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An AI Fix for Aging Water Systems with Seyi Fabode

On this episode of What About Water? an entrepreneur in Austin, Texas turns his dishwasher sensor into a tech startup that’s giving water utilities a picture of their water quality in real time.

Jay sits down with Seyi Fabode, the CEO and co-founder of Varuna, to discuss how his company’s cloud-based software is helping cities keep track of their drinking water quality by the minute, allowing them to respond to spills, contamination, and fluctuations before it’s too late.

Jay and Seyi dream up a new tech idea together and trace Seyi’s entrepreneurial roots from his childhood in Nigeria to his post-grad in the UK. They discuss the $100,000 investment from the Google for Startups Black Founder Fund that opened new doors for Varuna, and what needs to change to get more black-owned businesses like Seyi’s off the ground.

At the end of the episode Jay answers a few questions about the Tri-State Water Wars and water privatization from listener Mark, who’s based in Atlanta, Georgia. Got a question for Jay? Write to him at [email protected] and you may hear your question in an upcoming episode. Voice memos like Mark’s are also welcome!

Guest Bios

Seyi FabodeSeyi Fabode

Seyi Fabode is the CEO/Cofounder of Varuna, a water SaaS company that provides risk management and resilience building solutions to water utilities. Seyi Fabode has more than 19 years’ of experience developing and deploying technology solutions for the power and water utility industry. Prior to Varuna he spent several years consulting with global utilities and the World Bank. Varuna is Seyi’s second technology startup, having built and sold Power2Switch, an energy marketplace in the power industry. Seyi has an MBA from the Booth School of Business at University of Chicago, and an MSc in Manufacturing Systems Engineering from Warwick University in the UK. He lives in Austin TX with his wife and two kids. He was named a LinkedIn TopVoice in Technology in 2016 and 2017. Fabode is the author of 11 books, including ‘The Antifragile Grid‘, ‘Advancing Technology and the Utility Industry‘ and ‘40 Semi-Obvious (Startup) Lessons‘. Seyi moved from Nigeria to the U.K. and then to the United States. He received his MBA in Entrepreneurship and Strategic Management from the University of Chicago Booth School of Business.





Dive Deeper

  • Varuna Website
  • Seyi’s blog on Medium, where he writes about his process developing Varuna and ideas around tech and water
  • Varuna received a $100,000 in cash from the Google for Startups Black Founders Fund to help kickstart the business in 2020 (How my startup uses AI to reimagine water utilities)
  • Research shows that water systems in communities of color have a disproportionate amount of EPA violations. (NRDC: Watered Down Justice)
  • Less than 3% of U.S. venture capital funding went to Black-led companies in 2020, despite the fact that 10% of American companies are Black-owned, according to U.S. Census data. (Analysis: For Black founders, venture funding remains elusive despite new funds | Reuters)
  • Because of the United States’ aging water infrastructure, in addition to severe weather events and accidents, approximately 240,000 water main breaks occur each year, resulting in loss of service and drinking water advisories. (Journal of Public Health Management and Practice)
  • Globally, an estimated 785 million people do not have access to clean drinking water and a billion more live in water-stressed areas. (WHO)
  • In October 2018, flooding rains ravaged central Texas. On the morning of October 22, 2018 debris and increased turbidity in the rivers led Austin Water Utility to release an unprecedented boil water notice for over 800,000 customers within the City of Austin and surrounding counties. (Austin Water Utility)


Photo Credit

  • Seyi Fabode – Submitted

Full Transcript

Coming soon!