Tackling the world's wastewater problems with a single pipe

1st October 2016

As a 22-year old environmental engineering student, Enes Kutluca knew he wanted to develop something that could help every household in the world treat and reuse their own wastewater sustainably as well as efficiently.

He came up with the idea of using a single pipe to treat the wastewater itself, instead of just being used as a means to channel this used water to treatment plants. After two years of research and development in his garage, the Biopipe concept was born. At first, he said, he didn't want to share his unique invention with anyone else, but "at some point I understood that it was impossible for me to do everything by myself; so of course I needed a partner". It was at this point that he approached friend Enver Misirli, who quickly became his business partner.

Unusually, the entrepreneurial couple launched in Switzerland rather than their Turkish home country; after meeting their first investor, who was based in the land-locked European country. "The most important part of entrepreneurship is to find the right investors... and we've been lucky in that the investor was more than just an investor - he was a mentor, he was a big brother," Misirli said. "He was trying to help us increase the value of the company and he had good experience in investing in start-ups and improving them."

It was the 'smart money' that this Swiss investor offered that also drew the pair to meet up with him again. "The definition of 'smart money' is critical for any entrepreneur," Misirli continued. "You don't only look for money, you look for something smart that can direct you, that can try to add something to you and can put in added value when they invest in your company; which was exactly the case in all the investment rounds we did," he said.

The Biopipe system treats wastewater within the pipe itself, rather than producing sludge like wastewater treatment plants. The pipes treat water like nature's rivers do, with bacteria in biofoam layers. These treatment pipes use a similar bacteria within them.

"Water is a very big problem all around the Middle East and everywhere; and having wastewater treatment and wastewater sewage lines under cities is a very costly process," Kutluca said. "It can be suitable for even a single household, for two-person houses or five-person houses... it's the first time in the world that you can really apply a useful wastewater treatment system on this small scale," he continued.

It was also developing this technology that encouraged the two to seek investment outside of their home country; because they actually hold patents and protection rights in more than 50 countries. The couple found strong protection rights in Switzerland, and so the product was secure from the very launch. "It was important to choose the best, most secure country for the patent and legal infrastructures, which secured the rights of the founders and co-founders of the company, and also the investors," Misirli continued. "Our main markets are the emerging markets... Switzerland was a great choice [for patent protection and investment], so we did a lot of research with the help of consulting companies and found it's one of the best countries for patent protection."

Addressing Water Scarcity in the Middle East

Biopipe is now launching a new Middle Eastern base in Dubai, UAE, to address water scarcity in the region; as well as provide a cost-efficient method of reusing wastewater. "With Biopipe we provide a totally different mentality, a friendly mentality to the ecosystem," Misirli said. "Instead of investing a huge amount of money and trying to centralise the wastewater treatment, [we thought] let's decentralise it, let's try to find a local effective solution."

The pipes produce scientifically the same quality water that comes through from a water treatment plant, to be used on gardening, irrigation, washing and other secondary uses. "I can say there is 100% need, because water scarcity is an important problem in many parts of the world," Misirli said. "This need is converted to demand with the right technology and the most important duty for any entrepreneur is to define the need and try to convert it to demand - which is not an easy job at all."

It was during Dubai's Big Five exhibition (where Biopipe had a Turkish Government-supported booth) that they met representatives from Metito: a leading water management solutions company with headquarters in Dubai's Techno Park. Biopipe were looking for a strategic partner to bring their technology to the region, while Metito were looking for new technologies to introduce into the market. "We were looking for a strategic partner, because it is not easy for an entrepreneur to grow without a strategic partner," Misirli continued, "We were looking for a strategic partner that we can expand and dominate the market with, and also to add value to the industry."

Biopipe is now finalising a project with DEWA (the Dubai Electricity and Water Authority) and has already completed a project with Saudi Arabia's Aramco. Their expansion across the Middle East is being facilitated through the existing Metito network: "We have been considered for projects in the UAE, Qatar, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia as well as Oman," Ahmed Ayman, Regional Manager, Biopipe Dubai, said, adding that the clients they are gaining range from consultants and engineering companies to contractors, developers and Government authorities. Ayman added that Biopipe's establishment in the region fits with the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) requirements of many MENA Governments, including Dubai. It recently completed a project for a coastal resort and hotel in Dakhla, Morocco; which specifically follows sustainable practices and uses environmentally-friendly technology throughout.

Currently, the company is focussing on the B2B sector, targeting hotels, the construction industry, businesses and governments and contractors; while the B2C sector (individual households) will be targeted at a later date. Biopipe has also had interest from projects based in India, Bangladesh and China, but will initially be concentrating on GCC expansion.

Advising the Next Generation of Entrepreneurs

"The GCC is an important market... and more importantly it's the best entrance to the emerging markets - especially Dubai, an important global financial city from where you can interact with any company from around the globe," Misirli said. However, entrepreneurship, he said "is not an easy job".

"You'll face challenges, I mean sometimes you'll face hard days, sometimes you will be happy and sometimes you'll get upset with things," he continued, "So it is very important that you keep going and do not become influenced by things around you." While he said he's very supportive of being an entrepreneur or a start-up in an emerging market, he does add that being an entrepreneur in such markets is "much harder". However, the absence of an ecosystem in some cases, he continued, "Could be an opportunity: especially when you consider the market value of any successful start-up in an undeveloped country is much higher."

Six years into realising his dream of launching a global company to tackle water scarcity around the world, Kutluca sees entrepreneurship like a "dream". "Everyone around you, your customers, your partners, your friends, everyone has to believe in this dream, otherwise you'll be a fool and your dream will just disappear and be gone," he said. "But if you make them believe in this dream then you can change the world. So no-one should give up, they must follow their dreams and in that way they can do something good and become successful entrepreneurs."

Source: Reuters