AI-for-sewers startup bags $500,000 in federal grant funding to accelerate UK expansion

VAPAR-co-founders-Amanda-Siqueira-Michelle-Aguilar

VAPAR co-founders Amanda Siqueira and Michelle Aguilar. Source: supplied.

AI-for-sewer-repair startup VAPAR has secured $490,000 in federal government funding, as it doubles down on its UK expansion.

The Accelerating Commercialisation Grant comes just weeks after the startup raised $700,000 in seed funding from Blackbird, Startmate and a group of angel investors,

Founded in 2018 by Amanda Siqueira and Michelle Aguilar, VAPAR uses AI technology to analyse footage of the inside of sewer and stormwater pipes, and to identify any areas in need of repair.

It cuts out a manual and time-consuming job for council workers, who have historically had to watch such footage — taken by cameras on remote control cars — from end to end.

In fact, that’s a job Siqueira is intimately familiar with. It was when working in that role herself that she realised it was a space ripe for disruption.

VAPAR received a $25,000 Minimum Viable Product grant from the New South Wales government back in 2018, to build out the platform and hire a team of developers.

Now, it counts the likes of Sydney Water, SA Water, and various city councils as customers.

It has also onboarded United Utilities, a wastewater services provider based in the north-west of England. Having already planned to move into the UK market by 2022, the grant funding allows the startup to accelerate its expansion a little earlier than planned.

Speaking to SmartCompany for a profile feature last month, Siqueira and Aguilar laid out the extent of their global growth plans.

This financial year, they’re focusing on scale, they explained. The plan is to launch in the UK and New Zealand, and to triple their revenues. Beyond that, the world is their oyster.

The problem VAPAR is tackling is a global one, Aguilar explained.

“Utilities all over the world basically use this same method,” she said.

“There’s a huge market for this automation, to be putting people to more thought-provoking work.”

Ultimately, the co-founders are gearing up to become the go-to end-to-end solution for pipe inspection.

“We were the market founding technology in this space, and really pioneering this,” Aguilar said.

Sewer management is often “out of sight, out of mind”, Siqueira added.

“But it’s everywhere. It’s a global, logistical issue … not only in the Australian market but other markets.

“There will be less sewers overflowing into people’s backyards, there will be less people having to watch this footage, and there will be less money spent on repairs that aren’t needed.”

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