Asia Tomorrow

Singapore's thirst for water spawns new startups


As Singapore tackles the challenge of providing water for its growing population, focus has turned to a new generation of young entrepreneurs for solutions.

The tiny Southeast Asian island lacks sufficient natural sources to supply its 5.3 million residents with water. Collecting rainwater through local catchments, recycling treated water, desalination and importing water from neighboring Malaysia are the country's four principal supply sources.

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ROSLAN RAHMAN | AFP | Getty Images

In December, the World Resources Institute ranked Singapore among the world's most water-scarce countries citing its baseline water stress – the ratio of annual water withdrawals to total available annual renewable supply.

With the government aiming to increase its population to 6.9 million over the next six years, more entrepreneurs are spearheading advanced water technology developments to meet growing demand.

"We want to make sure that water is not a constraint going forward," said Chew Men Leong, chief executive of national water agency the Public Utilities Board, which manages the country's water supply. He noted that the agency is always looking at building infrastructure to stay ahead of water demand.

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Budding entrepreneurs

At this year's Singapore International Water Week aspiring water innovators were given a chance to pitch their ideas to companies, venture capitalists and potential clients under the event's talent development 'HyrdoPreneur Program.'

Melvin Tang, a 28-year old PH.D student at the National University of Singapore, joined the program with an idea for a low-cost filtration device. Participants like Melvin underwent a nine-week program with the assistance of mentors to help mold their ideas.

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Nigel Wylie, founder and director of Thrive Water, a Singapore-based water treatment solutions provider, was one of the participating mentors. His advice to beginners was to seek partnerships with bigger companies instead of trying to go at it alone since companies will be able to better package ideas and create a bigger impact.

Companies promoting game-changing technologies were also on display.

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Among them was Medad Technologies, a Singaporean company that utilizes a hybrid mix of adsorption desalination (AD) and multi-effect desalination (MED) technologies to turn reject water from undesirable sources or saltwater into a pure drinking source.

Speaking at a media event, Medad CEO and Founder Joseph Ng said he hopes to commercialize the low-cost green technology within Asia, Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries as well as the United States.

A key message driven home to these entrepreneurs was the importance of effective water management to a city's sustainability, especially water-scarce cities like Singapore.

"It's quite obvious that the next generation of urban planners cannot look at water solutions as a separate issue; they need to look at it at the start of the urban development process, not as an afterthought," said Maurice Neo, managing director of Singapore International Water Week.