Mak­ing Waves

No wa­ter goes to waste with this com­pany’s cut­ting- edge tech­nol­ogy.

The Peak (Singapore) - - Power List -

T he river was so filthy that it was opaque and left a sticky residue upon con­tact. But for a re­mote vil­lage in In­done­sia, it had been the only drink­ing source since time im­memo­rial.

So imag­ine their joy when home-grown wa­ter treat­ment start-up Nano Sun ap­plied its wa­ter fil­ter tech­nolo­gies which led to clean drink­ing wa­ter. It was the first time the vil­lagers had seen and tasted some­thing that most of us take for granted. That was one of the ear­li­est projects Nano Sun took on, and also one that holds sen­ti­men­tal value.

“Look at the ladies danc­ing,” co-founder and man­ag­ing di­rec­tor Wong Ann Chai says, as he shows us a video of vil­lagers re­joic­ing. “Life ex­pectancy there is 50 to 60 years old, and the pri­mary cause of death is cancer,” he says, hop­ing that clean wa­ter will help to bring down the this statis­tic.

Since its setup in 2013, the Nanyang Tech­no­log­i­cal Univer­sity ( NTU) spin-off has grown from strength to strength. Its cus­tomis­able wa­ter treat­ment sys­tems have been com­mis­sioned by gov­ern­ments and com­pa­nies in Sin­ga­pore, China, the Philip­pines and In­done­sia. Rev­enue is set to hit $10 mil­lion by the fi rst half of next year, and it aims to launch its IPO in the next three years. Nano Sun’s co­founder, as­so­ciate pro­fes­sor Dar­ren Sun of NTU’s School of Civil and En­vi­ron­men­tal En­gi­neer­ing, drives re­search, while Wong, an ex-in­vest­ment banker, takes care of busi­ness devel­op­ment.

In­vestors are pay­ing at­ten­tion. “We’ve re­cently got a lot of of­fers from French and Ger­man com­pa­nies,” says Wong, 51. “But there’s so much more that the com­pany can do and grow be­fore we want to con­sider them.”

Like the fully au­to­mated 3-D mem­brane print­ing plant it launched in July. The new self-clean­ing mem­branes are said to treat waste­water five times faster, re­quire less main­te­nance and are more re­sis­tant to bio­foul­ing (the ac­cu­mu­la­tion of micro­organ­isms on wet sur­faces). “We have a 15,000 sq ft space to sup­port our mass pro­duc­tion, and we ex­pect to need more space in the next 18 months,” says Wong.

Among the fi rst clients to test this im­proved tech­nol­ogy are a new mu­nic­i­pal waste­water treat­ment plant in China that can treat up to 20 mil­lion litres of wa­ter a day (about eight Olympic-sized swim­ming pools) and two of Sin­ga­pore’s largest semi­con­duc­tor multi­na­tional com­pa­nies.

In a way, Nano Sun’s growth runs par­al­lel to Wong’s own ca­reer evo­lu­tion. He served 20 years in the civil ser­vice and ad­min­is­tra­tive ser­vice be­fore de­cid­ing to, as he puts it, “take the plunge” and leave his com­fort zone. Thing is, he left with­out a job. He was 39 and had a fam­ily of five to sup­port. “My wife thought I was crazy. But, if you don’t throw your­self into the un­known, you won’t grow.” He soon found his groove as an in­vest­ment banker at DBS and No­mura.

He came to know of Sun’s work when he was ad­junct pro­fes­sor at NTU. “I love to build busi­nesses. Part of the grat­i­fi­ca­tion comes from hav­ing clients who say, ‘ let’s give you a chance’, and you make good. Hav­ing worked with tech and en­gi­neer­ing com­pa­nies as a banker, and hav­ing served as an ad­viser to a VC fund in the Sil­i­con Val­ley, I could see the value of how we can reach a wider mar­ket lo­cally and in­ter­na­tion­ally. I want to build a lo­cal en­ter­prise that is tech­nol­ogy-in­ten­sive and cre­ates high value jobs,” says Wong, who is a me­chan­i­cal en­gi­neer by train­ing.

“The earth has only 3 per cent of fresh wa­ter. We want to be part of the equa­tion that in­creases that num­ber to 6 per cent so more peo­ple can have safe and non-toxic wa­ter to use, even as in­dus­trial wa­ter con­tin­ues to be dis­charged in grow­ing vol­umes.”

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