Water is a fundamental human need. It is core to sustainable development, critical for socio-economic development, energy and food production, healthy ecosystems and most importantly for human survival. Water storage is critical for the purification, distribution, management and ultimately consumption of water resources. But despite this, there is a huge lack of innovation in the sector, with the latest evolution on water tank technology based on designs from the 1960’s (using ferrocement).
Water storage alternatives haven’t addressed the environmental impacts, or the transportability, affordability, and deployment issues in the rural sector. These functional and environmental deficiencies are accompanied by social inequalities which have generated huge gaps regarding access to water infrastructure around the world. Water scarcity does not just mean scarcity in availability due to physical shortage, but also scarcity in access due to the failure of institutions to ensure a regular supply or due to a lack of adequate infrastructure.
There are 2.2 billion people globally that are being failed by water infrastructure and lack access to safely managed drinking water (Unicef-2019). Furthermore, without access to a consistent supply of fresh water, agriculture in temperate climates is unviable. The most vulnerable areas are developing regions like Sub-Saharan Africa, South-East Asia and Latin America, but there are also needs for rural agriculture and wildfire management as close as the UK and Europe. Especially right now, where without access to clean water, millions of people are at risk of infectious diseases like COVID-19, cholera, diarrhoea, dysentery, and hepatitis A.
The UN states that to meet Sustainable Development Goals on water and sanitation £340bn needs to be invested each year into water infrastructure (Edie- 2018). Deploy’s mission is to create a new class of water management: providing access to safe drinking water for rural communities, water storage for wildfires across the world, and a source of supply for rural agriculture, reducing reliance on freshwater supplies.
Our innovation improves the state-of-the-art by reducing labour intensive installations, improving ability to transport to remote locations plus reducing maintenance, time of construction, and upfront cost. Deploy has developed the world’s first of a kind air-deployed, ready-to-use concrete water tank. We have exclusive access to a material manufactured by Concrete Canvas (Also founded by Imperial College Alumni), called Geo-synthetic Cementitious Composite Mats (GCCMs), which we utilise to make a storage unit that can be folded to fit onto a standard pallet for transportation anywhere in the world.
At site it can be inflated and filled with water within 24-hours. This is unheard of, and by comparison other static water tanks take on average 2-3 months to transport materials, build, fit and fill. Deploy has explored different geometries, sizes and shapes, and manufacturing processes to create our storage unit that will adapt to user needs. To give a sense of scale, the current unit holds 40,000 litres of water, which is enough to supply a small village of up to 2000 people.
Where did the idea originate?
Paul, Co-Founder of Deploy, worked for several years in water management systems, in Ecuador, where he discovered the frustration that people in rural areas have to face. Rural communities and farmers can’t afford the cost of implementing conventional technologies. For instance, in every water distribution system the most challenging and expensive elements are the water storage units, they are massive! Then in 2019 Paul and Beren (both co-founders) started experimenting with concrete-filled fabric materials, an innovative composite developed by another Imperial spinout called Concrete Canvas. Its amazing properties allowed them to develop a water tank that can contain up to 40,000 litres of water.
How did your team meet?
We met at Imperial College London in our Master’s Innovation Design Engineering
Do you have any advisors? If so how did they get involved?
We have several advisors nowadays, but we started with support from the EnterpriseLab who put us in contact with Janet Murray (our first advisor).
What stage is the business at and what are your plans moving forward?
The business is still in a pre-revenue state where we are developing in parallel the product and our own manufacturing line. We plan to launch our first product by the beginning of April this year.
What’s been your biggest success so far?
Completing our seed investment round of £600k and growing our team has been our biggest success. Although, the validation from users, distributors, and industry experts creates the assurance that we are progressing in the right direction.
What’s been the biggest challenge?
Finding the right people to join your team is always a challenge. They have to share your mission and objectives to create a productive working environment. This is specially key for start-ups where the responsibilities of new members are massive for the performance of the company.
What advice would you give to aspiring entrepreneurs?
First of all, in this fast evolving world there is a lot of technology that needs to be developed in order to provide better products and services to people that need it the most. Therefore you should never doubt if your idea is good enough because just if there is a small chance that you might be able to change one person’s life, it is already worth it.
Support from Imperial
Imperial has definitely been a massive supporter of our venture since the beginning of our journey. We cannot thank enough the people that have been listening, advising and guiding us to develop this idea further. We are always proud to represent and promote Imperial College London entrepreneurial opportunities.
2021 – Experts-in-Residence – Putting our idea and business strategy to the test was the motivator for us to develop a solid and rounded business. Also, providing the support and guidance in different areas was key to avoid massive pitfalls in the way. We never imagined that the mentors in Experts-in- Residence would be the beginning of an incredible network of advisors, investors and professionals that our business currently has. This is especially remarkable since the two co-founders come from abroad and did not know anyone when they started.
2021 – Venture Catalyst Challenge – VCC literally saved our project from being just an idea. We were days from closing the doors due to the lack of funds and the VCC prize helped us survive for another 6 months until securing further investment.
2021 – The Greenhouse Accelerator – The Greenhouse Accelerator Programme helped us understand our connection with sustainability. This represented that we needed to reevaluate the way we conceived the benefits of our product to the environment. Starting at the factory level where our processes are being developed with environmental conscience all the way to the afterlife of our product where the materials can be repurposed for other useful applications.