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Flowius: The Startup Behind The Development Of Radically Affordable Water Systems

by addisinsight

Fetching out individuals and groups striving to bring all the potential out of our world is our marque. As we always say, there are lots of talented minds working behind the things that are constantly making our daily lives simpler throughout all areas, advancing ways of living and upgrading our resources to a higher level where we could all profit from it.

Following the trend, we find it our responsibility to put the spot light on those working day and night to solidify plans into actuality.

This week we brought you Flowuis.

Flowius builds water systems that are so radically affordable that homes and farms living on $1.50/day can have water piped to them. It has recently been accepted into the Silicon Valley-based water innovation accelerator Imagine H2O, where it will receive mentoring and networking opportunities to help it grow.


How does Flowius work?

Flowius will use a network of rurally-based franchises to

  1. Map out communities using Flowius Collect, which gathers geospatial and design data and uploads it to the engineers,
  2. Build two systems in parallel one for residential use (owned by a local client) and one for irrigation (owned by them), since most rural homes are also farms,
  3. Operate and maintain systems using Flowius Manage, which provides push notifications for O&M activities, instructional videos for those activities, customer management tools, and data analytics for the water systems.

How do they make water radically affordable?

  • Limit the daily supply of water to each home to 150 L/day, which minimizes pipe, pump, and treatment system sizes.
  • Utilize economies of scale to reduce material unit costs, unprecedented in Ethiopia.
  • Constantly collect and analyze water system data to consistently improve our designs and maintenance methods.

We have been able to talk to the founder of Flowius Chris Turnbull-Grimes. Read the interview below.

A.I Tell us a bit about yourself?

Chris: I spent most of my life in Colorado in the US. As I was getting my Master’s Degree in Civil Engineering, I began volunteering with Engineers without Borders to build a piped water system in El Salvador.  After university, I was a Peace Corps Volunteer in rural Kenya for two years before heading back to the States to become a professional engineer.


A.I How would you describe Flowius? How long have you been working on it? Tell us about the team and what triggered the idea.

Chris: With Flowius, we want to pipe water to rural homes and farms living on $1.50 a day at a price they can afford.  We combine a suite of mobile tools with a network of rurally-based franchises to get this critical infrastructure to people by way of their local governments.

Throughout my time in El Salvador and Kenya, I spent my time wondering how we could supply water to people where they want it: in their homes.  As is the case with most big issues, the engineering is the easiest part.  The hard part was figuring out how to do it as a scalable business.  Thankfully, I met Markos and we slowly developed the ideas on how to do this effectively.  Over time, I met our mobile app developer, Nathanael Gossaye, who’s made some great progress on our mobile tools, and Melat Habtemariam, who is making great strides in developing plans for finding and training franchises.

A.I What are the challenges you faced? Challenges on running a startup in Ethiopia? What were your expectations?

Chris: Our biggest challenge will be figuring out how to build water infrastructure at scale.  Since our plan is to use franchises to market, construct, and maintain these systems, we will have a big challenge ahead of us in making sure that we train and support them properly.  Nobody has ever been able to build water infrastructure at scale before, so that is a big risk for us while also being a fantastic opportunity if we can pull it off.

As far as running a startup in Ethiopia is concerned, the biggest challenge is funding.  Most outside funders are hesitant to invest in this country since they don’t understand the environment for it.  On top of that, the franchise model is not common here, so it’s difficult for many people to understand how it will all work.

One of the biggest expectations that I had when coming here was the difficulty of selling something like this to local governments and communities.  To be honest, it’s been pretty smooth so far as our partner community, Wita, has already contributed most of the funds for our pilot project there.  Additionally, the local government has also provided funds to build this system and the process has gone well so far.  I think everyone recognizes the value of water being piped to them and if the price is low enough, then they’re willing to contribute.


A.I Where do you see Flowius in 5 years time?

 Chris: We have a couple of goals for the next five years.  First, we want to have franchises across Ethiopia getting water to people here and we hope that, by that time, we will be able to spread to other countries like Rwanda or Uganda.  I also hope that we’ll be able to use those franchises to get other critical services to people who don’t have them right now, such as sanitation.

A.I  What tips can you give other startups based on your experience?

 Chris: The biggest thing is that you shouldn’t let anyone tell you it can’t be done.  Maybe your idea isn’t possible, but you need to prove that to yourself instead of just accepting the word of others.  I can’t count the number of people who told me the idea of piping water to rural people in the developing world wasn’t possible.  We’ve still got a long way to go, but the future looks bright.

Triple Bottom Line Enterprises and the other 11 startups accepted into the cohort showcased their solutions at the WaterGala ‘17 event, attended by over 350 industry executives, investors, utility managers, government officials and sustainability experts.

All 12 companies will now benefit from cash awards, mentorship, industry exposure and introductions to customers and investors during the program.

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