10 entrepreneurs on what inspired them to tackle water insecurity
- This week, the UN Water Conference will take place for the first time in 46 years.
- UpLink, the innovation platform of the World Economic Forum, is sourcing and scaling so-called aquapreneurs, entrepreneurs with start-ups that are focused on solving water-related challenges around the world.
- We asked 10 of them what their motivation was for embarking on their entrepreneurial journey. and how their innovations are having a positive impact on people and the planet.
Water makes life on Earth possible. It is the simplest yet most essential resource, vital for industry, food production, health and for the safe-functioning of our cities. But we have taken water for granted, overusing and over-exploiting it for decades.
Fresh water represents less than 3% of the world's water. However, just a fraction of it, less than 1%, is easily accessible to us. Overusing this rare resource leads to nature imbalances, and water sources are draining faster than the natural environment can replenish them. We're polluting it, and 2 billion people, many of them children, lack access to safe sources of drinking water.
The time to focus on water security and fresh water resources is now. This week, the UN Water Conference will take place for the first time in 46 years. Global leaders have acknowledged the pressing water problem, and humanity's role in worsening it. Experts, policy makers, investors and entrepreneurs are all calling for concrete action to be taken to bring water to the centre of the sustainable development agenda.
This week in New York, UpLink, the open innovation platform of the World Economic Forum is bringing together some of the 'aquapreneurs' from its community of innovators building water security and restoring the world's water ecosystems. We asked 10 of them what their motivation was for embarking on their entrepreneurial journey. and how their innovations are having a positive impact on people and the planet.
This is what they had to say:
"I grew up in the southern state of Tamil Nadu in India. The region is water stressed with over 50% of the state facing acute water shortage. It was a luxury to have water in our taps and faucets for more than 4 hours per day! I have seen countless women, children and the elderly standing on the roadside in long queues beside water tankers, waiting for their chance to fill their plastic pots with water.
"We were sensitized to the tremendous impact of water on our productivity and other daily chores and activities very early. Natural water bodies within the city limits were extremely polluted. Froth, foul smell, degrading biological material, slime made the water unusable. They are breeding ground for insects and diseases. When I moved to Mumbai, the situation was similar. But the consequences were more alarming.
"We wanted to change this and believed that wastewater is a resource. These factors inspired us to build our electrical water treatment solution which has a fraction of the carbon footprint compared to older solutions and is extremely scalable.
"Indra has already treated more than 750 million litres of water with our solution and we have reduced sludge generation by more than 3000 tons, chemical consumption by 2000 tons and greenhouse gas emissions by 500 tons in the process."
Find out more about Indra Water on UpLink.
"Waterborne diseases are the most common cause of death worldwide, according to the WHO. In fact, the safety of most of the water produced in the world still relies on century-old methods that require lengthy procedures for detecting bacteria, for example. These types of measurements are not routinely monitored automatically, and the data is only available to water managers a few days after the water is distributed and consumed.
"Our goal at bNovate is to bring these essential bacteria detecting parameters into the digital age of automatic and connected solutions. So we developed BactoSense, the first automatic biosensor. The instrument can continuously monitor microbial parameters and quickly detect any change in bacterial concentration, drastically reducing the data-gathering time from several days to just minutes.
"BactoSense can be connected anywhere throughout the water supply network, providing automatic, online, and remote water monitoring, and it can raise the alarm if bacteria reach problematic levels. The device is robust and so easy to operate that it can be simply plugged in and used by anyone to monitor water installations, water distribution networks, or water quality control."
Find out more about bNovate Technologies on UpLink.
"In Kenya today, rural people can spend up to 6 hours per day fetching water and low-income urban people drink dirty - and expensive - water.
"We decided to harness the world's largest untapped source of water - the atmosphere. There is six times more water in the air than in all the rivers in the world. We offer vulnerable communities this water at an affordable price. We use condensation (creating a cool area where water drops form) for areas with electricity supply or access to solar energy. This costs 2 cents per litre and generates 1,000 plus litres per day.
"Each Majik Water device creates three permanent jobs for maintenance technicians and five temporary staff for each installation. The aquaponics farming being done via our device in Turkana has created 4 direct jobs and the 2000kgs horticultural produce benefits 500 households. Further, the Greenhouse Farm in Kitui has created six permanent jobs with a provision for more with increased demand for greenhouse produce. The Increased access to decentralized sources of clean drinking water has benefited a paediatric clinic in Turkana that serves 100 patients daily. Additionally, 2000 community members have access to clean water for daily household usage."
Find out more about Majik Water Technologies on UpLink.
"We should reduce over-pumping and depleting groundwater and other natural water sources so that they might regenerate themselves and return to a natural balance. The largest untapped renewable energy resource has been in front of our eyes since the beginning. We are taking the mechanical motion from the oceans to turn seawater into drinking water.
"Oneka Technologies' mission is to make the oceans a sustainable, clean-powered and affordable source of freshwater. Desalination systems usually require a lot of energy and use large amounts of fossil fuel to turn seawater into fresh water.
"Having developed a solution that operates in synergy with the marine environment, our team will also work with scientists and marine biologists to develop even further our solution that will produce not only high-quality freshwater but also provide short and long-term benefits to the surrounding ecosystems, while training local people to manage their desalinated water supply and increase their resilience to climate change."
Find out more about Oneka Technologies on UpLink.
"Two billion people still do not have access to safe drinking water. Solutions are too costly, too resource-intensive, not convenient enough, and not adapted to marginalized communities and the people who need them most.
"To address this urgent issue, Openversum has developed a highly efficient and cost-effective membrane filter that quickly removes pathogens, heavy metals, and micropollutants from water. We rely on a micro-franchising strategy to make that filter as widely available as possible. The sustainability of their solution is ensured through the transfer of technology and business know-how. Through Openversum, thousands of water entrepreneurs can make a fair living while improving the health of their community.
"Microfranchising ensures productive and decent employment, contributing to economic growth. At the same time, water security and better health translate into school and work attendance and empowers women and girls with time to participate in economic growth. Our impact is also environmental, avoiding the use of bottled water, eliminating the use of energy, and helping communities build resilience to climate change.
"By 2026, we want to improve the health of 1.8 million people, contribute to poverty alleviation through direct income for +2100 entrepreneurs, and save 34,000 tons of CO2."
Find out more about Openversum on UpLink.
"When people have access to safe drinking water, they can work more productively, increase their employability and access better livelihoods. They can also be healthier and more resilient to overcome catastrophes.
"Wateroam's three creators met at the National University of Singapore. We came together to build a filtration system to help disaster-stricken victims access safe drinking water.
"Upon graduation, we realized that our technology could save lives. The company's flagship product, the ROAMfilter™ Plus was introduced with an award-winning patent designed for speed and quality.
"Since 2014, Wateroam has provided safe drinking water to more than 250,000 people across 43 countries globally. And this is just the beginning. With billions remaining without access to safely managed drinking water at home, we hope to provide 30 million people with access to clean water by 2030."
Find out more about Wateroam on UpLink.
"RainGrid's inspiration for a property-based utility achieving net zero rainfall runoff evolved from our vision to protect the health of local freshwater ecosystems by making every citizen, their home, and their community part of the solution to the wicked water problems of flooding, drinking water insecurity, and freshwater ecosystem restoration.
"Aggregated Rain Grid Outcome Networks (ARGoN) are our contribution to the challenges global cities face from a history of unintended or misguided efforts to dominate natural systems instead of making them an integral part of our cities. ARGoNs make rainfall a circular resource for cities and their citizens, beginning where the rain falls.
"We provide intelligently-managed networks of rooftop runoff retention and reuse on properties. This community-based utility will solve the wicked equation that rain equals local stormwater flooding and drought equals water insecurity."
Find out more about RainGrid on UpLink.
"The 2.4 million hectare of freshwater bodies available for aquaculture in India are facing various degrees of risks and deterioration, data and monitoring gaps, with climate change, further aggravating this situation.
"This causes 90% of fish production in India to be biologically unsustainable and highly vulnerable to climate risks leading to $2-3 billion loss in fisheries and associated health costs. On the other hand, overall, waterscapes have been deteriorating at an increasing rate, impacting aquatic life, ecosystems, and people dependent on them.
"Our AI models capture high-frequency data from aqua farms to large reservoirs and water bodies, leading to the creation of the AquaNurch System. It combines Nature Intelligence and Artificial Intelligence, for de-risking people, nature and industries.
"In five years, we target to map and monitor 1 million hectare of freshwater, restore or conserve 30% of the mapped water bodies, acquire a market of $1.5 billion, and de-risk 10 million people."
Find out more about NatureDots on UpLink.
"With the combined challenges of ageing infrastructure, growing urban populations, and a rapidly changing climate, the conventional approach to how we manage water is no longer sustainable.
"We believe that there is no "waste" in wastewater, and we hope to reuse billions of gallons of water per year across our installations. One of Epic's goals is to accelerate the water reuse revolution with next-generation technologies, transitioning society from a linear approach to a more circular one in which water is used and reused many times.
"We are also working with regulators and policymakers to re-engineer a centuries-old approach to water and wastewater infrastructure that is largely based on the centralized model of long networks of underground pipes connected to central facilities. We aim to help move the industry toward a more distributed model that allows our communities to be more resilient while facing the increasing challenges of our dwindling water supply.
Find out more about Epic Cleantec on Uplink.
"As founders from Latin America, we have first-hand experience with the tension between agriculture and water stress in our region. Agriculture uses a significant amount of freshwater and feeding a growing global population will require increased agricultural production and water withdrawals. At the same time, climate change effects such as water scarcity and droughts directly impact agriculture and industries in water-stressed areas.
"We decided to create a product that could help farmers reduce their water usage and be more efficient in their irrigation practices. It uses artificial intelligence to combine soil, satellite, weather data, and provides farmers with recommendations for optimizing their irrigation and reducing water usage.
"In doing so, it helps farmers to digitize and accelerate their adoption of new technologies and practices while enhancing freshwater resilience. Also, we help farmers be rewarded for their water savings by promoting their participation in water stewardship initiatives and projects, enabling companies to actively participate in the solution to this global challenge."
Find out more about Kilimo on UpLink.