Water, an already scarce resource, is set to become even rarer in the future due to climate change, a growing population, and large-scale wastage of water. Swiss AI-powered water management platform Droople hopes to help users take control of their water usage with the aid of real-time data and accurate operating systems, the company’s CEO Ramzi Bouzerda told Al Arabiya English.
The cleantech startup is currently seeking investors for a Series A funding round and is looking to the UAE as a potential market to expand into, following its Expo 2020 visit at the Swiss Pavilion. Droople believes the UAE’s sustainability goals and arid conditions make the company’s technology a good fit for businesses, institutions, and private users.
In March 2021, it raised $1.6 million in seed funding and is now searching for $6 million for their Series A, Bouzerda shared. Droople is interested in venture capital (VC) investments at a 20 percent dilution with a minimum ticket size of around half a million dollars.
This year the company plans to use the funding to open two new branches - one in Germany, to cover the Western Europe market, and one in the US. It will scale up supply from 1000 units per quarter to 3000 units per quarter. Droople currently serve 50 outlets in 15 countries.
It also hopes to gain greater access to the market and potential distribution networks with the help of strategic investors.
“It would be amazing to have players in the filtration market. For example, Pentair or Kurita, and we have had discussions with players like Hitachi, who have a large footprint in the UAE, but also in Asia,” Bouzerda said. “Another strategic investor would be a player in the appliances market, such as [German appliance maker] Miele or [Japanese manufacturer] Lixil.
“The UAE is an important growth market because they are also committed to sustainability, so we think that it’s a strong avenue for us,” he said, adding that it is in discussions with potential investors.
Droople provides the tools and insights to optimize water service and maintenance costs by up to 40 percent, using ‘Internet-of-Things’ technology to enable water and energy savings through the digitization of more than 36 billion water assets - such as water treatment systems, sanitary ware, and appliances running off-radar today.
“We are not always aware that water has a cost, as it comes to our tap with a certain comfort. Water comes from the ground or surface, and we have industry activities that are polluting that water,” Bouzerda said. “It’s estimated that more than 70 percent of the world’s population will live in cities by 2050.
“This means more pollution; more water treatment and processing, which means that the water we will use in the future will be more expensive because we won’t just be able to pump it from the ground and use it,” he added. “We have to make sure that the water we are using is not wasted.”
Due to system leakages, the US loses 50 percent of the water they put into the distribution network. The UAE currently only loses 7 percent, as the network is still new, but in 50 years, pipes will need better maintenance to avoid massive water loss before even getting to users’ taps.
The UAE uses many plastic bottled water for drinking, which adds a substantial economic cost for customers and the environment. Filtration systems and dispensers are rising in popularity to combat this, but most are offline, leaving users and vendors blind to the use of such water assets. Droople’s technology can change that.
“They cannot assess the performance, the maintenance need, the consumable replenishment, and the water savings they can enable with those assets,” Bouzerda said. “Unlocking IoT and AI for point of use are really where Droople is expanding - we have developed a unique technology with the ‘iLINK’ - our patented technology - where we have the machine intelligence embedded in the link, which can read any sensors or meters.
“We translate raw data from the sensors into knowledgeable insights from the ‘iLINK’ and then we send it to the Cloud, where we apply machine learning and different algorithms, allowing insights to our customers on water usage in real-time,” he added. “From a business model, you have the operator that can reduce the maintenance cost; can resell more consumables because they know exactly when you need a new one. The end-user is looking at the impact of that water asset in terms of water usage and sustainable income.”
It can apply the technology to private use, multi-housing buildings, food and beverage industries, pharmaceuticals and cosmetics, and silicon manufacturing, which require pure water. Droople’s technology ensures that changes in the system are reported, so quality control is simple.
This year, Droople will deploy solutions in several schools around the UAE, helping monitor student hygiene and water consumption.
“We are also really looking into projects like NEOM in Saudi Arabia because NEOM is really at the forefront of what would be the cities of the future. We have been approved as a technology supplier for NEOM, and we are now working on a pilot model within this framework,” Bouzerda said. “This region will shift from fossil fuel to renewable energy and have more sustainability, so maybe they are visionaries in how we will do that elsewhere, and for Droople, it means a huge opportunity.”
Bouzerda estimates that Droople can tap into the estimated $11 trillion global market. It is based on the combined worth of $100 billion for water assets, $100 billion in the water consumables (like CO2 bottles) and $37 billion for the filtration market, which has a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 10 percent, he claimed.
Droople is also working on new technology, currently in the search and development phase. Its new AI aims to predict when hot water in multi-house buildings is needed for each home, rather than constantly keeping water hot and wasting energy. Bouzerda said he hopes to get boiler manufacturers on board to install its technology into the appliance.
“Depending on the type of boiler and if it’s a central heating system or a direct distribution, we can enable between 10-40 percent energy reduction,” he said. “We have developed a unique predictive model that can adapt to each flat’s behavior. The boiler will receive all the information and then change on the fly the preparation for the hot water.”
The startup currently has 13 employees with a low turnover rate, as most have been with the company since its founding in 2018 and its move to a larger office in Puidoux, Switzerland. A CFO and legal adviser are also onboard.
Droople’s shareholder structure consists of a few small VCs and an unnamed high net worth individual with a Swiss company. Entrepreneur Sacha Labourey, former CEO and current board member of US unicorn startup CloudBees, is one of two team shareholders who invested in Droople early.