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Uponor Innovations: Recruiting, Supporting Entrepreneurs

July 16, 2020
Now seven years on, the manufacturer's reinvigorated program pairs ideas with investment to grow good ideas into valuable assets.

[Editor's note: this article first appeared in a slightly altered format on Mechanical-Hub.com.]

By JOHN MESENBRINK, Editor-at-large, Contractormag.com

Did you know that Uponor North America has a division called Uponor Innovations (UI), where highly motivated entrepreneurs can submit innovative ideas and turn them into protected, substantive, viable products or technology?

What started seven years ago as a central resource site for entrepreneurs, startups, business owners, management teams and investors to submit an idea that improves the way people design and construct the human environments, this accelerated think tank of innovative ideas is gaining momentum once again.

According the website (www.uponorinnovations.com), Uponor Innovation’s interests include acquisitions, equity participation and licensing. The approach is to pursue involvement where UI can best leverage mutual success through existing Uponor assets and resources.

“Someone may have a good idea, but lack the resources to gain any traction or success,” says Bill Gray, president of Uponor North America. “That’s where Uponor can help. We have a successful and established infrastructure to help introduce ideas, products, processes and technology to our industry.”

PIPELINE OF IDEAS

A pipeline of ideas, the core concept that initiated the discussion behind UI was that “no one company has all of the good ideas,” says Carl Moe, business analyst at Uponor Innovations LLC. “We have the global expertise and employees in technical, marketing and product design areas where we can become a resource for idea generators.”

The force behind UI is that an idea will offer viability and acceptance, which, in turn, will contribute value to society. “We want to invest in an opportunity where the entrepreneur has a good idea and is already in a position to bring it to market—and we can help them. The strategy is for UI to invest more than just money. We have to see a way for Uponor to help leverage or help grow what we perceive to be a very good idea,” says Moe.

Piggy-backing off the idea of growing and nurturing a very good idea,“Unlike a venture capitalist, we don’t have to ‘own’ your company. We can own it, but it isn’t a required part of our model. We want to invest in an opportunity where the entrepreneur has a good idea and is already in a position to bring it to market—and we can help them,” says Moe.

Gray believes that building an innovative culture internally and externally is a great opportunity to build products and create new processes and technologies that help its customers differentiate and grow their businesses. “We are looking for products and innovations that align with our sustainability goals and our vision of becoming a ‘recognized leader in sustainable building solutions,’” says Gray.

One recent success story was Uponor’s investment in Upstream Technologies. According to the Minnesota Department of Transportation, the Upstream Technologies SAFL Baffle—developed out of the University of Minnesota College of Science and Engineering’s St. Anthony Falls Laboratory—has saved Minnesota taxpayers $8.5 million over the past few years and projects additional savings to the state of $26.4 million over the next 10 years.

The product is a proven, cost-effective method to help municipalities, developers, watershed districts and transportation departments improve sediment capture in urban runoff before it goes into storm sewers and eventually ends up in lakes, rivers and oceans. Uponor subsequently supported launch of the Upstream’s new Modified Philip Dunne (MPD) Infiltrometer, which provides an innovative solution for quickly and efficiently measuring the rate of water infiltration into soil.

Another great example was the joint venture between Uponor and Belkin International to create Phyn in May 2016. Phyn’s mission is to help consumers reduce their water usage and contribute to the global water shortage problem, protect their homes and save money. “There was interest in it at Uponor because it pertains to water management, so the decision was to see if Belkin had interest to take on a partner. I reached out to the exec team at Belkin and introduced Uponor,” says Moe.

Currently, with multiple projects in the pipeline and in various stages of development, Uponor Innovations is an approach to pursue involvement through existing Uponor assets and resources, the UI infrastructure includes staff, funding, manufacturing, marketing, sales, technical support and a national distribution network.

Do you have an idea that would inspire the industry with fresh, innovative and sustainable solutions, and enrich people’s way of life? Uponor Innovations may be worth a look and worthy of consideration. “There is a wide network of really creative entrepreneurial people out there, for whom we would like to widen our front-door welcome mat to Uponor,” says Moe.

For more on Uponor Innovations, click here