Autodesk backs AI-driven water pipeline maintenance scale-up VAPAR in $5m raise

Autodesk backs AI-driven water pipeline maintenance scale-up VAPAR in $5m raise

VAPAR co-founders Amanda Siqueira (left) and Michelle Aguilar.

A Sydney-based scale-up that helps water utilities companies maintain pipelines with AI-powered insights is set to turn on the taps in the North American market thanks to a $5 million raise, expanding its footprint from an already 'enthusiastic' clientele in the United Kingdom, Australia and New Zealand.

Founded in 2018 by engineers Amanda Siqueira and Michelle Aguilar, who initially met in high school, VAPAR is a deep tech company that helped water utilities across its three existing markets make more than 20,000 pipe investment decisions based on the review of six million feet of underground pipes in 2023.

The technology was inspired by Siqueira's experience as an engineering intern manually reviewing sewer inspection videos for eight hours per day, where she found the process to be error-prone and subjective.

"Billions are spent every year by global water utilities on fixing their pipes, over half of which is spent in North America," says Siqueira, who alongside her co-founder was a finalist in the 2022 Sydney Young Entrepreneur Awards.

"Despite the massive investment, there isn’t enough data and dollars available - utilities must commit to doing things differently.

"Artificial intelligence can unlock unprecedented efficiencies. Our vision is to create a world where critical infrastructure investment meets the needs of our communities."

The oversubscribed raise was led by Dutch water technology specialist PureTerra Ventures, with investment as well from global software provider Autodesk Inc (NASDAQ: ADSK) and existing institutional backers Halma Ventures (UK), Sprint Ventures (AU), Access Capital Ventures (AU) and Metagrove Ventures (USA), amongst others.

It is estimated that more than three billion feet of sewer pipes are inspected globally each year, and the infrastructure is both ageing and under pressure from climate change and growing populations, making sewer overflows and flooding more common. 

These events are investigated using cameras, requiring hours of inspection videos to be manually reviewed to find problems.

VAPAR has started on its journey of reducing these inefficiencies in North America where it is working with utilities to replicate its success elsewhere.

The New York City Department of Environmental Protection (USA), in collaboration with the Environmental Tech Lab (ETL), selected VAPAR as a finalist in a competition seeking to enhance operational efficiency and data utilisation for its extensive 660,000 foot wastewater network.

VAPAR expects North American expansion to be accelerated by the new investment from Autodesk. The VAPAR founders intend to use the funding for both expansion in the region, as well as recruitment.

"At Autodesk, we see AI as a tool that enables teams to be more effective and efficient and to uncover new solutions through data-powered insights," says Autodesk's EVP of architecture, engineering and construction design solutions, Amy Bunszel.

"This investment in VAPAR will help make its AI-powered technology more accessible, enabling utilities and municipalities across the globe to achieve more resilient infrastructure for their communities."

VAPAR's revenue and product usage has doubled every year for the last four years, giving investors confidence in the team and the scale of the market opportunity.

"VAPAR’s performance is standout in the evolving water management technology space," says PureTerra Ventures partner Alex Crowell.

"Showcasing their strong customer advocacy, a quick-to-adopt product and an impact-driven team made our decision an easy one.

"This investment will not only expand VAPAR's customer reach but also substantially reduce pipe failures, which reflects our shared commitment to sustainable water infrastructure development globally."

Kieran Brocklebank, the head of innovation at the UK's United Utilities, highlights just how beneficial VAPAR's offering has been for improving efficiency.

"It’s great to be part of the VAPAR journey since we first started working with them in our Innovation Lab in 2019," says Brocklebank.

"Since then, we have been using VAPAR’s technology to help optimise investment decision making on our wastewater network from an 80 per cent reduction in manual review time for our teams, and over 20 per cent rationalisation in potential follow-on works."

Aguilar says the face of AI is changing rapidly, and the team is proud to be pioneering this deep learning technology in such an impactful way for the water industry.

"With our increasing customer base, we now support a wide range of industry standards, time zones and languages," she says.

"Investing funds to double our team, add new verticals and start our North American office will ramp the number of customers that can benefit from this technology."
 

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