1) The Founders
Vibha Tripathi was doing her PhD from IIT Kanpur when she realised that her research on affordable organic solar cells might take years to make any effective impact at the grass-roots level. She had also lost a cousin to diarrhoea when the latter was only two years old. Always the one to be grounded in reality, Tripathi changed tack and joined hands with Advait Kumar to set up Swajal, aiming to provide clean drinking water at an extremely affordable price.
2) The Idea
From her home, Tripathi used to watch the people queuing up from a nearby slum, waiting their turn to collect water. It made her realise how lack of electricity could lead to water shortage, possible contamination, and finally, to water scarcity. To address this pain point, she started working on a solar-powered water supply network that can work off-grid. Swajal has come up with plug-and-play water vending machines, or water ATMs, which can be installed as standalone devices at any place with a water connection or can be connected to groundwater. The purification technology was already there; so, Tripathi focussed on data collection and automation to prevent service disruptions in remote locations and reduce operational costs.
The first grant amounting to 85,000 Euro came from Vienna-based Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency Partnership. It helped the company build the prototypes and do a pilot and market survey to develop a business model. It also raised a Series A round of $1.2 million in 2015.
4) Business Model
Swajal instals point-of-use water machines in public areas in partnership with government organisations and corporates who fund water ATMs as part of their CSR initiative. Consequently, communities can buy clean drinking water for as low as 50 paise a litre in places like Karimabad village in Uttar Pradesh and Unnao in Rajasthan. It has also tied up with Delhi and Guwahati Smart City projects and partnered with the IRCTC to set up its machines in 100 railway stations.