THE HANGAR by NUS Enterprise Entrepreneurs Feature — WateROAM Pte Ltd
In this week’s Entrepreneurs Feature, we speak to Lim Chong Tee, Co-founder of WateROAM Pte Ltd, a social enterprise that develops water filtration solutions that cater to rural regions and disaster-hit locations.
- What is WateROAM and how did the idea behind it come about?
Founded in 2014, WateROAM is a social enterprise that develops water filtration solutions that are catered to rural regions and disaster-hit locations. WateROAM’s vision is to end prolonged thirst in the world, and to do so, WateROAM’s filters are designed to be highly simple, portable, durable, and affordable, thereby improving the access to clean drinking water quickly and effectively. WateROAM works with non-governmental organizations (NGOs), companies engaging in corporate social responsibility (CSR) & shared-value activities, and government bodies to provide the rural poor with the quickest access to clean drinking water.
WateROAM was first conceived in 2014, when David, Vincent and I (Chong Tee) met in NUS. We identified that the lack of access to clean water is a serious issue plaguing many developing countries; with their water woes usually exacerbated during a disaster. Despite coming from different disciplines, David from Business and Vincent and myself from Engineering, we realised that we’re like-minded with a common objective in mind — we all wanted to do something about the global water problems faced by many less privileged in the world. We joined the Hydropreneur Programme in the same year, an accelerator programme started by PUB and NUS Enterprise and we began designing a water filtration system catered for disaster zones and rural regions. After the competition, we were able to pool our resources and built a working prototype that was deployed in Indonesia and Cambodia. Upon receiving positive response on the ground, we were motivated to find a more sustainable way to replicate more of these systems. That is when we decided to build a water innovation start-up to further our cause in the field.
2. Describe your typical day.
A typical day will usually start off with us checking our mails and addressing our clients or partners enquiries and requests. However, as WateROAM’s work involves a significant amount of activities spanning from product research, manufacturing work to overseas field deployment in developing countries, there is a lot of mobility in the workplace and tends to be less desk-bound. Working at WateROAM is always an adventure and many of times, a roller coaster ride full of ups and downs. On some days, we may experience overwhelming challenges at work but on some others, pleasant surprises. But with every challenge overcome, we know that we are moving one step closer to bringing an end to prolonged thirst in the world.
3. What was the most fulfilling moment in your entrepreneurial journey?
During one of the deployments in Kelantan, East Malaysia, the WateROAM team was able to work with the villagers and NGO to set up the water filtration systems and infrastructure for the village. Through the daily work routine and shared meals in the village, the team was able to build relationships with the locals and understand their life, culture and challenges better. When the works are completed, seeing the villagers celebrate around safe and clean drinking water was a priceless and fulfilling moment for the team.
4. What are some of the greatest challenges in the course of your entrepreneurial journey and what did you learn from them?
As a social enterprise based in Singapore but answering the water needs of those in rural areas, it was a challenge to fully understand the needs of these rural communities. WateROAM is thankful to have partnered with partner organisations such as World Vision, allowing WateROAM to regularly travel deep into Orang Asli villages (in East Malaysia) to learn from their culture and daily routines. It was important for us to constantly obtain feedback from these end users in order to build a solution that they would truly adopt. As a hardware company, we also face unique challenges. Manufacturing costs are quite high — one more iteration of a product means tens of thousands of dollars more — and the know-hows for manufacturing are more limited. Often, we had to take quite a while before we found the right mentors, advisers and partners to work with, so we can leverage their expertise to come up with better and more innovative solutions.
5. How do you measure the success of WateROAM?
In light of the subsisting water issues in rural communities and rising number of disasters, the heart of WateROAM is to build a world where no man shall face prolonged thirst. Our goal is to help all of society be able to get water where it is most needed, when it is most needed, so that death by thirst and unsafe water will be totally eradicated. By providing affordable, portable and easy to use water filters to these rural communities, and those affected by natural disasters, we aim to reduce the occurrences of these life-threatening illnesses. By improving the water quality, one can improve their quality of life.
6. What is a movie/book/song etc. that inspires you in your entrepreneurial journey and why?
The Lean Startup taught me how to properly test and adapt to market so we do not waste time building the wrong thing or getting overly-invested in romanticised ideas. It is heavily supported by facts, data and case studies and I will strongly recommend anyone starting a business to read the book before starting.
7. What was your most memorable moment in THE HANGAR by NUS Enterprise and why?
The Hangar is often visited by many interesting personalities including many interesting VCs, international universities and government officials. One of the most memorable moments for WateROAM was when we got to meet up with Minister Heng Swee Keat. Minister Heng was on a visit during The Hangar’s launch, and was interested to learn more about how our portable water filtration solutions can solve the issue of contaminated drinking water in rural regions. To show him the efficacy of our ROAMfilter systems, we filtered the contaminated water in front of him and drank the purified water in front of him. He was very impressed by how we could miniaturize a community water filtration system into a 3kg water filter pump that doesn’t require electricity to run. He subsequently shared about our works during the annual Budget Speech in Parliament.
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