About the initiative:

By the end of this decade, global freshwater demand is expected to outstrip supply by 40% due to a combination of population growth, climate change and weak water governance.

While the numbers vary by country, agriculture irrigation accounts for about 70% of global water withdrawal, industry and energy for 19%, and the remaining is for household use – having already depleted 21% of the planet’s largest 37 groundwater resources.

To drive the freshwater conservation and management agenda, leading global conglomerate, HCL has partnered with UpLink, the open innovation platform of the World Economic Forum that connects highly promising start-ups with the partners and funding they need to scale. Through a $15 million investment over five years, HCL will help accelerate the innovation agenda for water and create a first-of-its-kind innovation ecosystem for the global freshwater sector on UpLink, called the ‘Aquapreneur Innovation Initiative’.

This initiative will draw on HCL’s own regional experience of driving innovative projects in water conservation and brings global leaders and champions together, to foster multi-stakeholder collaboration. In building this ecosystem, water entrepreneurs will be able to thrive and influence freshwater ecosystems all over the world.

Tackling Water Pollution Challenge, 2024

The five-year Aquapreneur Innovation Initiative aims to find innovative solutions to conserve and restore freshwater ecosystems. This is the third of five innovation challenges, focusing on tackling water pollution and ensuring water quality.

Challenge Overview

Water holds profound environmental significance, and both its availability and quality are essential to sustain human life and biodiversity. Although water is essential for a flourishing environment, it is also a significant source of pollution within it.

Industrial runoff, agricultural practices, and plastic waste are common sources of water contamination, posing serious risks to both human health and the environment. Emerging contaminants from pharmaceuticals, pesticides, nanomaterials, microplastics, and the so-called “forever chemicals”, are further intensifying these risks. Based on a World Bank report, industries discharge around 300-400 million tons of heavy metals, solvents, toxic sludge, and other wastes into water bodies every year. "Forever chemicals," also known as per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) contaminate drinking water supplies for up to 200 million Americans today.

To tackle these issues, the third Aquapreneur challenge is seeking high-potential solutions to prevent water pollution and reduce the environmental impacts of contaminated water. This initiative aligns with recent global shifts towards implementing stricter water quality regulations, exemplified by the recent UN resolution on water at the United Nations Environment Assembly (UNEA-6) in spring 2024, which made decisive strides towards the protection of global water resources and the improvement of hazardous chemical and chemical waste management.

Solutions could include advanced filtration, the elimination of wastewater discharges, decision support systems to provide accurate and accessible data for measuring options for both the public and industries, as well as household water testing and filtration.

The focus areas of this challenge include:
  • Prevent contamination at source
  • Drive new approaches to water management
  • Optimize public water and wastewater treatment
  • Offer water quality solutions for households
Challenge timeline
  • 21 May 2024: Challenge launch
  • 21 May - 13 August 2024: Open for submissions
  • 13 August - September 2024: Review and selection process (including communication about a pitch competition)
  • January 2025: Announcement of the winners during the World Economic Forum Annual Meeting in Davos

Zero Water Waste Challenge, 2023

This five-year Aquapreneur Innovation Initiative aims to find innovative solutions that conserve and restore freshwater ecosystems. This is the second out of five innovation challenges, focusing on freshwater usage.

Challenge Overview

This challenge calls for innovative water usage approaches to improve freshwater conservation from supply to demand, moving towards zero water waste. 10 winners will receive a total of a 1.75M CHF financial award.

In line with the Global Commission of the Economics of Water, this challenge is seizing high potential opportunities to bolster global water conservation by sourcing innovative approaches to water usage that will strengthen freshwater ecosystem resilience from supply to demand.

It is looking for existing innovations that capture alternative water resources to protect groundwater reserves and avoid unnecessary loss of water, reuse water before discharging it back into the water cycle — ideally, recycling materials we gain from wastewater as an alternative energy resource and avoiding any type of water pollution — as well as smart irrigation solutions to benefit those who most need it. Solutions that work with big data and AI, and employ innovations in their service, pricing, partnerships, and business models are particularly encouraged to apply.

1. Capturing and protecting freshwater supply
Protecting groundwater reservoirs by capturing additional water resources. Solutions could focus on recharging groundwater, capturing storm- and rainwater or water from the atmosphere, preventing or minimizing leakages, boosting ecosystem resilience or monitoring and managing freshwater.
2. Water re-use and recycling of materials

Increase water-efficiency by reusing and recycling water resources. Solutions could include products that enable shower, washing machine and sink water to be recycled for non-potable uses, or reuse of water in industrial facilities, cleaner and greener tech to purify reused water etc. Ideally need to manage trade-offs, e.g. need to have sustainable energy support, as well as focus on water quality.

3. Saving water in agriculture

Reduce water withdrawal in agriculture through smart irrigation. Solutions could include precision irrigation, remote sensing, regenerative agricultural practices focused on water retention, and technologies such as mobile applications to optimize the amount and timing of water applied to crops.

Global Freshwater Challenge, 2022

To drive the freshwater conservation and management agenda, leading global conglomerate HCL partnered with UpLink to accelerate the innovation agenda for water. They will create a first-of-its-kind innovation ecosystem to enable water-focused entrepreneurs (Aquapreneurs) to scale and thrive. This five-year Aquapreneur Innovation Initiative seeks solutions that conserve and restore freshwater ecosystems, making them healthier and more resilient. This was the first out of five innovation challenges.

Submissions 454
Winners 10

Top 10 Aquapreneurs from FIRST CHALLENGE

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