Startup in Residence Northern Netherlands: circular water use with Field Factors

Making cities greener and restoring the natural water cycles at the same time. Field Factors kills those two birds with a single stone, with something called Bluebloqs. The Startup in Residence Northern Netherlands participant won an international award last year for their innovative technology, has international projects coming up and is currently working with the City of Groningen to see if its buildings can become more circular in their use of water. How are things going so far? We catch up with co-founder and CCO Wilrik Kok.

Field Factors was founded in Delft in 2016, by Karina Peña and Wilrik Kok. “We both did a lot of design on urban development and construction projects in the years before that, but our real passion was water and we just wanted to create something that could make a difference, rather than just work as consultants”, Wilrik explains. “Responsible and sustainable use of our limited freshwater resources is absolutely vital, now more than ever. But in order to do that, we need to drastically change how we use and manage water in our cities.”  

Tackling heavy rains ánd heatwaves in one solution

Prolonged periods of extreme drought, along with sudden, heavy rain showers, have become an increasingly pressing issue in the past decade. And the concrete, urban jungle of a city is not ideally equipped to deal with that, to say the least. A sudden excess of water can cause overflow of the sewer system and a lack of rain forces us to cut down on our consumption. 

“With Bluebloqs, we created a way to catch excess rainwater, treat it and store it for later use. We use biofilters that can easily be fitted in the available space and they also act as rain gardens. The filtered rainwater is then stored deep in the underground, ready to be used in times of drought. And as an added benefit, these gardens make the city greener, add to biodiversity by attracting bees and butterflies and reduce heat stress.”    

Vulnerability, validation & co-ownership

Field Factors is no stranger to working with big organizations, so at least that part of the Startup in Residence program wasn’t anything new. “I actually prefer this way of working”, Wilrik says. “You’re tailoring things to different wants and needs, you share ownership and you both invest in the solution. But that also means not being afraid to be open and admitting you’re not sure about something or unfamiliar with a particular aspect. It’s about figuring it out together. So the moment the City of Groningen told us that if we could provide their stakeholders with a way to measure the impact of our solution, there would be a definite intention to help implement our solution, was a very proud moment for us. It’s a validation of your product and being on the right track.”

That sense of validation and testing is also one of the valuable things about the Startup in Residence program, Wilrik thinks: “Some startups will spend three years on R&D first or do extensive market research. We’ve always done things in a pretty pragmatic way, just learning by doing. We’re currently at the point where we are clearly  defining our market focus and how our product really fits with the needs of our customers. The workshops are a great way to test the ideas you have and talking to the challenge owner really helps with the validation and focus.”

Digital model and international projects

In the last couple of years, Field Factors has gained a lot of momentum, winning the Urban Water Challenge 2020 for example. No small feat, considering the total of 235 submissions from 44 countries. “Things take time in our industry”, Wilrik says. “The first few years was all about choosing the right projects and investing in long term opportunities, while also keeping the business afloat in the meantime. Balancing that can be tricky, but things have started to pay off and we’re growing. Aside from Startup in Residence, we’re currently working on 5 other projects this year, two of which are in Spain. One is a circular water system for the Real Valladolid soccer stadium and the other is a system for the new Caleido Park, Torre Caleido, the biggest new urban development project with a skyscraper in Madrid.”

As for Startup in Residence, Field Factors is working on a digital assessment tool of their Bluebloqs system for the City of Groningen. “That should be finished in early May. After some testing and if everything goes well and as planned, the city will provide us with a good location. With this tool the city can use to implement our circular water systems in real estate and urban development projects. And that's really great, because when we’re talking about responsible and sustainable water use in an urban setting, rainwater is always left out of that equation. With a tool like this, we don’t have to tell people how important rainwater is, we can show them with exact data.”