Technology remains underutilized in the global effort to secure universal access to safe drinking water by 2030. However, when combined with smart policy, adequate financing and good governance, entrepreneurship and innovation inspire optimism that U.N Sustainable Development Goal 6 is achievable. The 160 technology startups who shared their solutions with Imagine H2O’s Urban Drinking Water Challenge showed us what’s possible. From solar-powered desalination kiosks to urban groundwater monitoring tools, the competition received applications from 37 countries offering a range of innovative drinking water solutions for fast-growing, water-scarce cities.
In partnership with Founding Partners, Bluewater Group and 11th Hour Racing, Imagine H2O’s Evaluation Committee selected three winning startups which will receive pilot funding awards to validate and scale their businesses in urban communities.
● Drinkwell (Dhaka, Bangladesh) is expanding its turnkey decentralized water purification systems across arsenic-contaminated communities in Bangladesh.
● Microlyze (Denver, CO) is deploying real-time water testing devices to empower households and provide cost-effective monitoring for US utilities.
● SmartTerra (Bengaluru, India) is equipping second-tier Indian cities with the tools for data-driven decision making and operations to improve delivery and access for the underserved.
“In order to scale innovation, water startups require support to test their technologies in real-life conditions and de-risk solutions with their customers,” said Jennifer Sara, Director, Water Global Practice at the World Bank and a member of the Evaluation Committee. “ Imagine H2O’s Challenge provides a unique platform to help propel three worthy solutions forward with much-needed pilot support, visibility and mentorship.”
Evaluated on the basis of commercial viability, impact and market readiness, the winning startups merge technology with innovative business models to improve the reach and sustainability of drinking water services. Each winner will be showcased during a series of events in Stockholm during World Water Week on August 26–31, 2018. Imagine H2O’s evaluation committee included a diverse group of experts from institutions including the World Bank, Grundfos, The Schmidt Family Foundation, Anaergia, Rotoplas, Xylem, Aquaya Institute and Water & Sanitation for the Urban Poor.
Three startups from the competition have been recognized as Imagine H2O Asia Finalists, a dedicated track for water technology startups addressing Southeast Asia’s water challenges. Drinkwell, Watchtower Robotics(Cambridge, MA) and THE.WAVE.TALK (Seoul, South Korea) will be showcased at Singapore Week of Innovation and Technology (SWITCH) on September 17–20 through Imagine H2O’s recently announced partnership with Enterprise Singapore.
We are falling behind. This was the message delivered at the recent convening by the UN and international partners to review progress towards SDG 6. Over 800 million people still lack access to a basic drinking water service. More than 2 billion live in areas of water stress. Untreated wastewater is not only a concern for many developing countries; a survey of 70 middle and high-income countries revealed that 30–60% of municipal wastewater is not safely treated. Progress has certainly been achieved and success stories should not be overlooked. However, acknowledgement that we can do better is bold and will help galvanize support for innovation moving forward.