#Asia Two countries, a world apart, in need of startups to help manage the world’s most important resource


For the Netherlands and Singapore, geography forces the two countries to emphasise water management, and the technology needed in the future


Frodo van Oostveen (white shirt in middle) and the Singapore Netherlands Waterhouse

Two countries separated by 10,000 kilometres, separate cultures and wildly different weather patterns may not logically come to mind have the same public policy puzzle.

However, whether its Singapore’s small size or the Netherlands unique geography (half of the country lies at or below sea-level) the two countries must grapple with unique water management challenges that force the subject to consistently rank high as an administrative priority.

Which is why the Netherlands plans to bring about 60 high-level visitors to the seventh annual Singapore International Water Week (SIWW) occurring from July 10 to July 15 at Holland Pavilion — and startups are expected to be a major part of the programme.

One reason is the two countries have similar historical trajectories in regards to the startup economy. At a press event, Hans Akerboom, the Deputy Ambassador and Head of the Economic Development, explained the similarities between Singapore and The Netherlands.

“We live because of trade,” he said.

Both countries were relatively slow to fully embrace the startup economy, but now have become regional hubs. Amsterdam is seen as one of the better startup cities in Europe and, while one could argue about which city is best, Singapore is always in the discussion of top destinations for startups in Southeast Asia.

Also Read: This Dutch travel portal clocked US$105M annual turnover in just 5 years

They also have the similar characteristic of being safe sandboxes in which to experiment and test new models before branching into much larger markets (Europe or Southeast Asia respectively).

There are about 100 Dutch startups in Singapore and they mostly focus on cybersecurity, gaming, fintech and medtech.

So what about water?

As a press release from The Netherland’s highlighting water technology so aptly put,

“Internationally, ‘Bring in the Dutch’ is becoming an increasingly common phrase when problems and challenges in water technology are concerned.”

For Singapore, the general challenges in water management include:

  • Working towards a self-sustaining water ecosystem
  • Desalination and energy requirements necessary for the process
  • General awareness about waste management

About ten startups will be attending the SIWW event this July with the following two startups being highlighted. They are part of the ‘Holland Innovation & Inspiration Hotspot’ which highlights the nation’s tech startups.

  • BWA BVBWA designs and builds purification systems for water authorities. The goal of the company is to recover raw materials and re-use lingering energy. The company’s main focus is the treatment of wastewater, drinking, biosolids, sludge and gasses.
  • GaLiCos (Gas Liquid Contact System):  This startup has built a technology to concentrate brine to the saturation limitl using low-grade residual energy. It lowers energy consumption and puts waste energy from heating, cooling and ventilation in action.

As for Singapore, e27 asked Frodo Van Oostveen, the Chairman of the Netherlands Waterhouse and Board Member on Dutchcham, to point to a leading aquatech startup in the city.

He brought up Wateroam, a company that is building water filtration products to produce clean water within minutes. The target is global and the company pitches itself as a solution to water problems in rural areas and disaster zones.

Van Oostveen, when asked “if we were to meet again next year, what do you hope to be telling me?” said,

“I would like to see one or two dutch startups with traction on the ground here in Singapore. Make use of the city’s startup ecosystem and Singapore’s role as a hydrohub.”

To facilitate this process, there are organisations like the Netherlands’ Akvo, a non-profit focussed on “making international development and country governance more effective”. The Singapore Director is Peter van der Linde and is something of a ‘connector’ between various agencies.


A major challenge for aquatech is the financial barrier to entry. It is much cheaper to start a small e-commerce company or build an app than it is to develop a water management system.

It’s a double-edged sword in which startups often do not have the financials to survive a government’s long-term outlook and the investment returns are a hard pitch to the average VC.

One idea discussed was to use Singapore as something of a lab. To elaborate, while the ecosystem would love homegrown companies, the local business environment offers an opportunity for foreign companies (Dutch in this case) to come to the city to test and improve the product.

Even if the system is great in Europe, it may need serious adaptation in Asia.

A hypothetical that comes to mind might be a water management system built to integrate with a two-story home with a lawn and a basement. In many parts of Asia, this might not work in the typical high-rise living style. So, while the technology is relatively far along, a friendly business environment like Singapore presents an opportunity to adapt the product for a truly global audience.

Also Read: One of the top bak kut teh restaurants in Singapore just raised money on a crowdfunding platform

It is a funny reality of the startup world, often the least ‘sexy’ companies are solving the most pressing problems – and aquatech certainly falls into this category. It involves boring words like ‘filtration’, ‘desalination’ and ‘waste management’; but those boring terms are far more important than ’10 per cent off’ or ‘3D-printed Yoda’.

That’s not to criticise the value of industry, just to say. In July, at the very least, we can meet the people working to solve problems of the future.

Photo courtesy of the Embassy of the Kingdom of the Netherlands

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