By Catherine Jewell, Information and Digital Outreach Division, WIPO
Hydraloop, a decentralized greywater recycling system, allows households to cut water consumption and wastewater emissions by up to 45 percent, respectively. At a time when soaring temperatures are wreaking havoc around the world, causing water scarcity and drought, the availability of this award-winning water treatment solution could not be more timely.
Arthur Valkieser and Sabine Stuiver, the Dutch couple behind Hydraloop, are on a mission to solve the world’s growing water crisis. In 2015, the two serial entrepreneurs came out of retirement to develop their consumer-friendly, decentralized home water treatment system. Hydraloop was among the five winners of the first WIPO Global Awards for SMEs announced earlier this summer. Valkieser and Stuiver believe that winning the WIPO Award is an important boost in helping them deploy their ingenious water treatment solution globally.
What prompted you to get into water recycling and to set up Hydraloop?
Stuiver: Our planet has a finite freshwater resource. Climate change is causing severe drought and water stress is a challenge in many countries, including in Europe. Estimates suggest that by 2030, up to 700 million people could be displaced worldwide due to water scarcity. Yet, we still use fresh water to flush toilets, wash clothes and water our gardens. It just doesn’t make sense. So, when Arthur came up with the idea of a decentralized greywater recycling system, we felt we had an obligation to act on it; so we pulled ourselves out of retirement in the South of France and returned to the Netherlands to start building the technology and the company.
Valkieser: By 2050, we will have 2 billion more people on the planet and we will need 55 percent more water than we are using today, so I just couldn’t ignore the idea. I just had to do something with it. The current water crisis is a wake-up call for those of us who ignored all the warnings of increasing water scarcity, but the good news is that we can help solve it ourselves by using water twice.
By 2050, we will have 2 billion more people on the planet and we will need 55 percent more water than we are using today.
Arthur Valkieser, Inventor, CEO and Co-founder of Hydraloop
Did you have a background in water engineering?
Valkieser: Not at all. I ran a big media company in the Netherlands. But in many ways, that was an advantage because I had no pre-conceived ideas. I wasn’t constrained by any formal training. I knew what I wanted to achieve and basically worked everything out through trial and error. There were many challenges, but I learned that a problem is actually a gift, because when you solve it, you improve what you are doing.
The Hydraloop units look very sleek and attractive. What prompted this design approach?
Stuiver: We are focusing on the huge number of people who are willing to contribute to a more sustainable planet, so we recognized that our solution had to be consumer friendly with no compromise on comfort or hygiene. We were clear that our product needed to be compact, low-maintenance, and needed to look good, because design is everything.
Valkieser: We really stand out because of our design, but also because our system treats greywater (from showers, washing machines, air conditioners, etc.) without the use of filters, membranes or chemicals. Our patented technology treats and cleans wastewater to the highest international standards, but without using filters that can clog up and need a lot of expensive maintenance.
What are the environmental benefits of Hydraloop?
Valkieser: Hydraloop saves water and energy and allows users to reduce their carbon footprint. With Hydraloop, it’s possible to lower water consumption by 45 percent and to reduce wastewater emissions by 45 percent. This lowers users’ carbon footprint because less water needs to be transported to their building and wastewater treatment facilities have less wastewater to treat.
Stuiver: At Hydraloop, we say act wise, use water twice. With our “fit and forget” system, users can do this easily and conveniently without compromising hygiene or quality of life.
And how does it work?
Valkieser: Hydraloop’s patented water treatment system combines six different technologies: sedimentation, flotation, dissolved air flotation, foam fractionation, an aerobic bioreactor and disinfection of treated water with powerful UV light to produce water that meets the highest international standards. Every Hydraloop unit – we currently have two models, one for up to 5 people and one for up to 12 people – is monitored online 24/7 via a remote server. Users can monitor their water usage via our smartphone app, which offers useful water-saving tips. I started working on Hydraloop in mid-2015 and we brought it to market in 2017, so it took a little over two years to develop.
What were the high points of your entrepreneurial journey?
Stuiver: We came to market in November 2017, at Aquatech Amsterdam. People were queueing up to talk to us. We knew we had something special, but we were still making the units in our garage. In 2018 and 2019, we took Hydraloop to 26 exhibitions in Europe, the Middle East, South Africa and the USA. We were like missionaries explaining why decentralized water recycling is so important. For exhibition number 27, in January 2020, we were at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas. There we won four CES awards for: a) Best of innovation: sustainability, eco design and smart energy, b) Best sustainable product, c) Best startup company, and d) Best of the Best, beating the 20,000 other products exhibited at the show. That shot us to fame and gave us huge visibility.
The current water crisis is a wake-up call for those of us who ignored all the warnings of increasing water scarcity, but the good news is that we can also help solve it ourselves by using water twice.
Arthur Valkieser, Inventor, CEO and Co-founder of Hydraloop
And the low points?
Stuiver: After CES we really needed to scale up the company in terms of staff, production and investment. Until then, we had been funding Hydraloop privately ourselves. Investors were queueing up after CES, but then COVID struck and they all left. So, it was a very uncertain and tricky time, but for our small management team and shareholders giving up was not an option. Soon after, we found investors and things kicked off again. We’re doing another round next year and are optimistic because we have built a strong brand, which many people already know. Our strategy now is to go global.
How are you planning to go global?
Valkieser: We believe that the installation of decentralized water systems will become a building code standard, like heat pumps and air conditioners are today. This is a huge market and the only way we can go global is through partnerships.
Stuiver: We already have 140 partners in 50 countries selling Hydraloop-branded units. These include plumbing companies, hotels, architects, gardening suppliers and water products companies that want to include sustainable products like Hydraloop in their portfolio. And we are also talking with various large white goods companies. Here we’re looking at various options, from co-marketing and co-branding for a white label, to licensing deals, especially in countries where we are not active. That way, our technology can be made locally and more cheaply. But we need investment. We can’t meet these global goals without it.
Our mission is to get Hydraloop into many new buildings and homes around the world in the next decades.
Sabine Stuiver, CMO and Co-founder of Hydraloop
Is the world ready for home-water-treatment systems like Hydraloop?
Valkieser: Hydraloop is opening up the market. The market is there, but there are certain regulations that need adjusting. Of course, when you do something new, nothing is ready for it. That’s why, in addition to running the company, I’m also an expert on the European Water Standardization Commission, where I co-wrote the standard on rainwater and recycled water for non-potable applications. Every country has different long-standing laws and regulations that made sense once, but many of them are no longer relevant and are actually blocking innovations from getting to the market. So, it’s important to write new standards for waste water management and to also get rid of old, unhelpful standards. I’m also a Board Member of Water Europe, which promotes water-related innovation in Europe. I see this as an important way to address solutions to Europe’s water-related issues. Reports written ten years ago already predicted the situation we’re in today, but nobody takes action on a report. Unfortunately, we first need to feel the pain before things happen. Now, we need wise politicians that are ready to take action. And we need funding for the implementation of solutions because they will not be for free.
Stuiver: I am in Water Europe’s Policy Advisory Committee, which raises awareness about the value of water for our society and economy. The Committee also lobbies for the inclusion and uptake of innovative solutions and approaches in European policymaking and legislation. There has been a lot of focus on innovation and there are economically and technically viable solutions out there to solve the water crisis. This is great news, but in many regions, water is still very cheap. So, we are advocating for three things: first, that water-saving devices become an integral part of building codes everywhere; second, that builders and end-users are actively encouraged to use these devices; and third, that differential pricing schemes are introduced so people pay a higher rate if they use more water than usual. This will build awareness of the true value of water and ensure it’s used responsibly.
What role does IP play in your company?
Stuiver: Having IP has helped Hydraloop on all fronts; in funding our mission and in enabling us to expand production and sales exponentially to become a market leader in this space. Our mission is to get Hydraloop into many new buildings and homes around the world in the next decades. This means we need to collaborate with others and protect ourselves. Our IP makes that possible.
Valkieser: We realized from the outset that we needed IP. We were not going to invest so much time and energy in developing our idea and run the risk of somebody else copying it.
Stuiver: We have developed a patented product that everyone can use for a fee and our IP rights allow us to scale up production, marketing and sales. Through licensing deals, we can partner with other companies and roll out this much-needed product around the world very rapidly. IP has also made our company much more interesting to investors. Besides our team, it is IP that protects and gives value to the company.
Why was it important for Hydraloop to be independently certified?
Valkieser: First, certification enabled us to enter the market. And second, understanding the requirements of the certification bodies helped me design Hydraloop. My goal was to meet the requirements of the most stringent certificate, namely the NSF/ANSI-350 in the USA. While these certifications don’t tell you how to do water treatment, they do tell you what you have to achieve. They gave me the direction I needed to come up with the system that is now patented.
What is your vision for the future?
Stuiver: We are facing a global water crisis and without water, we cannot survive. Water is life. Many people don’t realize that water is essential for social well-being, economic development, business growth and the health of natural ecosystems. The good news is that we can solve this crisis. The solutions are already here. We just need to implement them!
Valkieser: Our vision is that in 10 years, decentralized water recycling systems will be installed in every building as a standard part of building codes everywhere. And we want to make a real impact on the global water crisis by becoming a market leader in this space.
I learned that a problem is actually a gift, because when you solve it, you improve what you are doing.
Arthur Valkieser, Inventor, CEO and Co-founder of Hydraloop
What does it mean to win the WIPO Global Award for SMEs?
Stuiver: It means a huge amount. First, I am really proud, because it recognizes Arthur’s invention and all his hard work. It’s been a roller coaster of a journey. And second, it gives us more visibility and credibility to advance our mission, because what we do really matters. We’re not here to sell a product. We want to change the world.
What advice do you have for other SMEs embarking on their business journey?
Valkieser: Never give up.