‘Aquapreneurs’ vs. the Global Freshwater Crisis

Phoebe Harper
Phoebe Harper - Editor

In the aftermath of the World Economic Forum, we spotlight the North American start-ups awarded with funding to tackle sustainable water supply.

As reported by the United Nations, by 2030 the global demand for water will exceed sustainable supply by 40 percent.  

While rivers and lakes continue to dry up as a result of climate change and expanding populations, the global freshwater crisis was top of the agenda at the World Economic Forum (WEF) Annual Meeting held in Davos last month. 

To tackle this escalating issue, UpLink – WEF’s open innovation platform – announced a selection of entrepreneurs with whom it will share $1.9 million in funding to scale up their solutions. This amounts to $189,000 of critical funding for each ‘aquapreneur’.  

The funding has been provided by both UpLink and the global technology conglomerate HCL Group, as part of the latter’s five-year $15 million investment to drive freshwater innovation.  

10 start-ups were awarded as winners of the Global Freshwater Innovation Challenge, representing seven different countries and championing various innovations including the use of biosensors, chemical-free wastewater treatments and desalination solutions. 

As one of two aquapreneurs selected to present at the meeting, Epic Cleantec (Epic), is a water technology company leading the water reuse revolution in the urban built environment from its base in San Francisco. By processing wastewater from buildings on site, Epic recycles the resource for toilet flushing, irrigation, cooling and laundry, simultaneously lowering water and sewer bills.

Aaron Tartakovsky, CEO of Epic Cleantec, said: “With the combined challenges of ageing infrastructure, growing urban populations and a rapidly changing climate, the conventional approach to how we manage water is no longer sustainable. Epic is on a mission to ensure that our cities are water-secure for generations to come. Epic aims to use its next-generation technologies to drive circularity in water use and to work with policy-makers to reshape the water infrastructure in cities.” 

As another of the three finalists representing the US and Canada, Canadian company Oneka Technologies offers a wave-powered desalination solution to produce drinking water using the renewable energy that is created by waves.


As another of the three finalists representing the US and Canada, Canadian company Oneka Technologies offers a wave-powered desalination solution to produce drinking water using the renewable energy that is created by waves.


Also based in Canada is the PropTech firm, RainGrid Inc., – a start-up that specializes in community-scale, property-based, digital networks for net-zero residential property rainfall runoff while generating verifiable ecosystem credits. The company’s ARGoN Systems manage the runoff of rainwater from residential properties, using AI to correlate forecasts with cistern size, and helping cities to avoid floods and replenish water stocks.  

Commenting on the selection of the finalists, Roshni Nadar Malhotra, Chairperson of HCLTech (a division of the HCL Group), said, “we are delighted to announce the first beneficiaries of the Aquapreneur Innovation Initiative who have been selected after rigorous deliberation among a large panel of experts.  

“The availability of fresh water is rapidly changing worldwide, creating a tenuous future requiring attention from policy-makers, the private sector and the public alike. Having witnessed the efforts of aquapreneurs who are finding solutions to challenges around existing freshwater resources, I am positive that we are all moving in the right direction for the future of our planet.” 

Echoing this optimism, Olivier Schwab, Managing Director of WEF expressed his hope for the innovations that the funding will contribute towards. 

“These innovations are crucial to meet the increasing global demand for clean water and support the transition to a greener economy. With water scarcity threatening countries all around the world, it’s essential to identify and empower the innovative start-ups that will help secure access to this precious resource, now and for future generations. The Aquapreneur Innovation Initiative, launched by UpLink and HCL, will connect these world-class innovators to the resources, expertise and vital funding they need to scale and drive truly transformational change.”

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