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Liquid riches

In 2006, he was to take over as the Singapore-based head of General Electric in South East Asia, but Sudesh Menon, already heading the conglomerate's operations in Malaysia and 37 years old then, opted out.

E. Kumar Sharma        Print Edition: June 27, 2010

In 2006, he was to take over as the Singapore-based head of General Electric in South East Asia, but Sudesh Menon, already heading the conglomerate's operations in Malaysia and 37 years old then, opted out. Reason: He was more charmed by an invitation from K. Anji Reddy, Chairman of pharma major Dr Reddy's Laboratories, to come back to India to attempt solving the drinking water problem in the country's villages.

Menon joined WaterHealth International as its India CEO. Last year, he ventured out on his own because "certain differences in the long-term vision, the greater opportunity both in market space and technology options made me think on a much larger canvas". He set up Waterlife India in January 2009 and today counts more than 200 water purification installations across three states.

The business model is simple: A private-owned supplier of clean drinking water. Waterlife installs water systems, operates and maintains the plant, and collects charges from consumers. "Waterlife has multiple revenue streams like setting up water treatment facilities for the government, user fees from sale of water and the operation and maintenance charges," says Menon.

For a new installation, Waterlife's field staff visits a village or urban area to understand local drinking water requirements. They analyse the viability of a village and test alternative sources of water for contamination. Waterlife then builds a plant customised to deal with the water in that area, using environment friendly technologies, hires locals to run the machinery, which is inspected and maintained by its people round the year.

"This would be the most growing business in a growth industry," he says. There are 600,000 villages in India, over 120,000 governmentlicensed hospitals, some 100,000 schools and over 65,000 restaurants with regulatory sanction-all of which need water systems or clean water supply.

Waterlife is targeting all these segments and Menon's revenue targets reflect his bullishness: He aims to grow his company's under Rs 5 crore revenues to over Rs 500 crore within the next five years.

FOCUS: Water purification systems, services

FUNDING: Seed capital by social venture fund Aavishkaar

ADDRESSABLE MARKET: Rs 18,400 crore ($4 billion)

REVENUE: Under Rs 5 crore

BIGGEST RISK: Populist government policies

THE BEST ADVICE I GOT AND FROM WHOM: When they (people) don't answer your call, walk alone, walk alone -Rabindranath Tagore, quoted by school teacher

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