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10 'aquapreneurs' share $1.9 million to address the global water crisis

These startups are the winners of the Global Freshwater Innovation Challenge.

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UpLink, the World Economic Forum's open innovation platform, in partnership with global conglomerate HCL Group, recently announced that 10 water-focused entrepreneurs will share $1.9 million to scale their innovative companies.

Seeking to secure the world's freshwater ecosystems under the growing threat of climate change, population growth, and consumer demand, the organization highlighted some data that shows the immediate need to address the crisis:

  • By 2030, global demand for water will exceed sustainable supply by 40% with huge implications for the global economy and society.
  • Climate change and population expansion are causing rivers and lakes to dry out.

The challenge

The Global Freshwater Innovation Challenge, the first of five challenges proposed by HCL and UpLink's Aquapreneur Innovation Initiative, launched in September 2022, bets on the 10 winning companies to find innovative solutions that strengthen data-driven decision-making, improving the resilience of fresh water in the face of climate change and restoring its quality.

Through an investment of $15 million, spread over 5 years, the series of challenges proposed within the framework of the 2023 World Economic Forum annual meeting in Davos hope to create an ecosystem of innovation for the global freshwater sector through UpLink.

The water-focused entrepreneurs, or 'aquapreneurs,' who hail from seven different countries, were chosen from 227 applications submitted for the challenge, and will now each receive $190,000 in vital funding from HCL Group.

Winners

Two of the innovators were selected to present their solutions in Davos:

  1. Epic Cleantec — Based in the U.S., is a water technology company leading the water reuse revolution in urban environments. It aims to use its next-generation technologies to drive circulation in water use and work with policymakers to reshape the water infrastructure in cities.
  2. Kilimo — Based in Argentina, uses big data and machine learning to verify, improve, and offset water usage in agriculture. It uses artificial intelligence to help farmers optimize irrigation and be compensated for their participation in water stewardship initiatives.

The other entrepreneurs who will receive cash prizes from HCL and the support of UpLink are:

  1. bNovate Technologies (Switzerland) – An automatic, remote biosensor to monitor and detect bacterial concentration in water supplies
  2. Indra Water (India) – Electrically-driven, decentralized wastewater treatment solution with no added chemicals in its primary treatment
  3. Majik Water Technologies (Kenya) – An atmospheric water generator system that uses proven condensation-based techniques to capture water moisture from the air
  4. NatureDots Private Limited: AquaNurch (India) – Derisking fisheries and water managers from ecological stressors, enabling remote-control and real-time monitoring of aqua farms
  5. Oneka Technologies (Canada) – A wave-powered desalination solution to produce drinking water using renewable energy created through waves
  6. Openversum (Switzerland) – A locally assembled and managed membrane filter that removes pathogen-heavy metals from water
  7. RainGrid Inc. (Canada) – Building community-scale, property-based, digital networks for net-zero residential property rainfall runoff while generating verifiable ecosystem credits
  8. Wateroam Pte Ltd (Singapore) – Production of safe, speedy, and high-quality drinking water without electricity

Reactions 

“As founders from Latin America, we have first-hand experience with the tension between agriculture and water stress in our region. In response to this challenge, we set out to create a product that could help farmers reduce their water usage and be more efficient in their irrigation practices,” said Tatiana Malvasio, co-founder and chief operating officer of Kilimo. 

For his part, Aaron Tartakovsky, CEO of Epic Cleantec, said:

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. Epic is on a mission to ensure that our cities are water-secure for generations to come.

“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. 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,” said Roshni Nadar Malhotra, chairperson of HCLTech.

“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,” said Olivier Schwab, managing director of the World Economic Forum.

For more information on the 2023 World Economic Forum Annual Meeting, click here.

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