CW Unplugged - Tech for Water

Blog published by CW (Cambridge Wireless)

CW Unplugged events bring together innovative start-ups, impact investors, designers and engineers who won’t be scared to ask the tough questions and who discuss solutions. Our most recent Unplugged event on Tech for Water was no exception!

Delivered in partnership with The Centre for Global Equality, the CW community came together for an afternoon to discuss how we can improve water technology in both developed and developing countries.

The featured ventures would present their two questions/problems to our audience which would then split into teams of ten for the ideation workshops led by Cambridge Consultants, Dovetailed and Fresh Perspectiv with all three groups coming together at the end to discuss, debate and deliberate amongst one another.

The Centre for Global Equality

After a warm welcome from Abhi, the Executive Director of the Centre for Global Equality, Lara Allen, spoke to us about who the CGE are and what they focus on.

The Centre for Global Equality is Cambridge's International Development Network who have created an enabling environment for the evolution of innovative solutions to global challenges.

Within the network, they run three different programmes:

  1. A civil society network - The CGE are the founding partner of Arm's Tech for Good program
  2. An academic network - working closely with the University of Cambridge
  3. An Inclusive Innovation program - an innovation program called The Global Goals Innovation Cultivator which focuses on evolving innovative solutions into global challenges while solving problems that undermine the wellbeing of the poorer half of the world's population

The Cambridge Cultivator provided us with the three ventures that were focused on at the evening's event:

  1. WaterScope - WaterScope are a not-for-profit organisation company based in Cambridge whose mission is to secure clean water to empower the bottom billion of the world's population
  2. BlueTap - BlueTap are developing a water purifier pack which can easily instaled by local plumbers onto households in developing countries, ensuring that the water will be purified to drinking water quality and providing new opportunities for residents and the economy
  3. Majico - Majico are a not-for-profit organisation developing water treatment systems for the developing world, with their water reactors using the power of the sun

Water Management - Synergies between Anglian Water and developing countries

Before we were introduced to the evening's three ventures, attendees heard from Ghislain Juvanon, who works for water company Anglian Water and their project Shop Window

Anglian Water Shop Window CW Unplugged

  • Anglian Water have invested £15bn since 1989, supporting their customers, the economy and the environment
  • Anglian Water recycle waste water from 2.7 million households
  • For every £100m they invest, 2000 jobs are created or secured across their company or supply chain

Anglian Water has a close relationship with the international not-for-profit organisation Water Aid. Both organisations worked in Nepal together to provide functional and sanitary water within the communities over a five-year period. The industry-wide challenges that Anglian Water and Water Aid work on together combine with those specific to their region to drive innovation.

Altogether, Anglian Water and Water Aid work alongside 105 organisations including Allia, Arqiva and Siemens with them working on 95 projects together.

It's an obligation, not an option.


WaterScope - Enabling, simple, affordable bacterial testing

The first venture to present was WaterScope; a venture working towards enabling simple, affordable bacterial testing for water.

Alex Patto, CEO of WaterScope opened up his presentation with impactful facts such as:

  • Over 660 million people around the world do not have access to clean drinking water
  • Global diarrhoeal diseases cause of 200 deaths per day
  • Most people who do not have access to clean drinking water live in low resources areas

A start-up halfway through their third year, WaterScope believe that current testing systems in place to test for clean drinking water are slow, expensive and complex but WaterScope have come up with solutions that will make this testing easier for all:

  • WaterScope are hoping that their technology will provide quantative results in less than six hours
  • WaterScope are hoping to provide simple testing which isn't dependent on resources or skillsets; testing kits that anyone and everyone is able to use
  • WaterScope hope to provide connective testing; real-time mapping of water sources around the globe

But what are WaterScope planning on working on to acheive these solutions?

Alex Patto WaterScop, CW Unplugged

WaterScope are currently working on two different technologies which they hope will help them to achieve their solutions.

  1. A bacterial imaging system - A system which will be portable, affordable, automated and able to quantify specific bacterial contamination
  2. Novel dispoasble cartridge - A cartridge which will be simple to use and versatile with the focus of the cartridge being its simplicity

Alex mentioned what the next steps for WaterScope were:

  • Targeting trhe water testing market in developing countries
  • Building business cases for developed countries
  • Expansion of their targets
  • Further product developement and refinement

To end the presentation and to get attendees prepared for the ideation workshops, Alex posed WaterScope's selected questions which were:

  1. What is the value of a database that maps different water contamination levels in a particular area?
  2. Would such a resource contribute to combatting water inequality, and who might pay to use it?

BlueTap – Design for positive impact

The next venture of the evening’s event was BlueTap, a company aiming to build a local water entrepreneurship movement, implementing both cleaner water, local jobs, a cleaner environment and a more stable economy.

Becky Donaldson, COO of BlueTap took to the stage to discuss some of the problems that BlueTap and Mexico City have faced:

  • Mexico City is the largest consumer of bottled water in the world due to their distrust in the water system. This produces a lot of plastic waste as well which is harmful for the environment
  • Residents in Mexico City have started to take action into their own hands by installing rainwater harvesting units and using their own chlorine. Although the initiative is there, this is still unrealiable as the chlorine tablets used do not distribute evenly
  • Chlorine injectors such as the Dosatron or filters such as the LifeStraw Family are fragile and too expensive

Becky. BlueTap CW Unplugged

Becky explained that in 2013, the residents of Mexico City requested a solution and that is where BlueTap came in. BlueTap are currently working towards producing 3D printed chlorine injectors which will help to distribute chlorine evenly as well as:

  • Cost-effective – These injectors will be cost-effective, allowing everyone to afford them
  • Fitting into existing pipe work – The injector will fit into existing pipe work, eliminating the work of removing and fixing new pipe parts which lowers the cost
  • Work with local plumbers – BlueTap will work with local plumbers, while also training residents to be able to install the injectors themselves, providing a positive effect on the economy and on residents
  • A plumber will attend once a month to check up on the water to ensure that the injector is still working correctly

After explaining BlueTap’s solutions and accolades to attendees, Becky went on to list the one tech question and two business questions that BlueTap were asking for the ideation workshops:

Tech Question: How do the standards for household-level chlorination differ from standards for large scale chlorination? Are there any differences between household and municipal level chlorination that Blue Tap should think about? ​

Business Question 1: What are the difficulties associated with being a business that operates within the UK but solely has clients abroad in the developing world?

Business Question 2: What are the best routes to market? Is it preferable to plan to sell the product with support services directly to end-users or should Blue Tap aim eventually to sell the product to a larger competitor?


Majico – Empowering communities with sustainable water treatment technologies

The last venture from the Cambridge Cultivator to present was Majico who are a social enterprise aiming to empower communities with sustainable technologies with their water purification systems being powered by sunlight and can destroy pollutants and microorganisms providing safer and cleaner drinking water.

Mike Coto, one of the three founders of Majico presented to attendees some facts about access to clean drinking water:

  • Worldwide, 1 in 10 people still lack clean drinking water
  • Out of 1 billion people, 50% of people lack clean, safe water in Sub-Saharan Africa

Similar to BlueTap’s fact on the use of bottled water in Mexico City, Majico also provided a fact that the still bottled water market is worth $1 billion +10% CAGR with private water vendors on the rise due to a lack of infrastructure providing clean and safe water, with 38% of people in Tanzania using plastic bottle water.

Mike discussed with attendees how Majico were to distribute their solar-powered purification technologies with subscription-based models suggested as well as the idea of building the technology locally, whilst leasing them nationally and the Majico team to be on hand throughout.

Mike, Majico, CW Unplugged

To conclude their presentation, Mike gave the attendees the questions that were to be discussed further during the ideation workshops:

  1. How can the efficiency of the water purification panels be monitored over time?
  2. What mobile technology integration would add value for vendors and/or end-users ofMajico systems? 

Ideation in progress

Attendees were split into three separate groups, (one for each venture) with Fresh Perspectiv leading the WaterScope workshop, Dovetailed leading the BlueTap workshop and Cambridge Consultants leading the Majico workshop.

After having an hour to discuss solutions to the problems/questions raise by the three ventures, attendees assembled in the auditorium to discuss their findings and ideas from the workshops.

Ideation Workshops, CW Unplugged

The first to present their ideas were Nigel and Lucy from Fresh Perspectiv who were representing WaterScope who focused mainly on the value of a database that maps different water contamination levels in a particular area.

Who will be interested in this database?

The group suggested that a variety of people may be interested in this database:

  • Price management companies – These companies can assess how much money the company are making
  • Potential investors – Investors can determine how the company are doing, how much money they may be making and how much may need to be invested
  • Disaster aids – Disaster aids may want to know how the technologies are working and whether the technology is helping

Who may be customers of the database?

Another aspect in regard to the database was raised: who would buy the database:

  • Test labs – Labs may want to test the technologies and cross-check the database to determine whether the technologies are working
  • Water companies – Similar to the labs, water companies may want to use the database and technologies to determine how the technologies are working
  • Farmers and hikers– Farmers and hikers may want information from the database to determine whether the technologies work which will determine whether they will buy these technologies.

Overall, all attendees that were in the WaterScope thought the there was real value with the technologies that were presented as well as the idea of having a database online for people to have access to one way or another.

The next venture to present their ideas was BlueTap with Francine and Hai-Dao leading the workshop.

The size of the filters and the distribution

One of the first things discussed within the group was about the size of the chlorine injectors and the distribution of said injectors amongst the community.

A key thing mentioned was that the injectors need to be adaptable to all sizes of pipes, or that there needs to be a variety of injectors made in different sizes.

But, the most discussed issue within the group was about the distribution of the injectors with many ideas being circulated around the group such as:

  • Plumbers to become the middle-man between households and BlueTap – Earlier on, BlueTap mentioned how they would recruit local plumbers to help boost the economy and morale of the residents with the group chiming in, agreeing to this idea. Another idea relating to this was brought up was that residents could be trained which would rid the plumber as well as lowering costs.
  • Chlorine distribution centre – The idea of a chlorine distribution centre was raised within the group with the idea of new jobs arising as well as easier access to creating the injectors and providing the chlorine needed.
  • Different cities have different markets – Another issue raised was that BlueTap need to remember that every city they wish to install their injectors into have different markets.
  • How will we know that the right amount of chlorine is distributed – An algorithm will be set up to determine the right amount of chlorine is distributed through the injectors with BlueTap announcing that various business models were being analysed to discuss this and mentioning that monitoring will need to be happening constantly to make sure that the algorithm is still correct.

The last venture, Majico had their ideas presented by Iain from Cambridge Consultants.

One of the biggest things that Majico mentioned was that they were hoping for the system to be deployed for three years in which nothing needs to happen, but the reality was that even if nothing needed to happen physically, behind the scenes careful monitoring needed to happen to ensure that the system was still working correctly.

Long-term data trends were also discussed and when it may be likely that problems may interfere, with the biggest problem being mentioned being the weather. As a system which will be relying on solar light, the weather may cause problems due to unpredictably and changes in seasons.

Personas for different users for market strategy

The second question that Majico imposed on the attendees was how this system can be marketed amongst different audiences, or ‘personas’. The personas that were discussed were:

  • Local entrepreneurs: Local entrepreneurs may find the system interesting to share amongst their networks, which could then lead to pyramid selling. One aspect brought up was that there could be a variety of payment systems that could be used for this, which may provide more income
  • Local shop keepers – If local shop keepers who ran the vendors mentioned earlier during the event sold the system, this would attract more people to the shops raising economy and pleasing the community. A problem was raised with this as many shop keepers who aren’t licensed to sell the product may produce copycats that could cheapen the water and potentially provide dangerous water to end users.

Majico did announce that they were hoping to have a product finalised by summer 2019 although this has not been officially cemented.


The next steps

After all three ventures took to the stage to present the ideas discussed within their group and listen to other attendees debate these, the next steps following the event were discussed:

  • How will we continue the conversation outside of the event? CW will work towards creating an open forum community online for all attendees of the event to discuss and further implement their ideas.
  • What will the ventures take from this event?
  • Will ideas discussed throughout the event be implemented outside of the event?

The challenge from this event, like other Unplugged events, is not what happens within the event but what we, as attendees, hosts and ventures do to work towards solving the problems faced within this event.

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