WaterUps plants seeds of export success in Central Europe


WaterUps is exporting its award-winning wicking gardening and landscaping products to Europe.

WaterUps has taken the age-old concept of wicking and turned it into a thriving, sustainability-focused business. Founded to make it easy for people to grow food, the company is now exporting its award-winning wicking gardening and landscaping products to Europe.

‘The more we looked into wicking, the more we realised it was much more than just saving water,’ says Ian Collins, WaterUps’ Co-founder and CEO. ‘Our wicking products improve soil health, so plants grow faster and have higher yields. We offer a simple, low-cost way to help people live and thrive in a green environment.’

Sustainable, efficient, cost-effective gardening

WaterUps‘ planters, garden beds, sub-irrigation channels and other products use wicking – the scientific principle of capillary rise – to draw up water into the soil close to the roots. This ensures plants are watered where they need it most. The products also combat water waste with sustainable watering solutions. The wicking cells are made from 100% recycled plastic in western Sydney.

WaterUps’ independent research trial showed that its products use up to 80% less water than spray or surface drip irrigation. Trees and other plants grow much faster because of the constant level of moisture in the soil. The yield – whether tomatoes or trees – is typically 30 to 50% higher.

‘We conducted a 6-month trial of our new Tree Reservoir system at Western Sydney Airport,’ says Collins. ‘We found the trees using our system were at least 50% larger in canopy size than the ones that didn’t. The trees using our system required 16 maintenance visits and 160 litres of water per tree over the trial period. The ones not using our system required 48 maintenance visits and 480 litres per tree. It all adds up to substantial time, cost and water savings.’

Fighting climate change

Collins says WaterUps is also contributing to the fight against climate change.

‘Our products make it easier to grow more trees faster, which supports carbon sequestration,’ he says. ‘Their survivability rate with the WaterUps Tree Reservoir is much higher. WaterUps is also helping reduce food miles by enabling food to be grown more easily, closer to where it’s consumed.’

In January 2024, WaterUps and its Dutch distributor BERA BV received the Groene Sector Innovation Award. The prestigious award recognises innovation, sustainability and environmental stewardship in gardening and landscaping.

‘Winning this award signifies that our wicking bed technology is not just innovative but also integral to the future of sustainable gardening,’ says Collins.

A man standing next to a planter box with vegetables.

WaterUps’ gardening and landscaping products use wicking to draw up water into the soil close to the roots.

Finding the perfect distribution partner in Europe

WaterUps’ first export attempts were ‘false starts’, but taught Collins 2 lessons. ‘We have to explain in depth how our products work so people understand the benefits. We also need to work with distributors that are passionate about our products and prepared to tell our story.’

In 2022, Collins turned his attention to Europe. WaterUps had sponsored a study on community gardens around the world. One of the study’s subjects was a not-for-profit that installed sustainable gardens. The Czech organisation showed strong interest in WaterUps’ products.

Collins sensed an export opportunity and reached out to TradeStart. TradeStart assisted Collins with export guidance, helping him understand market entry strategies and opportunities in the European market. TradeStart then connected him to Austrade’s offices in the Netherlands and the Czech Republic.

During his visit to Prague, Austrade connected him to a potential manufacturing partner named Cegan. This led to an introduction to BERA BV, a Dutch manufacturer and distributor to 45 countries of water-saving solutions for gardens, landscapes, and urban spaces.

‘That was a fantastic introduction,’ says Collins. ‘They are like-minded and absolutely passionate about what we’re doing. They are promoting our products at trade shows, landscape architecture forums and to governments across Europe, the Gulf Region, Middle East and North Africa. BERA BV is exactly the partner we want.’

Czech firm Kokoza will work with BERA BV to distribute WaterUps products in the Czech Republic. WaterUps’ first container of products arrived in February 2024. The company has received a second container order and expects business to ramp up quickly over the year.

‘Austrade’s introductions have been invaluable,’ says Collins. ‘I could have staff in-market, and still not do as well as BERA BV. They have the market knowledge and the networks.’

‘Australian circular economy exporters with innovative and unique solutions should consider diversifying to Europe, where sustainability is a core focus,’ says Zdenka Kotalova, Austrade Senior Business Development Manager in the Czech Republic.

Future plans

WaterUps’ future in Europe is packed with opportunity. Outside of the Czech Republic, BERA BV has distribution partners across Europe. It has received orders and significant interest from many countries, primarily France, the Netherlands, Germany and Italy.

BERA BV has connected with an Italian commercial planter manufacturer that wants to include the WaterUps system in its products. ‘They bid on thousands of projects a year and believe our products will increase their win rate,’ says Collins.

BERA BV has received orders from a large German DIY chain. It is also engaging with landscapers to include WaterUps products in their projects.

‘We are now getting approached by companies around the world that are interested in working with us,’ says Collins. ‘We’re excited but want to make sure we grow the right way.’

One WaterUps project takes the company back to its beginnings. ‘One of the motivations for starting WaterUps was to try and help people living in long-term refugee camp situations. We wanted to help them grow their own food instead of relying on food parcels,’ says Collins.

‘We’ve now developed a prototype that can be used in refugee camps and disaster relief situations. The concept was tested on Kangaroo Island after the 2020 bushfires and re-established food growth within 6 weeks.

‘This is an area we want to explore further. But for the moment, the focus is on establishing the right relationships internationally to take our products to market.’

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