Transforming water into opportunity
Pitch us on your solution
Drinkwell solves the challenge of contaminated drinking water by providing patented filtration technology and IoT-enabled Water ATM solutions “as a service”. Drinkwell’s patented technology recovers 99% of water, is 16x more energy efficient, lasts for 10 years, and has been retrofitted onto existing water infrastructure across 230 locations in India and Bangladesh that impact over 330,000 people to date at water sources owned by Dhaka WASA, DPHE, & 7 Indian states. Each system has a capacity of 1 to 193 m3/hr, has created 340 cumulative jobs to date), services 300 – 2,000 households, and delivers a reported 90% improvement in health based on third-party research. Drinkwell’s “Water as a Service” solution positively changes the lives of people in Bangladesh as it enables low-income households to reliably access safe, affordable drinking water; reduce risk of water-related illnesses, creating jobs in the community and improving the public health of the community.
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What is the problem you are solving?
2 billion people globally drink contaminated water according to the World Health Organization, a crisis equally rooted in shortcomings around technology and service delivery. Removing naturally-occurring contaminants from water is difficult with existing solutions due to underlying constraints around high upfront costs of imported products, the requirement of skilled technicians to conduct maintenance, and a lack of local government capacity in operating and maintaining water infrastructure. This results in low income communities consuming water with high levels of bacteria, iron, arsenic, and other naturally occurring impurities that result in health issues such as diarrhea, hepatitis E, cholera as well as arsenicosis, an incurable, cancer causing diseases that ultimately results in death. 4 million slum dwellers in Dhaka, one of the most densely populated cities in the world, lack access to legal water connections and consume water 100% contaminated by E Coli according to a report by WaterAid Bangladesh published in 2018. A 2019 Transparency International Bangladesh study found 51.5% of Dhaka residents receive contaminated water from Dhaka WASA – the state-run utility – and estimated residents spend $3.9M/day on gas for boiling impaired water. Chittagong had a Hepatitis E outbreak impacting 178 people last year due to contaminated drinking water.
Who are you serving?
Drinkwell works directly with low-income communities across its operating model to solve the challenge of safe drinking water by employing local caretakers who act as Drinkwell ambassadors and who operate and maintain a Drinkwell system. UNICEF reports 4 million low-income people living in Dhaka slums, parks, illegal settlements, rail stations, and other low-income areas. Drinkwell's value proposition involves offering safe drinking water to such communities while minimizing water loss and increasing revenue to water utilities by offering filtration technology, a turnkey water atm booth, as well as long-term operation & maintenance services. This benefits low income households who currently lack access to safe, reliable drinking water. There is officially no level of legal service provision to these populations today as they rely on water sharks and illegal musclemen for water that has no quality assurance controls at the average price of 1 Tk per liter. Further, many of these households live near defunct pumps that are inoperational due to operation and maintenance challenges and bandwidth issues from Dhaka WASA. Dhaka WASA would like to provide 100% legal connection to these low-income households by 2022 via providing 20 liters per household per day at a cost of 40 paisa per liter.
What is your solution?
Drinkwell provides reliable, high quality, and affordable drinking water via pay as you go Water ATMs in partnership with utilities while creating local jobs for system operation and maintenance. Drinkwell accomplishes this through a "Design, Build, Operate & Maintain" contract with utilities:
• (1) In the “Design” phase raw water is tested and uploaded to a cloud-based database in realtime to build a profile of where water is of poorest quality against a population map highlighting areas where safe water is needed the most;
• (2) In the “Build” phase Dhaka WASA builds a shed that takes 2 weeks’ time and other necessary upgrades to the pump site to ensure end user access inside the pump area, and Drinkwell builds the Drinkwell stack solution complete with ATM and treatment system including installation and training that takes 5 days' time. Compared to current best practice reverse osmosis, Drinkwell's patented HIX-Nano technology delivers 60x more water as it only waste 1% of input water whereas Reverse Osmosis wastes 40-60%, is 16x more energy efficient, and reduces waste by 7 orders of magnitude.Progress of the entire build process is tracked on the Salesforce mobile app which enables daily progress reports that is automated sent to Dhaka WASA and Drinkwell staff to monitor issues, risks, and overall progress against the master plan;
• (3) In the “Operate & Maintain” phase caretakers operate the pump and use NFC-enabled smartphones to sell RFID-enabled ATM cards. Cards can only be activated and be topped up using a mobile app, and every time water is dispensed from the ATM an SMS is sent from the machine to the cloud that allows real-time monitoring of the water quality, flow, and sales data. Cash from sales is deposited at the end of each caretakers’ shift to DWASA via bkash or Surecash mobile money agents, whichever agent is closest to the pump. Caretakers also log issues and risks on a smartphone which is sent to our Head Office control room who can view a live video stream of the ATM Booth to monitor operations.
The above process has been refined through over 200 deployments across Bangladesh and India where the local government-appointed water authority the land, water and electricity and Drinkwell provides the treatment system and operation and maintenance service.
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Where our solution team is headquartered or located:Boston, MA, USA
In which sector would you categorize your solution?
If you selected Other, please explain here.
Our solution's stage of development:Growth
Describe what makes your solution innovative.
Drinkwell's systems-based approach is innovative in 3 ways:(1) appropriate - unlike existing solution providers who deploy energy-intensive solutions such as Reverse Osmosis that waste 50% of input water or one-time use media such as Activated Alumina that needs to be replaced every 6-12 months, Drinkwell's patented technologies require the least amount of energy with the highest water efficiency while having minimal environmental waste; (2) end-to-end: Drinkwell not only manufactures technology but also provides system setup as well as operation & maintenance services thereby acting as a one-stop shop that provides the latest in mobile money, water sensing, electronic card dispensing, and cloud-based reporting thereby minimizing downtime and predicting servicing issues before they occur;(3) cost-effective - Drinkwell's direct to customer model passes on the 15-20% of margin typically charged by dealers and middlemen as savings to customers thereby maximizing impact per dollar spent.
This model has received a positive market response as our technology is embedded within water infrastructure purifying millions of liters of water every month, worldwide. From helping the world’s largest utility in Dhaka, Bangladesh ensure clean water to low-income communities through a network of Water ATMs, to being the technology provider for the world’s largest piped arsenic and iron removal water system in West Bengal, India, Drinkwell provides the most scalable and reliable technology platform that enables organizations of all types meet their water needs.
Lastly, Drinkwell is building a database of household demographic, consumption patterns, and financial transaction history to drive the ability to provide follow-on services.
Why do you expect your solution to address the problem?
Drinkwell's theory of change involves 8 indicators that are tracked by field staff using android-powered smartphones that are stored and accessed via Salesforce in realtime by Drinkwell staff. The indicator types and measurement frequencies are as follows with values as of September 2019: (1) Input: # of systems deployed, measured monthly (230); (2) Input: # of operators, measured monthly (305); (3) Output: Ls of Water Sold, measured monthly (8.3 million); (4) Output: People Served, measured monthly (331,000); (5) Output: households served, measured monthy (70,425); (6) Output: Jobs Created, measured monthly (376); (7) Outcome: households reporting improvement in health measured annually (90%); (8) Outcome: households that have fully switched to Drinkwell for drinking water, measured annually (67%). Custom reports aggregating these metrics are created by Salesforce which are then shared on a monthly, quarterly, and annual basis with Drinkwell staff, franchisees, financiers, and in-kind supporters.
Select the key characteristics of the population in Bangladesh your solution serves.
In which countries do you currently operate?
In which countries will you be operating within the next year?
How many people are you currently serving with your solution? How many will you be serving in one year? How about in five years?
Drinkwell is currently serving 330,000 people who consume water from Drinkwell technology and is on track to serve 1.1 million people in one year driven largely by tripling our presence in Dhaka and having 300 Water ATMs online through an already executed contract with Dhaka WASA whose work is in progress. In 5 years Drinkwell's aim is to reach 10 million people by covering Dhaka, Chittagong (already executed agreements with both WASA's), Rajshahi, and Khulna WASA as well as 30 city corporations in Bangladesh (support and introductions already provided by World Bank: https://blogs.worldbank.org/wa...) as well as pan-India under the Government of India's newly formed Jal Shakti Ministry and its initiative to provide safe water to all of India by 2024 considering how we have already secured contracts with 7 State Public Health Engineering Departments and are being endorsed by the Tata Water Mission, Clinton Health Access Initiative, and other non-profit/industry stakeholders who have considerable influence in safe water provision across India.
What are your goals within the next year and within the next five years?
Drinkwell's goal within the next year is to successfully complete its contract in operating and maintaining 300 Water ATMs with Dhaka WASA thereby providing ~900,000 people safe drinking water in the capital of Bangladesh, as well as approximately 12,000 people in Chittagong (contract with Chittagong WASA already executed as well as a marketing contract with Unilever Bangladesh who will promote our solution through their existing marketing channels and co-brand the Water ATM cards with the "PureIt logo" as Unilever understands that their standard household PureIt domestic filter is too expensive for low income households to afford). As the World Bank has recognized our project as ideal for scale across the country, its $100 million loan to 30 city corporations for upgrading water infrastructure to provide safe water to 600,000 residents in peri-urban areas we within the next 5 years hope to reach 1.2 million people across Bangladesh with the balance 3.8 million people reached coming from West Bengal, Madhya Pradesh, Bihar and Assam - all Indian states where our technology has been certified by the government for scale and are currently being deployed by in-country partners.
What are the barriers that currently exist for you to accomplish your goals for the next year and for the next five years?
The 3 main constraints to achieving scale in our business include: (1) cash management - currently, system caretakers receive cash when end users want to top-up their cards and wait until the end of their shift to deposit the cash via mobile money into our merchant account which leaves opportunities for pilferage and theft; (2) reliance on manual labor for customer registration and recharge - while we would prefer to have the ATMs online 24/7 to ensure proper access our current registration process and ATM card recharge process requires manual intervention so have a live caretaker from 6a - 10p, we would like to repurpose the caretaker's role to being a commissioned sales agent to drive more utilization and not do the more mundane job of registering and recharging the water atm card balance by digitizing the process and enabling "drinkwell agents" to do both duties similar to how telcos have mobile agents; (3) recontamination risk - customers can currently come to a ATM Booth and collect water using their own jug which may or may not be clean, or may hire a delivery boy who has unhygienic transportation practices thereby compromising the quality of the water that is consumed at the point of consumption.
How are you planning to overcome these barriers?
To derisk cash management Drinkwell is currently piloting an ethernet-based ATM that will allow realtime ledger connectivity with banks, mobile financial service providers, and WASA branch offices that would enable end users to recharge their ATM cards remotely at any of the 3 channels, and that would allow them to register for a Water ATM card at nearby mudhir dokhans or WASA branch offices. To derisk reliance on manual labor for customer registration and recharge we are planning on using the same channels mentioned for derisking cash (e.g., deploying a cloud-based ledger as all registration logs and recharge logs are currently maintained on a GSM-enabled ATMs and requires manual uploading to servers) thereby empowering the current caretakers to phase out the more mundane aspects of their job and focus solely on registering new customers and increasing usage and awareness of our offering by going door-to-door around the community thereby earning a commission and increasing their take home pay as they are currently on a fixed monthly salary structure. Regarding recontamination risk we are planning on piloting jug washing stations at select high traffic ATM booths to see if the use of silver ions, light chlorine, and other interventions can disinfect the jug while not altering the taste of the water.
If you selected “My solution is already being implemented in Bangladesh,” please provide an overview of your current activities in the region.
Drinkwell is currently active in Dhaka, Chittagong, and Khulna divisions in partnership with Bangladesh Department of Public Health Engineering in arsenic-affected areas; Chittagong WASA in primarily iron-affected areas; Dhaka WASA in iron and manganese-affected areas; and is in discussions with the World Bank and 30 city corporation for providing a similar service across the country. Our project partners who have funded the capital cost of our systems to date includes GIZ, Wateraid, USAID, Dhaka Ahsania Mission, and the World Bank. We provide safe drinking water through our technology in all these areas and have been recognized by the Prime Minister of Bangladesh, Prothom Alo, Ittefaq, Dhaka Tribune, and various other news dailies and media outlets.
Select an option below:For-profit
How many people work on your solution team?
Fulltime staff: 71
Parttime staff: 4
For how many years have you been working on your solution?
10 (2009 - 11 as a researcher; 11-14 as a consultant; 15 - present as CEO as Drinkwell)
Why are you and your team best-placed to deliver this solution?
Drinkwell's management team have all spent at least 3 years on the ground in Bangladesh and India before deciding to found Drinkwell and have a personal connection to the region either through family or research connections. Cofounder/CEO Minhaj Chowdhury is a Bangladeshi-American and has 9 years prior experience implementing water projects with BRAC, largest NGO in world by headcount, and Johns Hopkins. Cofounder/CEO, Awards: Ashoka, Echoing Green, Bluhm-Helfand, GLG Social Impact, SOCAP Entrepreneur, Fulbright Fellowships. Bangladesh Country Director Mizan Rahman spent prior 26 years at BRAC WASH as Program Manager. Cofounder/Products Director Dr. Michael German, from 2012-2017, has been deeply involved in holistic aspects of novel water treatment processes to address the worldwide issue of arsenic and fluoride. Dr Arup SenGupta is the R&D Director/Cofounder is the inventor of Drinkwell's technology. He has spent 30 years researching South Asia's groundwater crisis, has 9 patents, multiple peer-reviewed journal articles, and is a professor of Chemical Engineering at Lehigh University. Director Sanjay Verma (Vice President, PTC) joined the board to help the organization scale and become more data-driven through his experiences building e-Choupal, a rural India internet kiosk initiative that connects 4 million farmers directly to global buyers without the need for middlemen. Director Samir Shah leads India Business Development, is an ex Director at Goldman Sachs and is an alumni of the Wharton School.
With what organizations are you currently partnering, if any? How are you working with them?
Drinkwell is working closely with Dhaka WASA, Chittagong WASA and Bangladesh Department of Public Health Engineering by deploying our technology onto their existing water infrastructure. We are also working with the World Bank's Global Water Practice as well as Water & Sanitation teams in Bangladesh and India who introduce us to new customers in regions where we currently do not operate. Further, we partner with a variety of NGOs (e.g., Wateraid Bangladesh, Dhaka Ahsania Mission, Manob Unnayan Kendro, Swisscontact, International Development Enterprises Bangladesh, etc. all who also assist us with site selection in rural Bangladesh, stakeholder management, and in certain cases entrepreneur and partner selection). Drinkwell is also working with Unilever Bangladesh to co-brand on Drinkwell water atm cards with their PureIt brand and further our reach in Chittagong by leveraging Unilever's market reputation and brand presence.
What is your business model?
Drinkwell's public private partnership-based business model enables utilities to transform capital expenditures budgets plagued by broken procurement processes that require awarding tenders to low cost bidders with poor quality into an operating cost thereby offering high quality water supply to end users. Drinkwell provides its water filtration and payments technology at no cost to utilities in exchange for an exclusive operation and maintenance contract that enables Drinkwell to recover capital investments and build a data and analytics platform that can enable organizations to better target their products and services to the general public. Utilities also provide land, water and electricity connections. Drinkwell generates cash by selling registration cards and recharge credits that can be used to purchase water in a pay as you go basis at a price determined by the utility. Drinkwell receives a fixed monthly service fee from WASA once the generated cash is provided to utilities. The utilities payment commitment is underwritten by development finance institutions such as the Asian Development Bank's $250 million soft loan to Dhaka WASA, as well as the World Bank's $100 million soft loan to the Department of Public Health Engineering. Drinkwell also sells resins and maintenance contracts to engineering, procurement and construction firms who deploy water filtration systems.
What is your path to financial sustainability?
Drinkwell is currently generating monthly recurring revenues by operating 88 Water ATMs with positive gross margins that can double once proper IT upgrades are made to enable unmanned ATM Booths. Drinkwell has already signed a contract to operate and maintain 300 systems with Dhaka WASA which would generate sufficient monthly recurring revenue to enable us to reach financial breakeven, a milestone which could be accomplished while covering less than half of Dhaka WASA's 700 water pumps in need of our solution. Drinkwell however has global ambitions and has already expanded to work in Chittagong WASA as well as the Bangladesh Department of Public Health Engineering who just received a $100 million soft loan from the World Bank to upgrade water infrastructure across 30 city corporations impacting 600,000 lives. The World Bank has highlighted Drinkwell's innovation as a case study in innovation (http://blogs.worldbank.org/water/building-smarter-water-partnerships) and is actively coordinating our scale-up through this soft loan facility. In order to reach Drinkwell's target of securing $3 million in annual recurring revenue by 2021 Drinkwell has so far raised $2.1 million in investment from leading global investors such as TPG Growth and the Rise Fund, Danone, Unilever and the Global Innovation Fund to finance capital costs of systems as Danone and Unilever realize the value of the data being generated while providing safe water by empowering utilities (as opposed to working against them) through Drinkwell's unique business model.
Why are you applying to the Tiger Challenge?
Drinkwell has created a sticky customer base of 46,000 low-income households to date who daily part with their hard earned cash and upload credit on Drinkwell cards to purchase clean water thereby having a 100% pure wallet customer base (e.g., customer base who are loyal and who always have a balance on their cards whose float can be used for working capital and other purposes). Seeing how Tiger IT has expertise around personal identification Drinkwell has a vision of being a part of building the “Bangladesh Stack” the same way the “India Stack” of Aadhar, UIDA and other identification information on an open API platform is transforming India. As a company that lacks any mentors or guidance from entrepreneurs who have scaled in Bangladesh, Tiger IT can provide counsel Drinkwell seeks to make the most of its opportunity in scaling with the government via secured contracts to build a scalable and high quality IT backend in the fastest time possible. Drinkwell hopes to leverage the MIT Solve platform to attract partners, collaborators and advisors to more quickly deploy our safe water solution across Bangladesh and India initially, and then the world globally as we seek to better integrate IT to reduce our operating costs by applying machine learning and other sensors to be able to predict component downtime within our water filtration systems to minimize downtime and create a superior customer experience, as well as API integration with mobile money and payment platforms enabling recharge interoperability with our Drinkwell cards.
What types of connections and partnerships would be most catalytic for your solution?
With what organizations would you like to partner, and how would you like to partner with them?
Drinkwell would like to partner with IT vendors who have deployed interoperable backends that connect with mobile payment, bank, and payment APIs thereby enabling us to allow end users to "top up" on Drinkwell cards using as many payment methods as possible; connect with smart water meter, water quality sensor, and innovative water quality testing companies who can reduce our cost of maintenance, as well as government officials and other NGO partners who operate in areas with a need for safe drinking water that have an interest in piloting our solution. Drinkwell is also happy to attract interns, researchers, and potential job candidates who are interested in being a part of our mission in helping first make Dhaka the first megacity to provide legal safe water for all, then Bangladesh, then India, and the world.
- Mr. Minhaj Chowdhury CEO, Drinkwell