The third annual Frontier: Industrial Innovation Conference will take place in downtown Birmingham, Alabama on August 19-21. Over the past two years, The Frontier has grown significantly by bringing individuals together to learn, connect, and rethink innovation. In 2017, over 170 innovation leaders representing 115 organizations from 15 states and nine major industrial disciplines attended The Frontier. Then, in 2018, over 200 innovation leaders representing 130 organizations from 20 states and 5 countries 17 major industrial disciplines attended. Join us for the next edition of The Frontier Conference 2019 as we engage an even wider spectrum of disciplines shaping the future of the industrial world.


“After two successful years, we are excited about Frontier 2019 and our move to Birmingham, a major epicenter of industrials – notably manufacturing, automotive, transportation and aerospace,” said Hank Torbert, Founder of The Frontier. “Our goal is to build an industrial innovation community across all sectors that allows for the collaboration of and expansion of emerging ideas and technologies.”


“From steel mills to start-ups, Birmingham is and has always been a city of builders. Though how we’ve built has changed throughout the years, the integrity of our product and the determination of our workers has not changed,” remarked Birmingham Mayor Randall Woodfin. “We are thrilled to welcome the Frontier conference to Birmingham to serve as a forum for innovation in production.”


Alabama is historically known as a leader in industrial sectors including aerospace, chemicals, and automotive. Even more, Alabama has invested in a state-level focus on advancement in technology, further positioning the state as a leader in the realm of industrial innovation. Moving The Frontier to Birmingham, Alabama for the 2019 conference was a perfect match with the state’s focus on advancing the industrial sectors. Alabama is home to companies that have been trailblazers, ultimately making billion-dollar impacts on the economy. These companies have made chemicals the state’s second-largest export product and have established Alabama as the third-largest exporter of automobiles in the nation. The energy for innovation in the state makes for the perfect setting for The Frontier conference as thought leaders will spend three days exploring how culture and innovation are transforming every segment of the Industrials sectors.


“I’m very excited to see The Frontier move to Alabama with Birmingham being the host city, an amazing industrial epicenter. As a result of the generational crew change, digitalization, and the greatest energy transition of our lifetime converging at the same time, today’s industrial world is rapidly transforming. We’ve learned innovation in this space is cultivated within industrial ecosystems, like Birmingham and many other Alabama cities, allowing them to transform in order to remain competitive. These ecosystems not only know the history of our industries, but they understand the current state and have a better vision for where our industries are heading,” said Kirk Coburn, Shell Technology Ventures. “When this clear understanding and vision are applied to the Frontier efforts, specifically our startup competition, it fosters the opportunity for companies to create solutions to the problems faced by many corporations around the state. We look forward to working with local partners across the state in order to create synergies and further innovative and venture strategies.”


The Frontier is the only conference focusing on emerging technologies for all the key industrial sub-sectors. It is a two-day, destination conference designed for those tackling some of the world’s toughest problems: including founders, Heads of Innovation, VPs of Strategy or Product Planning, C-level executives, scientists, entrepreneurs, finance professionals and everyone in between. Attendees will have the opportunity to network with other industry disruptors, venture capitalists and creative problem solvers, be inspired by keynote speakers and collaborate with others in breakout sessions throughout the conference.


To learn more about The Frontier, visit Space is limited and prices will increase incrementally leading up to the conference. To subscribe to the mailing list to be the first to know when registration goes lives, visit


Announcing 2018 Frontier Conference’s morning keynote speaker: Jens Festervoll.


Festervoll is a Senior Advisor in Corporate Innovation at Statoil, as well as Statoil’s Corporate Liaison for the Techstars Energy Accelerator hosted in their Oslo office.



  • DATE: Thursday, April 12, 2018
  • TIME: 8:15 AM
  • TOPIC: Cross-Industry Learning – A Driver for Innovation


Festervoll will be discussing:

  1. Innovation – hype or hope
  2. Digitization – opportunity or disruption
  3. Industrial interconnectedness accelerating, making innovation an imperative


See the agenda for the rest of the day here.



Festervoll has 17 years of experience in the energy sector as a consultant and professional across the energy value chain, primarily in oil and gas. He has worked as a Program Manager to set up Statoil’s recently established Digital Centre of Excellence. Prior to that, Festervoll was Vice President for Corporate Strategy in Statoil. In addition, he has held a number of positions from gas trading, business development and analysis in Norsk Hydro and Statoil. Festervoll has a keen interest in innovation, digitalization and change management; and holds a Masters in Economics from the University of Oslo and University of Essex. Festervoll sits on the Board of Subsea Valley Cluster, a Norwegian Centre of Expertise technology cluster delivering world leading engineering from subsea to space.




Techstars Energy is a global mentor-driven accelerator for innovators and entrepreneurs aspiring to shape  the future of energy.  The Accelerator is a partnership between Statoil, Techstars, KONGSBERG, and McKinsey & Company giving the participating start-ups access to a unique network to drive their business forward. Learn more about the partnership here.






Will Sarni is a leading innovator and investor in the global water industry. He has authored numerous books and articles and presented on the value of water, innovations in digital water technology, the circular economy and the energy-water-food nexus. He has been a water strategy advisor to private and public-sector enterprises and NGOs, working with multinational companies across a range of industry sectors in evaluating the technical viability and market potential of innovative water technologies, market entry strategies and M&A programs.

Hank Torbert, a founder of The Frontier Conference, interviews Sarni about the industry’s ongoing transformation.

Will, you have deep experience in the water industry. Can you tell me a little about you and your background?

I started my career as a hydrogeologist working on water supply and large contaminant hydrology (e.g., Superfund) projects throughout the US. Around 1999, I became aware of, and ultimately hooked, on sustainability and pivoted my environmental consulting firm to be a leading sustainability strategy firm. We focused on water, renewable energy, climate change and green building programs. Over the past 10 years I have focused exclusively on providing water strategy and technology innovation advisory services primarily to private sector companies.

In my opinion, the water industry is experiencing its own “industrial revolution.” Why is the industry so important now? Is the industry positioned to grow? Why is water referred to as the new “oil” globally?

I agree with your view of the water sector and trends. The water sector is undergoing a transformation as the reality of water scarcity and poor water quality impacts the private and public sectors. These private and public sector actors include water and wastewater utilities, companies, governments and civil society. As a result, there is a movement to develop innovative solutions in technology, financing, business models and partnerships. In particular, digital technology solutions are gaining interest and scale with utilities and industrial companies and also a move by the public sector to better understand water data to inform public policy.

With regards to water as the new oil – we can do without oil, but not water.

Who are the major players in the sector and what is the total market size?

Major players in the water sector include private and public utilities (e.g., American Water, Severn Trent, DC Water), solution providers (e.g., SUEZ, Veolia, Ecolab), technology providers (e.g., Xylem, Badger Meter), water technology accelerators (e.g., ImagineH2O, WaterStart), consulting and engineering firms (e.g., MWH/Stantec, Arup) and multinationals (The Coca Cola Company, Nestle SA).

The market size is difficult to estimate as it can include all of the stakeholder categories mentioned above. However, to give you a sense of one aspect of the market, the global water treatment market is estimated at $600bn – $800bn pa).

What are the key drivers transforming the water industry? And what are new technologies and innovations that we should be focused on?

The major drivers transforming the industry include: water scarcity, poor water quality, Sustainable Development Goals – SDG 6 (universal access to safe drinking water, sanitation and hygiene), climate change impacts and costs to repair and replace aging water infrastructure. My view is that the major innovation trends are in digital solutions (e.g., remote sensing, IoT and AI), real time water quality monitoring, decentralized and distributed water treatment, alternative water supplies (e.g., Zero Mass Water), innovative business models (e.g., water as a service), innovative financing (e.g., green bonds and blended finance) and partnerships (e.g., water funds).

Are there recent occurrences that underscore why the industry and proliferation of new technologies are so important?

Flint, Michigan was an eye-opener in the U.S. and has catalyzed technology innovation in water quality monitoring and alternative sources of water. Other issues such as water scarcity (the “drought”) in California and the western U.S., overextraction of groundwater in the Central Valley of California and the Ogallala Aquifer, saltwater intrusion, urban stormwater management and the energy – water – food nexus stress (no water no food, etc.).

What are other industries whose growth is tied to the water management sector? For instance, energy.

We need water for agricultural production and for thermoelectric power generation. In the U.S. we use about 41 percent for thermoelectric power generation (non-consumptive use) and the same amount for agricultural production. We also need water for other industrial uses such as heavy manufacturing and semiconductor manufacturing. AS a client of mine says, no water – no beer.

Louisiana and other areas are well positioned to have robust water management eco-systems and be hotbeds for innovation in the sector. What can we do better to bring more companies here and expand our base in the water management sector?

I agree. We need to mobilize industry, academic institutions, public sector leaders, non-governmental organizations and the entrepreneurial community to build a water technology hub/accelerator. This would be similar to Water Start in Las Vegas, Current in Chicago along with ImagineH2O in San Francisco. These hubs/accelerators have a global reach.

What is your vision for the water industry?

Greater adoption of innovative technologies, financing, business models and partnerships. Also, changes in public policy (e.g., western water law, water trading) need to catch up to the realities of water scarcity – essentially the new normal. Finally, we need to do a much better job of bringing in outsiders into the sector to provide a fresh view of innovative solutions. Organizations such as ImagineH2O, and prize competitions have proven successful in accelerating innovation by engaging entrepreneurs from outside the water sector.


View the interview here:


  January 30, 2018