Spin-off: Combininga business and a PhD: a win-win situation

Published on
June 11, 2019

BlueTech Research is a company specialized in providing clients with crucial water technology information. Founder and CEO Paul O’Callaghan successfully combines his business with a PhD on water technology at ETE. ‘Both jobs are intertwined. They complement and reinforce each other, thus improving the quality of both.’

For most of his career, Paul O’Callaghan was fascinated by water technology and innovation. As part of his MSc, he optimized and redesigned a waste water processing unit for the Body Shop in the UK. ‘This was the start of a fascinating journey’, O’Callaghan says. ‘After finishing my MSc, I worked for a pharmaceutical company to test a pilot membrane bio-reactor for wastewater treatment.’ He soon noticed that water technology companies wasted a lot of time to find clients and investors. In addition, it often took a long time before a newly developed technology finally could be placed on the market. In response to the demand from these companies, O’Callaghan set up his own consultancy company in 2006, advising smaller water technology businesses to make better tactical decisions, be more efficient and avoid errors. Soon, investors and larger water technology companies from Silicon Valley in California, like Kleiner Perkins, VPVP and XPV Water Partners, asked for information to assess new technologies.

‘At that point I started to think how I could develop a product out of relevant water technology information’, O’Callaghan explains. ‘This was a challenge because there are so many different technologies to keep track of.’

Better decisions, avoid mistakes

To keep control over the massive amount of water technology information available, O’Callaghan focused on collecting and analyzing data. In 2011, he founded BlueTech Research and moved from consultancy work to a more software-based company. The company focuses on delivering relevant and strategic information for water technology companies based on large amounts of data. ‘We begin by collecting Big Data from different sources’, he explains. ‘Companies developing water technologies, Universities, conference papers and patents are all valuable information sources.’ Using a customized taxonomy and software system, these data are then ordered and structured. Subsequently, technology experts analyze the data and search for existing patterns and trends. This results in concrete information that may help companies to make better decisions and avoid mistakes. For example, what technologies should be developed or invested in? Where is the water technology market heading to? How can a company avoid to miss crucial opportunities? How can the implementation of new technologies be speeded up?

In a rapidly changing world, with ever increasing challenges, it soon became apparent that there was a huge appetite for this kind of information-based advice. BlueTech research has now around 25 employees and clients all over the world, with offices in North America, Europe and Asia. Major clients are PepsiCo, L'Oreal, Carlsberg, and Nestle, but also big water technology companies like DOW and SUEZ are valued customers.

Marketable product

Besides his busy occupation as CEO of BlueTech research, O’Callaghan is also working on a PhD at ETE. There he studies how new water technologies make their way to the market. It’s a long way from a new technological invention to a marketable product. After developing a new technology, scientists test the concept in a small pilot plant. If successful, a full scale demonstration plant is built. O’Callaghan: ‘If you understand all steps in this process well, you can speed it up, and allow technologies to be marketed quicker. That saves time and money.’

Academic lens

O’Callaghan’s experience and knowledge as CEO of a water technology company boosts his PhD research, while on the other hand, the PhD strengthens his business by providing a solid scientific basis. For example, his recently published paper on a Water Technology Adoption Model,
developed at ETE, helps to understand how long it will take for a technology to move through the different stages before it reaches the market. It was widely appraised by the industry. O’Callaghan: ‘People tell me that the paper helps them to understand how to take a new innovation to the market more time-efficiently.’ Apparently, O’Callaghan’s PhD research at ETE underlines the practice-oriented, science-based quality of BlueTech research. At the same time, O’Callaghan thinks ETE is an inspiring environment: ‘Doing my research at ETE is great fun and
keeps me curious. It enables me to look at company issues through an academic lens. It also keeps me engaged and sparks new ideas.’

Selected Publication:

O’Callaghan P., Daigger G., Adapa L., and Buisman C. 2018. Development and Application of a Model to Study Water Technology Adoption. Water Environ. Res. 90(6): 563-574.