CleanTechies Podcast

#144 Gen AI in Water Design, Energy Efficient Infrastructure, Digitizing Design & More w/ Adam Tank (Transcend)

December 26, 2023 Silas Mähner (CT Headhunter) & Somil Aggarwal (CT PM & Investor) Season 1 Episode 144
CleanTechies Podcast
#144 Gen AI in Water Design, Energy Efficient Infrastructure, Digitizing Design & More w/ Adam Tank (Transcend)
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Show Notes Transcript Chapter Markers

In this enlightening episode, Silas and Somil are speaking all about Water and Wastewater Infrastructure with Adam Tank, the CCO and Co-Founder of Transcend Infrastructure.

Adam shares his journey into the water industry and the creation of Transcend, a software platform that automates the design process for water infrastructure projects. He discusses the challenges and opportunities in the industry, including the need for more innovative and sustainable solutions. Tank emphasizes the importance of building a strong team, staying true to the company's mission, and remaining curious and open to learning. He also highlights the future of the water infrastructure industry, including the focus on carbon neutrality and the role of public demand in driving innovation.

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**2:00 How Adam Ended up in the Water
**6:30 From Investor to Entrepreneur 
**8:20 First Company, Pipe Robots
**10:00 Transcend's Tech 
**11:45 Who Uses Transcend 
**12:30 Before and After Transcend
**17:20 Why Current Infrastructure is Bad
**19:30 Spin-Out of Organica, the MVP 
**23:40 Taking the Leap to Transcend 
**26:25 The Future of Water Infrastructure / the UK vs US Utilities 
**28:45 Future: Proactivity, Automation, Digitization, Active Consumers
**30:35 Why To Choose A Critical Infrastructure Careers 
**32:20 Founder Advice: Find the right team, Remember WHY You Do What You Do, Be Passionately Curious
**34:15 Importance of Curiosity & Intentionality in Career 

**Connect with Adam
**Adam's Website
**Transcend Infrastructure Website
**Check out our Sponsor, NextWave Partners:
**Follow CleanTechies on LinkedIn:
**@Silas & @Somil_Agg on Twitter / X 

Support the show

We are proud to continue working with NextWave as our official show sponsor for this podcast. NextWave and all of its staff are highly motivated to advance the ClimateTech revolution and are constantly innovating ways that they can help affect that transition. From experts in the talent space to ESG experts, NextWave is taking on Climate and Social responsibility head-on and helping companies build great cultures that not only make the world a better place but also increase workplace satisfaction. Reach out to NextWave Partners today to learn more about how we might partner with you today. /

Adam Tank (21:26.046)

I love that question. I was at a conference in late 2018 where the CEO Brown and Caldwell was speaking. That's a pretty large water wastewater engineering consultancy here in the US. And Ari had approached me and told me this idea and I was really trying to decide what I wanted to do next. And the CEO Brown and Caldwell, Rich, said,

I am actively looking for tools that can help us do more work in less time. That is my number one priority for this business right now. And that spoke to me. That's like a sign from whoever spirit you believe in that you should probably go on a particular path. And so I took that as a sign and decided to make the leap then. But before I did, I went in, I interviewed the existing employees that were planning to join Transcend.

from Organica and I went and talked to the first client of what would become Transcend, which is Black & Veatch. And I said, like, is this the real deal? I've heard about, I mean, AI was a buzzword in like 2012, 2013, when I was looking at these investments in water companies. And as I talked to more people, I found out that it in fact was true because it was built, it was like a tailor-made solution, purpose-built.

to do exactly what Ari told me the software could do. And they've been doing it for like seven or eight years at that point. So it was a pretty easy decision to make. Once I heard the, you know, CEO of one of the largest engineering consultancies and then knew that the product actually worked, I was like, all right, this is a no-brainer.

Somil Aggarwal (23:07.438)

So you basically diligence your own potential job opportunities. No, that's really cool. I mean, I honestly, it's very fortunate that you had that opportunity. I feel like we've seen this piece of advice circulating. Uh, and I think honestly, the nuance is how do you do it? Because how do you like just randomly go to one of their customers, potential customers and talk to them, and it's not always clear or easy, but you had that opportunity and you, so you could vet it. So that's, that's really, really good for you. Really happy to hear that.

Adam Tank (23:11.047)

pretty much yes exactly

Somil Aggarwal (23:39.303)

Look, I think the most relevant thing about this is the industry itself that I'm sure is you recognize. Water people recognize it's a challenge, they kind of understand that it's related to climate, but the actual trends and where the industry is going for water infrastructure and the kinds of things that are needed aren't, I feel like, common knowledge. So can you just talk about what you see as the future of the water infrastructure industry and the kinds of things you're paying attention to?

Adam Tank (24:04.578)

You bet. We have a really interesting viewpoint because we work globally with water utilities, engineering consultants, et cetera. And so we see sort of what's going on in different pockets of the world and how they're thinking about water, wastewater. And I'll say that, you know, the quote, and I'm not sure who it's attributed to at this point, but that the future is here, just not evenly distributed, is 100% true in water and wastewater, definitely. So I'll give you a simple example. We work with a lot of the water utilities in the United Kingdom.

And the regulating body of those water utilities has said you have to be carbon neutral by 2030. It's a mandate. In the US, if you go talk to your local water wastewater utility leader, and you ask them what their plans are for carbon neutrality, they're probably gonna laugh you out of the room. That is not a conversation anyone is having today. And what the UK utilities are doing to...

go down this path of carbon neutrality is effectively the opposite of what we're doing here in the US. And I won't get too technical, but there's a way that you can treat wastewater in one of there's many ways you can treat wastewater. But one of those ways is by something called a trickling filter, which is exactly what you would imagine. Wastewater comes in and it trickles down with gravity through a series of filters and it becomes cleaner on the back end. The UK utilities are actually now putting more of those in place.

because you don't have to use a ton of energy to pump all the wastewater. It's literally gravity trickled, gravity trickles, it trickles using gravity. In the US, we're ripping out trickling filters in favor of treatment systems that require more energy. Like literally two completely opposite ends of the spectrum.

Silas Mähner (25:54.864)

What's the main reason they're doing that I mean, I'm assuming there's probably some reason they're doing that

Adam Tank (25:59.67)

Yes, in some cases, I mean, there are more advanced processes than trickling filters that either can treat the water to a better quality without the need for subsequent treatment processes or you can do it in a much more compact site. So in the US where site is a huge constraint or where sites may be a big constraint depending on where you are, what city that you live in, you're using smaller footprint treatment systems. So it's interesting to see what's going on.

relative to some of this decision making. So what I believe is the future of the water wastewater industry is a bigger focus on being proactive in the design process to building things that, again, we don't have to immediately start repairing the second that they're built. Automation, in terms of operations and maintenance, is still in its infancy. If you go and talk to your local water wastewater utility, they're probably still running shifts 24-7. They probably don't have a lot of automation in the plants. You're probably still seeing people do a ton of stuff manually.

Like it's literally the Wild West. Connectivity to your assets, even knowing where your assets are, what assets you even have, that's a huge struggle. So I think understanding where your assets are, getting those mapped, digitizing everything is a huge trend. And then I also think like, I think we as consumers also are going to be more active in this process. We're hearing about things like Forever Chemicals, PFAS in the media. We're hearing about

you know, water leaks, water main breaks. We're seeing the effects of our infrastructure crumbling. All these sinkholes, like I feel like I see a new sinkhole news piece of news coming out like every day. And I see these cars like crumbling or like parking garages falling in and stuff. And it's largely due to the fact that water is leaking underground. We don't know where it is. So we as consumers are going to start demanding more from the regulators, from the utilities. And I think that's also going to be a big driver for innovation in the sector.

Somil Aggarwal (27:56.094)

I think the whole digitizing process, going through digital twins, the idea of simulation modeling, it's all caught fire recently, especially as AI technology is kind of seemingly more complex and capable. How good those, but the simulations have been around, right? Especially in engineering, the simulations have always been there. But I think the point that you mentioned about the public demand, I think there's a lot more visibility for the public in terms of transparency. And I think even like in New York City, for example, where we are,

Like I was walking past, I think, a mobile wifi charging station, and it was for phones, but I looked at that and I was like, this is allowed, like this is what we're doing now. I think things are just getting a lot more sophisticated and the hard to abate sectors like construction and just generally lagging industries, lagging in a sense that it's not software. I definitely don't get as much attention, but I think people are starting to realize especially...

Adam Tank (28:50.502)


Somil Aggarwal (28:55.426)

founders how much potential there is for B2B software AI and automation in these spaces. So I just wanted to, I'm a huge fan of the built environment, construction tech, infrastructure, also because I think government is a legitimate buyer in this space. And so there's potentially tailwinds that are more recession proof and sustainable than other industries. I wanted to ask your opinion on that really quick before we close out.

Adam Tank (29:20.35)

I completely agree, 100%. I think if you're looking for a career, speaking about startups and technology, but if you're looking for a long-term career that is more or less recession-proof, that needs help, that you're gonna feel good about at the end of the day working in, looking at critical infrastructure is the place to be. So that's water, power, transit, even telecommunications now, multi-residential buildings, healthcare.

These are all things that are really fundamentally broken, in my opinion, and we need all the technology and smart minds we can get.

Somil Aggarwal (29:58.238)

Very cool. All right, well, so as we wrap out, I just wanna ask if you were to talk to yourself right as you were diligenting those customers and considering joining the company, what are three pieces of advice you provide yourself as a founder?

Adam Tank (30:06.426)


Adam Tank (30:12.63)

So one is, it's all about the people you bring onto the team. Like, you can pretty much get technology to do whatever you want it to do, especially software. It's much harder to find the right team to help you build a business. So, build the team. And like Silas obviously in his day job quote unquote understands how important this is and how hard it is to find good people. So that would be the first thing I would say. The second one is...

Remind yourself every day and remind your company and your customers why you do what you do. When you have a common understanding of why your company exists and why the work you do is important, it makes everything else so much easier. It makes sales easier, it makes onboarding easier, it makes your culture of the company a lot easier. That's a really critical thing. And then the third one is just be passionately curious. I've been in the water industry for over 15 years and sometimes we think we know the answers.

But that shouldn't cloud our ability to listen to our customers, develop a real understanding of their needs, try to put yourself in their shoes, understand where they're coming from, and learn something new every day. Because none of us are above being curious and learning something new. Like we'll never be able to learn everything that we need to know about. Even water. You can go as niche as you want. There's still no way you're going to learn it all. So every day be curious.

Silas Mähner (31:36.491)

Yeah, I think curiosity is super important when there's a lot of things that stem from curiosity even in the talent space. Obviously, I'm a big fan of trying to tell young people to be more intentional about how they build their skills and apply for jobs and you kind of just run their life. Because all of these ideas of the future of work where nobody will be an employee, everybody will be a contractor, all these types of things, none of these future ideas.

will ever, ever come to fruition unless everybody takes more autonomy and more ownership over their life. Right? So the curiosity thing, I think, is the beginning to that. But it's especially easy when you have ADHD to be curious about things. So that's a little easier for me. But anyways, I appreciate you coming on. This has been a pleasure. I am genuinely fascinated by plays like this where you can... There's a lot of buzz and stuff going on about AI and everybody's doing something about it. And the majority of it just seems like total BS.

But when you see something like this where, okay, we have generative AI, not just to make a cool image that I can share with my blog post, which is nice, but you can do something that's really substantially helping the engineers to make more designs, better designs, and have more time to do it. I am really curious at some point to explore maybe another time with you the idea that if you can reduce the amount of time to design something, you can get people to be more creative. I think this is a really interesting idea.

that could probably be applied to many things in climate and maybe even ways that people aren't thinking about where something may not seem like a climate tech, but maybe if people have more time to think about the challenges they're working on, they could find ways to make it more circular or something of that nature or less waste in general. So, but anyways, appreciate you coming on. Any kind of final thoughts of people, where can they reach you, calls to action.

Adam Tank (33:23.942)

I'd say first, thank you for having me. I also really enjoyed the discussion and appreciate your curiosity and interest in this particular sector of the world. Adam Tank, you can find me on LinkedIn, almost every major social platform. And then is my personal website. And then Transcend is Transcend Infra, like Transcend infrastructure. So We're always hiring, so please reach out if this is of interest to you. And even if it's not Transcend, I'll do my best to help you figure out a path in.

in the climate tech, clean tech industry.

Silas Mähner (33:55.595)

Awesome. We need more of that. Thanks so much, Adam. I really appreciate you coming on.

Somil Aggarwal (33:58.53)

Great having you on.

Adam Tank (33:58.79)

Of course, thanks.

How Adam Ended Up in the Water
From Investor to Entrepreneur
First Company, Pipe Robots
Transcend's Tech
Who Uses Transcend
Before and After Transcend
Why Current Infrastructure is Bad
Spin-Out of Organica, the MVP
Taking the Leap to Transcend
The Future of Water Infrastructure / the UK vs US Utilities
Future: Proactivity, Automation, Digitization, Active Consumers
Why to Choose Critical Infrastructure Careers
Founder Advice: Find the right team, Remember WHY You Do What You Do, Be Passionately Curious
Importance of Curiosity & Intentionality in Career