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Detroit, MI 48201

Glenn Oliver

Glenn Oliver's startup, H2bid, has a great technology in a field desperately in need of a tech update. The challenge for the Detroit entrepreneur is getting an industry resistant to change to see the light.

"We're still working on that," Oliver says. "They're coming around slowly but it's a slow process. But the way I look at it is if there is an industry that is slow to change then that is an opportunity."

H2bid created an online platform that enables water utilities to bid out projects over the Internet. The idea is to help them to strike the best deal in the most cost-effective manner. The Midtown, Detroit-based firm also offers data-and-analytics services.

To put it simply, H2bid offers a modern software solution for an industry dominated by a paper-based bidding process. Oliver says more than 90 percent of water utilities are dependent on paper-based systems.

"You have to be patient," Oliver says about pitching H2bid. "You have to believe that the value that comes with your service is real."

It's a slow sell. Things like water supplies are a core need of society so if the system that makes it readily available to millions of people isn’t broken, the people responsible for it are a little bit more than hesitant to change it. People rarely die from keeping a working system running smoothly.

But what H2bid is selling is a more efficient way of running that system. Oliver says it can create double-digit savings for its users. Getting them to sign on is the hard part, unless there is someone within the system that is willing to champion it.

"There is a huge untapped market for us," Oliver says. "When they sign on they will probably be with us for decades. You just have to be patient."

Patience is the hard part. Oliver launched the startup in 2006 because the former member of the Detroit Board of Water Commissioners saw how woefully behind the tech times the industry was. For him being ahead of the curve is a bit of a blessing and a curse.

"I didn’t know how far ahead of the market we were when we came out with this product," Oliver says.

With that said, it's a shift Oliver knows has to happen. He compares it to how people made the jump from traditional snail mail to email. Mailing a letter was a system that worked great for everyone for a long time. However, email revolutionized correspondence because it made it faster, cheaper and more accessible.

Oliver sees the same sort of digitization as inevitable for water utilities.

"You might not be ready for it today but you will need it eventually," Oliver says. "You can only hold out for so long."

- Written by Jon Zemke

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