Swiss Bluetec Bridge: Swiss start-ups benefit disadvantaged populations


The challenges involving water are creating opportunities for cutting-edgetechnological innovation. The SDC's Swiss Bluetec Bridge initiative supports these innovations to improve access to water for the poorest populations. The first start-up to benefit from a loan is the start-up company “Swiss Fresh Water” which has developed a low-cost system fordesalinating salty or brackish water.

Country/region Topic Period Budget
Global
Water
Drinking water and basic sanitation (WASH) (til 2016)
01.04.2011 - 31.12.2020
CHF 2'050'000

Switzerland subsidises technological innovation in the water sector, notably for fundamental research, applied research and the creation of prototypes. New private sources of finance investing in areas with high social, environmental and financial potential are now emerging. But despite this favourable environment it is not always easy for innovative projects to gain the necessary credibility to attract private investors. This is doubly true for technologies that target the poorest populations.

The goal of the SDC’s Swiss Bluetec Bridge initiative is to provide interest-free loans to start-ups and to small and medium-sized companies so that they can gain the expertise that will enable them toreceive private support. The selection committee expects submission of roughly 60 projects in the coming two and a half years. In the end 6 will be selected for implementation. 

First winner: water desalination project in Senegal

The firstwinning project in 2013 is the “Swiss Fresh Water SA” (SFW). The company has developed a low-cost method for desalinating salty or brackish water by using solar energy.This technology allows small-scale production of about 4000 litres of drinking water a day. It was designed to be easy to use, simple to maintain and energy efficient. 

SFW is planning to launch a pilot project in Senegalin the Sine Saloum delta, which has a population of about 225,000. During the almost 9-month-long rainy season, the people mainly drink brackish water, seriously endangering their health. When they can afford it, they also buy drinking water that is transported to the regionin pirogues, vans and lorries.

The SFW aims to improve the health of village people – reducing diarrhoea, fluorosis and hypertension – by enabling them to produce good-quality drinking water. The company also strives to save the beneficiary populations time and money and to reduce the energy consumption associated with the water supply (e.g. trucked in water). The project will also help to create new jobs in the region.

Exporting Swiss know-how to regions that need it

The SFW team have a wealth of experience in water project management and in water treatment.
The team grew familiar with the local Senegalese market during a pilot project in 2011–2012 in Senegal. Its inclusion of local skills and proactive maintenance of the equipment was a further plus in their application. In 2013, this company will have seven full-time employees, two of them working in Senegal. 

SFW receive an interest-free loan of CHF 250,000 and coaching to ensure the economic viability of its technology. Building on the success of this pilot project SFW plans to export the concept to other regions of the world that are confronted with similar problems.

Switzerland has cutting edge expertise in water technology innovation. The start-ups and small and medium-sized enterprises that entered Swiss Bluetec Bridge’s competition all demonstrated a clear determination to benefit those at the bottom of the social pyramid and to respect the environment. The provision of large water purification plants is dominated by multinationals, but small-scale energy-saving equipment still offers enormous development potential.