Supporting the world’s water start-ups

From robotic swans to light-activated water purification systems, water technologies and their creators have received a boost through the Singapore International Water Week’s TechXchange programme and Innovation Pavilion.

MEWR Minister Masagos Zulkifli speaking to representatives from Subnero at the 2016 Innovation Pavilion.
Singapore's Environment and Water Resources Minister Masagos Zulkifli speaking to representatives from Subnero at the 2016 Innovation Pavilion. Image: SIWW

In some of Singapore’s reservoirs, robotic swans are discreetly collecting data such as the dissolved oxygen and chlorophyll levels, analysing and monitoring the waters’ quality, and uploading the results to a central server.

Unlike other methods such as periodic manual sampling or stationary infrastructure such as fixed buoys, the autonomous swans can cover large water bodies and provide continuous, real-time information about them, allowing officials to act quickly in cases of outbreaks or contamination.

In 2016, the company behind the technology, Singapore-based start-up Subnero, was among the firms that showcased their water solutions at the biennial Singapore International Water Week’s (SIWW) TechXchange programme and Innovation Pavilion. The two components are designed to connect innovators with partners, buyers and investors to accelerate the commercialisation of promising new water technologies.

“After we presented and exhibited our product, which is called the Subnero Water Assessment Network or SWAN, we received a couple of potential opportunities that could enable us to expand overseas. For instance, there were some utilities in Australia who may be interested in using our solution,” said Subnero project manager Manu Ignatius.

A crucial helping hand

Over the years, the TechXchange programme and Innovation Pavilion have given a boost to innovative water start-ups from across the globe. In 2016, the Israeli firm Utilis pitched its system that uses satellite images and computer algorithms to detect water pipe leaks from space. It has now partnered utilities and other firms and carried out trials in Germany, Kosovo, Romania, South Africa, the United States and Italy.

In 2014, the United States-headquartered Puralytics presented three light-activated water purification product lines. These have been used to provide safe drinking water to rural populations in remote areas of Peru, in disaster relief efforts after two earthquakes struck Nepal in 2015, and for other purposes.  

Ignatius noted that participating in the TechXchange programme and Innovation Pavilion helped Subnero to refine its technology too. “Since we were presenting to an audience that was specific to our domain, we got interesting insights and questions that enabled us to better plan our technology roadmap,” he said.

“For instance, one of the questions was about the need for collision avoidance for our SWAN system. That is one feature that we are working on currently. Another question was about how our system would work in large rural areas with almost no infrastructure for data connectivity and uplinks,” he continued.

EnvironSens, a Singapore-based start-up that has developed a sensor that can monitor the presence of heavy metals in used water networks around the clock and in real time, and thus help to protect downstream installations such as water treatment plants, will be taking part in the TechXchange programme and Innovation Pavilion for the first time this year.

“These are really big platforms for us to pitch our solutions to water industry experts, and we hope to interact with and explore more business prospects with global utility leaders, representatives from water industries and government agencies, investors, consultants and others,” said EnvironSens chief executive officer Shailesh Kharkwal.

A comprehensive programme

This year’s TechXchange programme will feature a variety of pitching sessions, panel discussions and one-on-one meetings to give the participants ample time with potential partners and investors, and encourage them to network and share their experiences.

There are three business pitching sessions for selected companies focused on water and wastewater treatment, automation and Internet-of-Things, and water quality monitoring technologies respectively. A separate investment pitching session will be held to link shortlisted start-ups with potential investors.

Veterans in the water industry, including Christopher Gasson, managing director of market research firm Global Water Intelligence, and Glen Daigger, professor of engineering practice at the University of Michigan, will discuss the industry’s future, including major trends and technologies on the horizon.

Andrew Benedek, winner of the first Lee Kuan Yew Water Prize in 2008, and chairman and chief executive officer of Anaergia, which has built treatment plants on four continents to recover water, energy and nutrients from wastewater and solid waste, will be among the panellists in a talk about how start-ups can grow their business to become multinational corporations.

In 2014, water market consultancy BlueTech Research helped to choose the participants in that year’s TechXchange programme and Innovation Pavilion. Paul O’Callaghan, the company’s founder and chief executive officer, said at the time that the line-up of Singaporean and international companies was an exciting cross-section of the new and up-and-coming in water innovation.  

“The TechXchange programme and Innovation Pavilion showcase how technology is evolving across a diverse range of areas. The Innovation Pavilion, in particular, provides a glimpse of how water technologies will not only meet the current needs of the market, but also shape and impact it in the medium and long term,” he said.

Piers Clark, chairman of the Britain-based Isle Utilities, which co-organised the 2016 edition of TechXchange, added: “TechXchange is vital to the global water sector as it provides one of the best, if not the best, platform for showcasing new technology. It is here, in Singapore, the gateway to Asia, that end-users, investors, academics and technologists can come together to share their experiences and create new connections.”

To commemorate the SIWW’s 10 years of excellence this year, its organisers have planned activities including an interactive word cloud that spotlights past and future water industry trends, and sampling sessions of a beer made from recycled water known as NEWater. A seven metre-long feature wall will highlight water technologies from past winners of the SIWW’s Best Poster Award, and how cities and communities have benefited from them.

EnvironSens’s Kharkwal noted: “More than 21,000 people from 125 countries and regions attended the 2016 Singapore International Water Week, so the event is a great opportunity for water companies like EnvironSens to exhibit novel technologies and products. When it comes to sharing and co-creating innovative water solutions, the Singapore International Water Week is a global platform that’s hard to beat.”

The 8th Singapore International Water Week will be held in conjunction with the 6thWorld Cities Summit and 4th CleanEnviro Summit Singapore from July 8 to 12 at the Marina Bay Sands Expo and Convention Centre. To register for the event, please click here.

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