The quality of drinking water is something that no one can afford to compromise on. Water borne diseases like diarrhoea, hepatitis, typhoid and cholera, or illnesses due to contaminants like arsenic and lead, cause widespread health issues in India. Reports suggest that over 10,000 lives were lost to these diseases between 2013 and 2017 across the country.
To monitor water quality and reduce contamination, smart sensor based technologies and filters are being used, but these often lead to high capital costs for consumers. To address this challenge, the Bengaluru based startup, OCEO Water, founded by Mahendra Dantewadiya, Rajeev Krishna, Vikram Gulecha and Hasmukh Gulecha, has developed a technology that detects, purifies, measures and monitors drinking water – all at zero upfront cost and with virtually no maintenance costs. Users pay just Re.1 per litre of water consumed!
By Paromik Chakraborty
The OCEO team came up with an IoT-enabled water Purification-as-a-Service solution looking at the heavy upfront and operational costs, maintenance hassles and the urgent need to improve existing water purifier solutions in the market.
Vikram Gulecha says, “Access to safe drinking water is a basic human right – not a privilege. The cost of existing solutions, however, is very high. Moreover, water quality in India varies every 200 km. Some regions may have higher arsenic content in water, some may have chloride, some may contain iron, and so on. The aim of OCEO is to be able to purify water as per the specific problem of that particular area, as each contaminant requires a different approach to purification.”
The technical team at OCEO started research on the technology two-and-a-half years back, planning a mix of filtration systems, sensor based monitoring, cloud based analytics along with conventional water dispensing, and arrived at the innovative smart water purification system. At the moment, OCEO is being used by many families in Bengaluru.
How it works
OCEO is an IoT-enabled smart water purifier installed at the user’s location. The backbone of the technology lies in the blend of digital tools, Internet-linked sensors, online analytics and reports displayed on the devices. Water coming in from any source (tap, pump, tanker, etc) is first purified in the filter through six broad filtration stages. The six steps include polypropylene filtration, activated carbon filtration, ultra-filtration (UF), reverse osmosis, filtration through silver impregnated carbon filters and, finally, water mineralisation.
“When water is being dispensed, a sensor reads the quality of each drop of water and sends the data to a live cloud in real-time,” informs Krishna. OCEO communicates to the network through GSM, which requires a SIM card to be fitted in the purifier. The data can be accessed as insightful analytics using OCEO’s mobile and Web application. In addition, device health can also be verified using analytics. This enables predictive maintenance of the device, allowing the auto-ordering of cartridges or filter membranes beforehand. The firm claims the setup is simple enough for users to change filters and perform operations by themselves.
Users can consume any amount of water. Keeping in mind an Indian household’s consumption, the OCEO system has been designed to dispense 15 litres of water every hour. OCEO has kept its technology open, and is inviting solutions developers to join hands to find new ways to overcome the growing number of water challenges across the globe.
Target audience and purchase model
OCEO’s target audience comprises end consumers from cities as well as semi-urban and rural areas. The most interesting aspect of this offering is the zero cost deployment model. This means customers do not have to pay anything for the device, installation or even
maintenance (including filter membrane replacement). Instead, they have to pay as per consumption, at the rate of Re. 1 per litre. The service has to be availed on a prepaid basis. Users can purchase ‘water credits’ from the OCEO mobile application or website – for instance, they can purchase 200 water credits to consume 200 litres of water. The unique predictive maintenance system auto-orders fresh replacement membranes based on the water quality and consumption.
Challenges faced in setting up the venture
The main challenge the team at OCEO faced was while trying to understand the needs of the customer and developing the ultimate solution for the job that needed to be done. Vikram Gulecha recalls, “It involved figuring out the right solution for customers, the right channels to reach them and the right customer relationships to build. It also entailed figuring out the right price points and cost structures for profitability.”
The design method also had to be modified, keeping in mind the usage habits of the customers. “Changing behaviour is hard. Traditional design methods are not always enough to effectively tackle complex behavioural challenges at the customer’s end. Our team took a unique approach towards product design, with a lot of focus on primary market research,” Gulecha adds.
When asked whether the revenue stream is a challenge, given that the company is bearing most of the costs, Dantewadiya says, “This is more like the business model that airlines use. They lease aircraft and finance all the services and maintenance. Passengers just pay for their trip. In the case of OCEO too, we are the financiers of all the services, while consumers pay only for the water consumption.”
Dantewadiya believes that low-cost water purification solutions ought to have hit the market a long time back. He adds, “The pay-as-you-use model will make drinking water more affordable, and can save consumers up to 80 per cent of the expenses per month. It will draw more consumers. So, we are looking into additional revenue streams for the long run.”
The company plans to keep the overall cost low by maintaining a direct manufacturer-to-consumer channel, avoiding middlemen. “There would be at least eight to ten levels of middlemen if we had planned to take the traditional distribution route. We have completely omitted this step. Moreover, we do not market our product through high-budget TV advertorials! Our customers are our own endorsers. That saves a lot of expenses,” adds Hasmukh Gulecha.
The path ahead
The team has a few plans for the OCEO device as well as its distribution and production. The sales have started in Bengaluru, and the startup is in the process of commercially launching the product in Chennai and Hyderabad. There will be technical teams in each of these regions for customer service and support. The plan is to expand throughout the nation, slowly.
Currently, the firm is manufacturing its products in China, Taiwan and Korea. However, it has received proposals from multiple state governments for setting up its own manufacturing facility within the country. The company plans to set up two facilities – one in northern India and another in the south. The team is customising OCEO to fit the requirements of big offices too, which includes increasing the water capacity of the device, as offices require much higher volumes daily. This will open up more target customer groups.
Dantewadiya says that OCEO plans to expand and cater to consumers in India first. Once local demand is met, the team plans to expand globally.