By Karen R. Smith

I’m writing this column several months ahead of your opportunity to read it – normal in the world of magazine publishing. I’m getting ready to head to Singapore for the Fourth International Water Association Leading-Edge Conference & Exhibition on Water and Wastewater Technologies. Part of the appeal for me in attending this particular event is Singapore’s commitment to utilizing the best that technology has to offer to increase potable water availability and quality. This has resulted in more than 50 national and international water companies making this dynamic Asian city/state a water research and manufacturing hub. In the 1960s the shortage of potable water led the Singaporean government to ration water; today, the nation aims to increase its share of the global water market to three to five percent by 2018.

To foster taking a lead in the water industry, the Singapore Water Association (SWA) was formed in 2004. Minister for the Environment and Water Resources Dr. Yaacob Ibrahim spoke to the group in March of this year at their annual dinner. He noted that he had attended the first such gathering, where 27 companies agreed to promote collaboration and exchange ideas and knowledge. As he faced the audience this spring, 103 companies are now members of SWA.

Dr. Ibrahim announced the creation of a new program. “The Fast-Track Environmental and Water Technologies Incubator Scheme (Fast-Tech), aims to accelerate the formation and growth of environmental and water start-ups by providing two critical ingredients – financial incentive and mentoring by established firms. These firms are what we call incubators. By helping the start-ups with financial assistance and business advice, we hope to see a large group of successful water start-ups, which would otherwise not have the resources to develop its own products and market channels, or be sizeable enough to attract equity financing.

The EWI (Environment and Water Industry Development Council) has set aside $10 million for the Fast-Tech scheme for the next five years. Aspiring start-ups with promising ideas can apply to be housed in an approved incubator and seek funding support of up to 85 percent or $300,000 per company, whichever is lower, over two years. Our goal is to establish a cluster of two to three incubators dedicated to the water sector. “

Dr. Ibrahim also announced that the EWI will set aside S$30 million over the next five years to support two types of post-graduate scholarships to train specialist manpower for the Environment and Water Technology industry and research organizations. “To build an R&D hub for water technologies here in Singapore, it is critical to ensure that we have enough talented water research professionals and experts here,” he said.

The first group of Ph.D. scholarships will be given out to graduate students in both local and top overseas universities. They can choose to study in a variety of related disciplines, such as Environmental Science or Engineering, Chemical Engineering, Civil Engineering or various other Sciences. Besides having the opportunity to work in selected R&D areas with potential for cutting-edge developments and high economic growth, the graduate students will also get to work with professors renowned for their expertise in these fields. “This will help us pave the way for the next generation of research and professional leaders in the environment and water technologies sector.”

The second group are business scholarships. EWI, in partnership with companies, will share the cost of Masters and Ph.D. scholarships in local universities; the graduates will then work for the partner companies and play an important role in accelerate technological change in those companies. Black & Veatch and Keppel have already expressed interest to participate in the program. “We certainly welcome more companies to join this program so that we can build a pool of technology experts who can champion innovation in their workplace and boost the capabilities of the local water industry network,” Ibrahim said.

I’m very excited about the opportunity to visit Singapore in person and learn more. While I’m gone, take a look at the government’s http://www.pub.gov.sg/NEWater_files/overview/index.html for a complete picture of the country’s work with reclaimed water. I’ll write about it firsthand next month!

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