelligence into its operational systems. In December 2019, Emagin was acquired by US company Innovyze.

As featured in WaterWorld Magazine.


FIDO (Free Inserted Data Objects) sees the insertion of three free-floating spheres that travel in any pipe size through the water network, first collecting, then uploading and analysing the data in the cloud using FIDO’s differential analytics algorithm. Analysed data is sent back to the engineer’s phone or tablet clearly identifying pipe anomalies such as leaks (size and location), air pockets and chokes to within one metre.

FIDO joined the Lab with an innovative solution targeting one of UU’s biggest challenges leakage. FIDO iterated their solution multiple times during initial testing and gained the confidence of their sponsor to run a live trial in the network. One key achievement was the development of the FIDO Stick , which enables the use of historical acoustic logger files to develop an algorithm for an automated analysis of the probability of a leak in the network.

United Utilities and FIDO finalised a commercial relationship at the end of the Lab, which will allow for their solution, including the FIDO pucks and FIDO stick, to be tested in the live network and then rolled out. Now in daily usage, FIDO Tech’s leak detection technology has a greater than 85 per cent success rate, improving the rate leaks are found and outperforming traditional leak detection methods.  With FIDO, United Utilities is tracking down three billion litres of lost water.

As featured in BBC News and WTT.


VAPAR helps water utilities speed up the repairs of their underground pipes. VAPAR’s cloud platform automates the fault detection directly from inspection footage of sewer pipes turning a 2 weeks manual process into a 2 minute job. For the duration of the Innovation Lab, VAPAR CTO, Michelle Aguilar relocated from Sydney to Warrington to work together with the United Utilities to help automate fault detection in their 72,000 kilometre sewer network and speed up any repairs.

United Utilities provided VAPAR with a significant dataset to prove and improve the accuracy of VAPAR’s automated defect detection system. This data provided enabled VAPAR to develop and test ways in which the dataset could be curated in a scalable manner, and used to validate the accuracy of our system in accordance with the UK standard, the MSCC (Manual of Sewer Condition Classification). Through this process, VAPAR were able to make improvements to the AI models augmented by UU’s CCTV footage, gain insights on model performance across different datasets, achieve alignment with multiple standards, identify and understand several additional business use cases for the system, understand where our platform could fit into the end to end processes, and what additional capabilities we needed to add to streamline usage.

With the relationship secured with United Utilities, and with AU$490,000 Accelerating Commercialisation grant from the Australian federal government, VAPAR is now doubling down on its UK expansion.

As featured in AquaTech.

“United Utilities is always on the lookout for ways we can provide world class services to our customers. Using artificial intelligence to provide insights that can be actioned before issues arise is why we are interested in partnering with companies like VAPAR, who stand out because of their agility, technical skill and willingness to work collaboratively”

ChangeMaker 3D

ChangeMaker 3D designs built environments that deliver value for society and leaves a lighter footPrint on our planet with the use of 3D printed technology. Their main aim is to provide cost-effective and thermal efficient social housing but they also saw the potential of 3D Concrete Printing for infrastructures. Their collaboration with United Utilities (UU) supports the pledge to be net-zero carbon by 2030 made by the water company.

During the lab, ChangeMaker 3D with the help of UU’s contractors developed a comprehensive use case that explored and proved the benefits of a Wastewater distribution chamber employing their “Printfrastructure” technology. (25% carbon reduction, 20% cost reduction, 55% programme enhancement and 50% labour reduction). 

Following the programme, ChangerMaker 3D and United Utilities have extended their collaboration with the rollout and delivery of a full-scale 3D concrete printed water chamber for demonstration and testing. It is one of the UK’s first made-to-measure objects to be 3D printed from sustainable concrete. They have also been introduced to the Environment Agency (EA) to hear about their solutions and benefits.

As featured in 3D Printing Industry

“The water sector could soon be the first in the UK able to print made-to-measure objects out of sustainable concrete on site.”


Previsico is a flood forecasting and warning company which offers hyperlocal, real-time pluvial/surface water floodwarnings,tailored to the needs of a range of global customers. Previsico helps insurers reduce their losses and risk by his enabling resilience measures to be taken including the erection of flood defences and the removal of valuables to a safe area. Other applications of the technology include support for real-time pricing, claims operations and triage, and automated underwriting.

Through collaboration with United Utilities Previsico was able to gain a deeper understanding of how water businesses might utilise their technology, and the chance to do this with other teams opened opportunities for them to gain crucial input that they could use to improve their products going ahead. Previsico main focus on the lab was investigating processes on how they may effectively merge their technology into a better knowledge of draining as it is a significant problem for water companies.

Following the Innovation Lab Previsico secured additional investments, increased funding and resources for further development. The enhanced value proposition also made Previsico a more attractive investment opportunity. The lab also enabled significant staff expansion, with three new hires and plans for more. Previsico aims to enter the US market by 2023 and is confident in its growth prospects, supported by investors and a talented team. With a clear expansion roadmap, Previsico aims to become a leading player in the market and make a meaningful impact.

As featured in Water Magazine


SmartValve is an innovative app that manages and monitors valve operations and reduces transient pressure waves on a potablewater network. In collaboration with United Utilities and five other tech businesses, SmartValve was committed to minimise floods and leaks, lowering the cost of water treatment, and ensuring public safety. Thanks to SmartValve’s app, a previously manual process for water companies has been digitised, providing significant productivity benefits to customers. The collaboration with United Utilities allowed SmartValve to enhance their app further, enabling real-time data development, data augmentation, and improved data-driven decisions. The app offers an easy and quick way to convert a manual task into a digital one, providing numerous advantages to water companies and their customers..

SmartValve had the opportunity to use the Lab to verify the adaptability of their solution for various water companies. The Lab provided valuable insights, such as understanding how United Utilities captures data, being able to handle a 20% response rate, and identifying real benefits. As a result, the team made minor adjustments during the development of version 3 to ensure that they met their important goals and scope requirements. The experience showed that it is easier to integrate with subsequent companies once the solution has been successfully implemented in the first one. Given the transference of issues within the water industry, SmartValve utilised the Lab to equip themselves with the necessary tools to pivot if needed.

Following the Lab, SmartValve have continued their partnership with United Utilities. SmartValve has also ventured into New Zealand and Australia, which has given them the assurance that there are multiple markets for the software.

As featured in AquaTech

Planetek Italia

Planetek Italia, based in Bari, Italy specialises in the development and integration of geospatial technologies and solutions. Theyprovide a wide range of services and products, including Earth observation data processing, satellite ground systems, software development, and geo-information services. They participated in the United Utilities Innovation Lab with the aim of using Artificial Intelligence (AI) to predict pipeline failures. They combined satellite technology with ground-based activity information to address challenges in the water industry. The Lab provided Planetek Italia with the opportunity to enter the UK market fully, despite some differences in the standard process for reporting data related to sewer processing.

Upon joining the Lab, Planetek Italia’s solution was already established and recognised both domestically and internationally. They utilised the Lab to delve deeper into their technology, enhance internal processes and adoption, and obtain validation from UU for their solution. The Innovation Lab provided a valuable resource for developing best practices and use cases, which improved overall operations and allowed the team to put their validation into practice with field personnel. This bolstered interest in Planetek Italia’s solution across various departments, ultimately confirming its seamless integration. Through the Lab, the team gained knowledge about international regulations in the water sector and the processes related to water and sewage. They also gained greater international visibility.

Looking ahead, the team is eagerly anticipating the opportunity to increase their involvement in the United Kingdom. This expansion is expected to greatly benefit their commercial efforts, as they seek to establish themselves as a leading player in their industry. Moreover, the team was excited to be presenting at the highly anticipated Water Summit in March 2023. This event brought together a diverse group of industry professionals and thought leaders to discuss the latest trends, innovations, and challenges in the water sector. With their increased presence in the UK and their participation in high-profile events like the Water Summit, the team is well positioned to make a significant impact in their industry. They are dedicated to staying ahead of the curve and continually pushing the boundaries of what is possible, and they look forward to the opportunities and challenges that the future holds.

As featured in AquaTech

Altitude Thinking

Altitude Thinking has set out on a mission to combat marine pollution through the utilisation of cutting-edge technology in riversand canals. This technology has the capability of monitoring water quality and efficiently collecting marine waste. They strive to offer their customers advanced water sampling technology and utilises zero-emission transportation to create a carbon sampling program. The team joined the lab with the objective of creating a solution that would employ a fleet of drones to collect water samples from reservoirs that are difficult to access, both from the surface and depth sampling perspective. They aimed to use the Lab to validate their solution and were assisted by United Utilities, who highlighted the full extent of the reservoir’s problems.

Altitude Thinking was able to overcome previous failures with their drone solutions as a result of their participation in the Innovation Lab. Working with UU as their first customer, they collaborated on continuous water sampling projects involving various departments within UU, including sampling departments, scientific research services, and other departments to determine the best location for obtaining high-quality water. Although unexpected, this collaboration proved to be beneficial for Altitude Thinking, helping them expand their business beyond just sampling and explore more innovative solutions. Additionally, working with companies outside of UU allowed them to gain more experience and refine their capabilities.

After ongoing Innovation solution discussions with United Utilties, the team succeeded in securing a contract. The success of Altitude Thinking’s Innovation Lab underscored the importance of other companies adopting similar innovation programs, such as those offered by L Marks to their corporate clients, as they facilitate collaboration between suppliers on various initiatives.


Typhon provides solutions for wastewater treatment and water recycling. Their systems are designed to treat industrial wastewater and stormwater runoff for reuse or safe disposal, and they offer a range of technologies including electrocoagulation, filtration, and disinfection. Their mission is to make Water Disinfection Safe, Affordable and Accessible without the use of Mercury. The United Utilities innovation Lab provided them with an opportunity to further test their UV LED solution in a live environment. One of the major benefits of UV LED technology is that, with each new generation of UV LEDs, it has the potential to enhance asset capacity while consuming less energy and chemicals, offering a mercury-free solution. Thus making Typhon’s work is both cutting edge and world-leading.

Typhon managed to secure a significant project with UU in which they delivered equipment for installation on site. The team were engaged and benefited from the support from UU and the relationships they built during the Lab. The facilitation of the Lab was key in acting as a catalyst for Typhon’s advancements during the 10-weeks.

Following the Lab, the team faced a new challenge: demonstrating and initiating process innovation within the duration of the program proved difficult. Nevertheless, Typhon managed to conduct two years of in-depth field tests, evaluating the Typhon UV LED reactor in Advanced Oxidation Processes, with a focus on reducing Geosmin and 2MIB and disinfecting water. During this time, the team grew from 4 to 16 members and secured investment from external sources. With the increasing strength and efficiency of UVC- LED technology, Typhon plans to maintain its position as a leader in UV LED water treatment and expand into new markets such as water reuse, advanced oxidation processes, wastewater treatment, and other applications through a product development cycle. United Utilities played a critical role in supporting Typhon’s commercial endeavours, awarding them with the World’s First Municipal Scale UV LED Disinfection System. Despite some delays caused by COVID-19, the project was eventually installed in 2021.

As featured in Water Projects


Datatecnics is a cutting-edge technology solutions provider which offers a wide range of high-quality products and services aimed at ensuring the seamless and uninterrupted operation of pipeline infrastructure and water processing systems. Daratecnic developed a derivative of their product the ‘Critical Infrastructure Pipeline Protection System® (CIPPS)’ which they designed exclusively for the water industry. CIPPS® is a real-time, wide-area ‘intelligent pipes’ system.

Datatecnics created a technology to safeguard the assets of their operators in response to the constantly changing regulatory environment in the UK and the concerted efforts by OFWAT to minimise water supply leaks. The United Utilities Innovation Lab helped Datatecnics enter a market dominated by a major corporation like United Utilities, enabling them to trial and enhance their product. During the Lab, Datatecnics made substantial progress in their technology with the assistance of UU, as the program provided them with the opportunity to tackle critical issues in the water sector and develop a product that addresses these challenges.

UU and Datatecnics have continued collaborating closely from monitoring small sections of pipes using sensors to monitoring three pipelines and most recently accessing the whole of UU’s network without using sensors in order to determine the ideal location for them. Despite effective collaboration from both parties and improved technology, Datatecnics still faced challenges during the Lab and after. For example, the vast amount of stakeholder management involved in preparing an organisation to adopt a new way or working when introducing a new technology or tool within the water industry. As well as the 18 month sale cycle that proves difficult for teams. However, Dataecnics has surmounted these obstacles, not only has the water industry validated and implemented their technology approach, the team also managed to acquire a sizable amount (£1.5 million) of funding from Innovate UK during the Lab as the programme allowed them to create a product that addresses important problems in the water industry.

As featured in Water Industry Journal