Site Logo

Tech Entrepreneurs are Building a Sustainable Water Future for Southeast Asia

Imagine H2O Asia 2020 provides participating startups with new resources for pilot funding and customer access. The accelerator program is supported by Enterprise Singapore, SUEZ, Moya Asia and ADB Ventures. Applications are due April 2, 2020.

The water and climate risks confronting Southeast Asia’s 650 million inhabitants are intensifying. But there’s plenty to be hopeful about as the region is transforming into a dynamic testbed and marketplace for innovative water solutions.

Ho Chi Minh City is digitizing its water distribution network to reduce water lost in transit. Thailand is investing heavily in flood prevention and drainage control; its flagship 11-acre Centenary Park in central Bangkok serves as a model for what’s possible. Singapore, a longstanding global leader in water stewardship, has now committed to fully powering its waterworks with renewable energy through large-scale floating solar panels on reservoirs.

Innovation also spells new opportunities for entrepreneurs. Investment in wastewater treatment in Southeast Asia has risen at one of the fastest rates in the world (150% from 2015–2020) totaling an estimated $3.9 billion in 2020. The proof is in the pudding — Cambodia approved ambitious plans for new energy-efficient wastewater treatment plants in four of the country’s largest cities by 2022.

But showcasing success doesn’t mean that we can ignore where we’re falling behind. Across Southeast Asia, over 5 billion gallons of treated water is still lost before it reaches customers — a largely avoidable calamity. With nearly three-quarters of the population living in low-lying coastal or delta zones, the risk of flooding due to rising sea levels and inadequate stormwater management is acute. A one meter rise could displace over 10% of Vietnam’s population. Seven of the top ten countries most impacted by climate change as reported by the Global Climate Index are in Asia, including Myanmar, Philippines, Vietnam and Thailand. Despite the rosy investment projections for wastewater treatment, the needs for Southeast Asia’s megacities are far from being met. In Jakarta, only 2% of the city’s households are connected to the public sewage system.

Southeast Asia’s utilities and businesses must embrace innovation to overcome these challenges and chart a water resilient, low-emissions future.

“ADB Ventures’ mandate is to bring the world’s most innovative impact tech solutions to underserved markets of South and Southeast Asia, and leverage the networks and operations of the Asian Development Bank to scale them to both utilities and the private sector,” says Dominic Mellor, Senior Investment Specialist at the Asian Development Bank. “Through our partnership with Imagine H2O Asia, we hope to identify best-in-class water technology solutions for SDG impact across our region.”

The barriers to adoption of technology remain high. Financial constraints and risk aversion stymie efforts to test new solutions, particularly for resource-stressed utilities. This prevents much-needed access, and stalls the learning required for entrepreneurs in the proof of concept phase to iterate and adapt global solutions and business models for local contexts. New incentives are needed to help end-users and startups validate solutions faster. Imagine H2O Asia, along with the program’s supporters including ADB Ventures, will launch an expanded 2020 pilot funding and awards program to accelerate the pathways for full-scale deployments.

Pilot funding resources available to participating entrepreneurs include:

S$25k Demo Day Deployment Award: One award to fund or co-fund a pilot project with a Southeast Asia-based end-user

S$10k Ecosystem Deployment Award: One award to co-fund a proof of concept project with an Imagine H2O Asia Ecosystem Partner in Singapore

Up to S$65k: Various awards to support high-impact pilot projects across the region

Customer Discovery Awards: Various awards to support travel for targeted customer learning and engagement in Singapore and Southeast Asia

Travel Awards: Various awards to support travel to Imagine H2O Asia bootcamp and customer convenings hosted throughout the region

Connections to Regional Investors: Exposure to investors including ADB Ventures with additional resources to support scaling of participating startups

Learn more about Imagine H2O Asia and the program’s benefits for startups committed to solving Southeast Asia’s water challenges at www.imagineh2o.org/ih2oasia. You still have time to apply for the 2020 cohort! For organizations interested in supporting Imagine H2O Asia or joining our growing ecosystem of end-users, contact us at singapore@imagineh2o.org.

Coronavirus (COVID-19) Notice

The health and safety of program participants, partners and team remain our number one priority. Imagine H2O will likely modify the in-country event schedule proposed for July as we continue to monitor the situation with our Southeast Asia-based partners. The application and evaluation process will continue as planned. Selection will be announced in early May. The program will begin with virtual mentorship and orientation activities during May and June.

Water Innovation Week, the program’s in-person kick-off bootcamp in Singapore, was originally scheduled for July 1–3 followed by an exhibition at Singapore International Water Week (SIWW) from July 6–9. On March 20, SIWW announced that the conference would be postponed until June 2021.

Water Innovation Week will proceed in 2020 although the event will be delayed and a schedule will be confirmed at a later date. Program participants may likely be invited to participate in SIWW 2021 as a result of the postponement. Additional regional events may be scheduled in Q3 or Q4 in collaboration with program partners. A full program update will be provided to shortlisted applicants in late April/early May.

If applicants have questions or concerns, contact us at singapore@imagineh2o.org today.