Meet Field Factors, a finalist of Postcode Lotteries Green Challenge 2019. Committed to making smart use of a natural resource - rainwater - the start-up uses natural systems to implement treatment and infiltration technologies in urban areas. Here, CEO Karina Peña discusses how the company has moved forward, the ways in which placing as finalist impacted her organisation, and what the ongoing Coronavirus pandemic means for Field Factors as well as fellow entrepreneurs.

Please introduce Field Factors.

We are a water technology start-up, founded in 2016 in The Netherlands. We collect, treat and store rainwater in urban areas for non-potable reuse, including irrigation and balancing water tables. In this way we offer a climate-adaptive solution to tackle heat and drought, while ensuring fresh water availability. Our motivation is to make valuable use of this free resource: it’s usually just drained away, but as we continue to grow our cities, the less chance we have to let water naturally infiltrate through the natural water cycle. Our systems rely on nature to collect and treat rainwater: we use a unique filtration system called Bluebloqs that have been designed to fit into urban areas - they look like a nice garden! Unlike traditional infrastructure of pipes and sewers that carry water a long way, the advantage of Bluebloqs is its small footprint; water is kept where it falls. We’re a multidisciplinary team - I’m an architect by training; and we have product, system, and environmental engineers; as well as project managers. Our first project in the public domain was in 2018 in a neighbourhood called Spangen in Rotterdam, right next to the Sparta Stadium. It reuses around 15 million litres of rainwater each year to irrigate its football pitch - avoiding using drinking water for this purpose.

What’s happening at Field Factors right now?

We're currently preparing for the construction phase for a second system in the Netherlands: the renovation of the Cromvliet park in the Hague. Treated rainwater will be used to keep the park green, and also for a children’s farm. We also have a prototype in Belgium in collaboration with the water management authority of Flanders; as well as another football stadium project in Valladolid, Spain. Most exciting is our involvement in the redevelopment of Klapwijk in Pijnacker-Nootdorp, close to Rotterdam. Its outdated infrastructure has been experiencing subsidence problems, due to declining groundwater levels. We already conducted a feasibility study, and are getting closer to implementation. It will be our biggest scale application yet, it’s very exciting for us!

What first attracted you to Postcode Lotteries Green Challenge?

We’d known about the challenge for a while, but to be honest, never considered applying. Our first years were focussed on developing our idea and building everything up. But we received a call from [2019 Postcode Lotteries Green Challenge scouting partner] Get in the Ring suggesting we try. At first I wasn't very optimistic, but we saw it as an opportunity to finally put our thoughts on paper, especially our business plan. It was amazing to hear we were in the top 25 and of course we celebrated - and then a few weeks later, we were invited for an interview and made the final five finalists. It’s been amazing for us, it gave such a boost to the team!

Field Factors team

Field Factors team at Postcode Lotteries Green Challenge final 2019

How else did placing as a finalist impact Field Factors?

It’s about so much more than just the grant! The biggest value has been the boost for our team. Building a business from scratch is tough: it’s not easy, especially the first years when you hear ‘No’ a lot! It’s hard to go against the status quo and come up with new solutions. Having someone believe in us was affirmation that we’re going in the right direction, and a reason to believe even more in what we’re doing. Postcode Lotteries Green Challenge also resulted in a lot of media attention which is always good. In our field, public awareness is important: municipalities need to know about us, but also everyone using public spaces. The mentorship programme also came just at the right time - that perspective has been so useful. Specifically, we used the prize money to develop smart monitoring systems, equipping our systems with sensors for remote operation and control.

How has Coronavirus has impacted your start-up?

It’s been a big shock for us all. I'm an optimist, and so I want to believe that this situation will help us see things differently, especially in terms of business and sustainability. It's nonetheless difficult for entrepreneurs and young companies, because the economy has paralysed. Our projects are all longterm - they're linked to construction, for example, or new urban development projects. So I’m more concerned about the decisions being made now for the coming years. Another thing is building relationships: I’ve learnt that so much of what we do is about personal relationships, and people believing in what we’re doing. When we don’t have traditional ways to build relationships, I wonder what will happen?

Any advice for start-ups considering entering Postcode Lotteries Green Challenge next year?

Just do it! I didn’t believe we’d get so far, so just give it a try - it’s a nice process, and can have a great impact on your team. The boost it gives you as entrepreneurs is priceless! Timing is important: it’s not just a case of filling in an application form and seeing what happens; you need to know your story. That’s something that also makes the whole application process joyful. Make it compelling, make it personal, show your team and who you are - that’s what this challenge is all about. And if you get to become a finalist, make the most of the visibility, and take the moment to celebrate as a team. It’s so important!