NUS start-up Wateroam heeded the cry of Samuel Coleridge Taylor's ancient mariner ' "water, water everywhere, nor any drop to drink ' by developing durable, portable water filtration systems that have helped more than 11,000 people in five countries to date.
The new company, through more than 1,000 of its Fieldtrate-Lite and Fieldtrate-Plus filtration systems, has provided clean drinking water to rural communities in Cambodia and Indonesia, and disaster zones in Malaysia, Nepal and Vanuatu. It all started with a group of NUS students in August 2014.
Wateroam consists of Business alumnus David Pong who serves as Chief Executive, and Environmental Engineering students Lim Chong Tee (Year 3) and Vincent Loka (Year 4). Chong Tee is Chief Marketing Officer while Vincent, who will work full-time at Wateroam after graduation, is Financial Controller.
Wateroam's most portable solution, Fieldtrate Lite, is a point-of-use instant microbiological water purifier which removes bacteria, pathogens and protozoan parasites without electrical power. With a flow rate of 6 to 9 litres per hour and a lifespan of three to five years, it can provide a household with affordable potable water, as the bag costs only $35.
The Fieldtrate systems use ceramic membranes that can hold their own in harsh conditions that damage conventional filter systems, many of which use hollow fibre plastic. Wateroam's products, developed collaboratively by the co-founders, are able to withstand sharp and large debris commonly found in rural water sources. The other differentiator of the start-up's systems is that they can be easily transported into disaster sites by first responders, explained Chong Tee.
The NUS team developed a system for the Humanitarian Water Filtration Design Challenge last year, which they then used in an entrepreneurial competition called the HydroPreneur Programme (HPP). Under HPP, industry experts guided Wateroam to clinch the HPP Rising HydroPreneur Star Award at the 2014 Singapore International Water Week. This win spurred the co-founders to launch Wateroam as a social enterprise.
"The academic and technical knowledge gained from our studies has set an essential foundation for us to develop our systems. The NUS engineering curriculum has provided me and my team members the indispensable soft and hard skills, which are imperative for running our start-up, said Chong Tee.
Currently, Wateroam's product development is supported by grants from NUS Enterprise. It distributes its products through local partners who have established networks and distribution channels to non-profit organisations and corporate social responsibility funding. These partners navigate the cultural, political and social challenges that need to be overcome at water-poor areas before the start-up's products can hit the ground.
The company is in the final stages of developing its community filtration system, Fieldtrate Plus, a luggage/backpack system capable of producing 500 litres of drinking water per hour. Prototypes have been deployed in Cambodia and the Malaysian state of Kelantan, which was inundated by floods in December 2014.
The social enterprise was recently featured in Impact Journalism Day 2015, a newspaper supplement carried by 48 news organisations from 43 countries that shared stories of hope, change and innovation.