Securing the global freshwater ecosystems, under increasing threat from climate change, population growth and consumer demand, has become more critical than ever. To tackle this escalating crisis, UpLink, the open innovation platform of the World Economic Forum, in partnership with global conglomerate HCL Group, has announced ten water-focused entrepreneurs who will share CHF1.75m ($1.9m) from HCL Group to scale their innovations.
Access to water plays a critical role in food production, education, job creation, health and well-being and the preservation of the natural world and is vital to achieving the United Nation’s 2030 sustainability agenda. However, the demand for water will exceed sustainable supply by 40% by 2030, with huge implications for the global economy and society.
Which are 10 projects chosen?
The 10 start-ups are the winners of the Global Freshwater Innovation Challenge, the first of five challenges under HCL and UpLink’s Aquapreneur Innovation Initiative. Launched in Sept. 2022, the challenge called for innovative solutions that would strengthen data-driven decision making, improve freshwater resilience in the face of climate change and restore water quality.
Through a $15m investment for five years, HCL Group is supporting UpLink and the Forum’s Global Water Initiative to launch innovation challenges and create an innovation ecosystem for the freshwater sector on UpLink. The 10 aquapreneurs were chosen from 227 solutions submitted, and will now each receive CHF175,000 ($190,000) in funding from HCL Group. Two of these presented their solutions at the World Economic Forum Annual Meeting 2023:
Epic Cleantec, based in the US, is a water tech company leading the water reuse revolution in the urban built environment. Aaron Tartakovsky, CEO of Epic Cleantec, commented: “With the challenges of ageing infrastructure, growing urban populations and a rapidly changing climate, the conventional approach to how we manage water is no longer sustainable.”
“Epic is on a mission to ensure that our cities are water-secure for generations to come,” Tartakovsky further said. Epic aims to use its next-generation technologies to drive circularity in water use and to work with policy-makers to reshape the water infrastructure in cities.
Kilimo, based in Argentina, uses big data and machine learning to verify, improve, and offset water usage in agriculture. Commenting on the challenge at hand, Tatiana Malvasio, Co-Founder and Chief Operating Officer, said: “As founders from Latin America, we have first-hand experience with the tension between agriculture and water stress in our region.”
“We set out to create a product that could help farmers reduce their water usage and be more efficient in their irrigation practices,” Tatiana said. Kilimo uses AI to help farmers optimize irrigation and be compensated for their participation in water stewardship initiatives.
The other entrepreneurs to be awarded prize money from HCL and support from UpLink are:
- bNovate Technologies (Switzerland) – An automatic, remote biosensor to monitor and detect bacterial concentration in water supplies
- Indra Water (India) – Electrically driven, decentralized wastewater treatment solution with no added chemicals in its primary treatment
- Majik Water Technologies (Kenya) – An atmospheric water generator system that uses proven condensation-based techniques to capture water moisture from the air
- NatureDots Private Limited: AquaNurch (India) – Derisking fisheries and water managers from ecological stressors, enabling remote-control and real-time monitoring of aqua-farms
- Oneka Technologies (Canada) – A wave-powered desalination solution to produce drinking water using renewable energy created through waves
- Openversum (Switzerland) – A locally assembled and managed membrane filter that removes pathogen heavy metals from water
- RainGrid Inc. (Canada) – Building community-scale, property-based, digital networks for net-zero residential property rainfall runoff while generating verifiable ecosystem credits
- Wateroam Pte Ltd (Singapore) – Production of safe, speedy and high-quality drinking water without electricity
What does this initiative mean for the globe?
“These innovations are crucial to the increasing demand for clean water and the transition to a greener economy,” said Olivier Schwab, Managing Director, World Economic Forum.
“With water scarcity threatening countries all around the world, it’s essential to identify and empower the innovative start-ups that will help secure access to this precious resource, now and for future generations. The Aquapreneur Innovation Initiative, launched by UpLink and HCL, will connect these world-class innovators to the resources, expertise and vital funding they need to scale and drive truly transformational change,” Olivier Schwab concluded.
“We are delighted to announce the first beneficiaries of the Aquapreneur Innovation Initiative who have been selected after rigorous deliberation. The availability of fresh water is rapidly changing worldwide, creating a tenuous future requiring attention from policy-makers, the private sector and the public alike,” said Roshni Nadar Malhotra, Chairperson, HCLTech.
“Having witnessed the efforts of aquapreneurs who are finding solutions to challenges around existing freshwater resources, I am positive that we are all moving in the right direction for the future of our planet. Many congratulations to the top 10 awardees,” Roshni further said.