Saving water with smart technology: Interview with TaKaDu's Amir Peleg

Fresh from the win from a global award, smart water technology firm TaKaDu’s founder chief executive Amir Peleg speaks to Jessica Cheam about the firm’s journey to help the world save water and why it wants to set up in Singapore

"This award, and the remarkable mission behind it, will raise awareness of our technology and the great impact our solution has to secure the planet’s most valuable resource, water," - Amir Peleg.

Amir Peleg is an Israeli serial entrepreneur who founded TaKaDu in late 2008 with the vision of using a combination of maths and software to solve one of the world’s most pressing problems: how to save water. 

As a teenager, Amir won a special prize for young inventors from Israel’s Weizmann Institute. His inventiveness has led him to create TaKaDu, which offers a software solution that analyses complex raw data from utilities to detect issues such as leaks, bursts and pressure issues earlier, resulting in a reduction of water wastage.

TaKaDu’s smart water technology is deployed in public and private water utilities in six countries: Australia, Chile, Israel, United Kingdom, Spain and Portugal. Its software, which is cloud-based and accessible from any mobile device, is also used to support long-term planning that saves utilities time and money and protects water supply. Its strategic investors include some of the world’s leading companies such as ABB and 3M.

For its efforts in creating a more sustainable world, TaKaDu on Nov 7 won the Sustainia Award 2013, which honours the world’s best sustainability innovation. The award is initiated by Copenhagen-based sustainability think tank, Sustainia, in collaboration with Schwarzenegger’s initiative Regions20, UN Global Compact and the EU Commission.

The award committee said its technology helped it to stand out among the more than 500 projects submitted from 79 countries.

The firm is now eyeing the Asian market, says Peleg, who is also the chairman of the Smart Water Networks Forum. Here, he speaks to Eco-Business about how Israel’s water scarcity led him to create TaKaDu and why he hopes winning the Sustania Award will raise awareness about water issues globally.

What was your inspiration for TaKaDu? 

There was no specific moment for inspiration. Israel has always suffered from a shortage of water and being Israeli, I’ve always been aware of this issue. A few years ago, after I sold my previous company to Microsoft, I was looking for the next challenge and started exploring the water sector.

I discovered that not many entrepreneurs were driving the sector and I also realised there was a lack of efficiency in the sector, with many water operators losing up to 30 per cent of the water due to leakage and other problems. Some utlities in Asia even lose up to 50 to 60 per cent of their water. So I resolved to look at how technology could solve these problems.

What were the difficulties when you started? Was it tough getting funding?

The biggest challenge in the first year was to convince the water industry that there was a sustainable business model, and that people will pay for such a solution.

But I wasn’t too worried as there are 250,000 water utilities around the world. And they were positioned to reap the low-hanging fruits of water efficiency. The more challenging task I had was to convince investors to put money in the company. I was lucky enough that I could sustain and support the venture in its early stages with my own finances, or it would have been extremely difficult. 

The other challenge was also to attract the best talent into the company. There is an impression that the water sector is conservative, so we have to persuade the brightest people that there is a bright future in this company, and in the industry. 

Can you explain to the layman how TaKaDu’s technology works?

The best analogy I can give is it’s similar to how you track fraud and credit card transactions in the banking industry. You follow normal credit card behaviour, look at different parts of the system, and normal patterns of flow. Once you learn that normal pattern, you can detect deviations. Many utilities have raw data and also GIS (Geographic Information System) information. But they may be collecting big data but not using it in a smart, analytical way. So our data analytics software will analyse it and detect the anomalies, identify them and they can resolve these issues quicker, leading to reducing in water wastage.

What was your reaction when you first found out TaKaDu won the Sustainia Award?

I was very surprised, and we were very excited when we heard the news. In 2011, we had won the Tech Pioneer award at the World Economic Forum in Davos. Winning the Sustainia Award this year will really help us drive change in the sector, to bring about innovation and attract new investments into water management.

What does the word ‘TaKaDu’ mean? 

It doesn’t have any meaning but there is a rational behind it - it is easy to remember, easy to spell, and multilingual. In choosing the name for the company, I wanted a certain name that will be remembered.

What are your plans for the future?

We would like to expand and reach more water utilities, particularly in Asia. We are thinking about opening a regional office in Singapore, which is known worldwide for its leading water sector and ecosystem of water companies. We’ll be presenting TaKaDu at the Singapore International Water Week there next year. We definitely have exciting times ahead of us.  

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