If you want to go down a scary internet rabbit hole, search "water conflict" for a glimpse into a future that could be.

A 2018 UN report warned that water shortages could affect five billion people by 2050, and would very likely result in wars, food shortages and energy crises. There are things I don't usually think about that could massively impact our economy and every day life.

Aaron Tartakovsky, brought this to my attention through a giant poop emoji. He was presenting his company, Epic CleanTec, to the Gorvernor's office of California and used the image as his display at the Global Climate Action Summit (GCAS). It makes sense: The San Francisco-based startup converts wastewater into natural, carbon-rich soil--as well as water that can be recycled for toilet flushing, irrigation, and other non-potable uses.

Hope lies with entrepreneurs like Tartakovsky, who are working hard to solve some of the greatest global challenges through profitable solutions. My company, HelloAlice.com, teamed up with the California Governor's Office of Business and Economic Development in late 2018 to find and reward purpose-driven innovators with the first-ever GCAS Innovation Showcase.

At the showcase, 25 emerging companies were chosen to exhibit their problem-solving products and technologies. Companies included: Chirps Chips, producers of high-protein snacks made from cricket flour; Hydrogen in Motion, a startup creating hydrogen storage technology for cleaner energy; and Scoop, a rideshare app for long-distance carpooling.

Investors, "unicorn" entrepreneurs, and media heard pitches from the 25 finalists. Epic CleanTec took home the top prize package, which included cash from Jackson Family Wines and mentorship from Signia Venture Partners. I was so inspired by Epic CleanTec's model that I wanted to share some of the company's wisdom with you. Here are four valuable takeaways for every entrepreneur:

1. The top key to growth is talent.

Spending time with Epic's leaders reminded just how important it is to have a combination of an incredible team and an amazing roster of supportive advisors and strategic investors. It's critical that your advisors have built their own companies--with both wins and losses--to therefore offer valuable advice from their own experiences. 

Advisors checks are important, but are you getting their strategic advice and connections that will move your business forward? If not, consider expanding your reach, even to those without the big checks. Advisors and investors should be considered part of your talent pool.

2. Your story is your best selling tool.

The key to winning a pitch competition is to tell a compelling story that inspires. This is as true for pitch competitions as it is for winning a customer, securing an investment, or convincing someone to join a new company.

The story is at the heart of the vision that drives the company. Epic hooked me in by promoting its unusual commodity--poop--but then very quickly turned to the validity and numbers around the business. Through its pitch, the company presented a scalable model that moved the panel of judges to choose it over 24 others to receive financing from the GCAS.

3. Every business can solve environmental problems.

Up until the last decade, solving our biggest environmental challenges was largely relegated to governments and nonprofits. That has changed. Startups and small businesses now have a major role to play in advancing sustainable solutions--especially in long-established, legacy industries like urban infrastructure.

Start by looking at your own footprint to ensure you are doing everything you can to keep a low footprint. Next, think about if your product or service might be able to help some type of environmental goal--whether directly or though partnerships.

4. Investors should pay attention to clean tech.

One of the major challenges for environmental startups is that they are often attempting to break into intensely regulated industries, navigating through many overlapping layers of politics, government, regulation, and bureaucracy--barriers that don't necessarily exist in other industries. 

Then, there is the fact that unlike software startups, many new environmental technologies are larger, physical products that require higher levels of capital investment to iterate and transition from lab-scale to commercialization. One encouraging trend is the increase of water and clean-tech focused accelerators, incubators, and competitions--all of which help to bring attention to and develop the most promising solutions. It makes me optimistic to see investor conferences for climate improving companies, like the Grounded Summit coming to California in March. 

For every successful enterprise, know that someone once made a courageous decision. You should have the courage to do the same. Whether or not the business succeeds--and hopefully, it does--you'll emerge from the experience with a new set of skills and knowledge that will make you stronger and set you up for future success.

Most of all, think deeply about the positive impact your company might make on our planet--and then monetize the heck out of it!

Published on: Feb 28, 2019
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.