The future of the water sector begins now

Thursday 20 May 21
by Peter Aagaard Brixen, Nasrin Billie


Marie Louise Møllebæk Pollmann-Larsen
Project Manager
DTU Skylab
+45 61 65 56 69

International initiative:

  • Next Generation is an initiative designed to involve the youth in tackling the major climate challenges.
  • It draws on innovations and technologies from participating partners and universities and engages students and entrepreneurs in solving real-world problems in the participating countries.
  • It gives the young people a strong international network that can help them on their way.

Next Generation Water Action (NGWA)

  • Since the initiative was launched in February 2021, entrepreneurs and academics have worked on their solutions in a process involving boot camps, coaching sessions, and presentations by experts.
  • The students have formed groups within five challenges posed by both Danish and international companies and organizations in the water sector.
  • Six projects were awarded as the initiative’s winners with a scholarship to travel to Copenhagen to attend the IWA World Water Congress in 2022.

An international DTU initiative gives voice to young entrepreneurs and academics by providing them with a global platform to showcase their innovative and sustainable ideas in solving urban water challenges.

Young entrepreneurs and academics from Ghana, Kenya, Korea, India, Mexico and Denmark pitched their water solutions in a unique, hybrid setting. Local events took place simultaneously all around the world, which were virtually connected to the main stage in Denmark, where an expert jury rated the pitches. The teams competed for a range of awards in categories, such as Best Pitch, Most Promising Solution, Acceleration as well scholarships to the prestigious IWA World Water Congress in 2022.

The final’s main event took place at DTU Skylab on May 18 2021 as part of the Next Generation Water Action initiative, which is a DTU-initiative connecting university students and startups to develop and accelerate sustainable solutions with partners. Six projects were awarded as the initiative’s winners with a scholarship to travel to Copenhagen to attend the IWA World Water Congress in 2022. The scholarships will provide the teams the support and network to further develop their water technologies and solutions and get them closer to impact.

"The level of engagement shown by the students and contestants is impressive. They have worked tirelessly on solving the water challenges, that we gave them at the beginning of the semester, and at the finals they delivered creative and innovative ideas and approaches that truly inspired both our partners and the jury. The entrepreneurs also showed, how they were able to strengthen and expand their solutions through participation in this program. Some of the projects solve local challenges and will be ready for testing in the field very soon. But I also want to stress, that the entire process in NGWA is designed to empower talented young people to act on today's water challenges by expanding their knowledge base, their networks and by teaching them how to develop a specific idea, so it becomes feasible and practical," says Marie Pollmann-Larsen, Project Manager at DTU Skylab.

She is looking forward to how the teams and startups will progress their solutions towards the IWA World Water Congress in 2022. Solutions that for example aim at making better use of nutrients in sewage water or improving the quality of the water supply.

Shaping tomorrow’s leaders
The initiative emphasizes the importance of empowering the youth to continuously have a voice and platform to showcase their ideas in collaboration with the organization International Water Association (IWA) and their Young Water Professional Network in Denmark, and several other partners and sponsors such as Rambøll and Grundfos, to name a few.

Building this network of industrial partners and collaborators across the six participating nations plays a crucial part in the initiative in order to bring the ideas of the youth closer to impact by helping the teams find and connect with the right partners. But also the partners benefit highly from being part of the newly established global network:

”We get an incredible insight in what is happening around the world in the water sector, because we are part of the this initiative. The whole process supports innovation and creates the talent pool, which we will be recruiting from in the near future, whether it be from India or Denmark. It is crucial that we support young global change makers and water leaders in this way," says Søren Hvilshøj, Global Division Director in Rambøll.

Morten Riis, Group Director in Grundfos, shares Hvilshøj’s sentiment about educating tomorrow’s water leaders.

”An initiative such as Next Generation makes perfect sense for us as a company, because it is an integral part of Grundfos’ makeup to find solutions that help solve global water challenges, which is exactly what the entrepreneurs and the academics in this programme aim to do," says Morten Riis.

De studerende i NGWA har budt ind med løsninger og teknologier, og løsningerne er blevet til via sparring, coaching og oplæg med både danske og internationale virksomheder og organisationer fra vandsektoren

Collaboration across nations strengthens the Danish water sector
For the industrial partners, the most interesting part of the finals have been to witness how the students have solved the challenges in regards the sustainability aspect.

"They have taken a holistic approach to solving the challenges by taking into account the social impact of the solutions on the local communities", says Søren Hvilshøj.

Mads Helleberg Dorff, Director at DI Water, Confederation of Danish Industry, was a jury member at the finals and is impressed by how the students were able to present such tangible and practical solutions.

”Not all projects are tied to new technology, but what is positive to see is that so many of the projects focused on solving local challenges, and are basically ready to be executed. It just goes to show, that it is of vital importance that Next Generation empowers students in developing new solutions, which perhaps lends them the opportunity to establish a career within the water sector. The water sector plays a vital role in the Danish economy," says Mads Helleberg Dorff.

Marie Pollmann-Larsen confirms that the students in many instances introduced tangible and practical solutions to the challenges, but she also states, that some projects were valuable in the way of using known technology and solutions in new and enhanced ways, that could benefit very specific target groups.

”We do not always need to invent something from scratch. Sometimes, all we need to do is to bring the students ideas into a play at a global arena by making new connections and sharing knowledge across borders and nations. It is about finding out, how to further and adjust today's technology, so that larger groups of people can benefit from tried and known solutions," says Marie Pollmann-Larsen.

Intense learning experience
For Matias Lemus, DTU Student on exchange from Tec De Monterrey and involved in the student project called BG+, the greatest lesson of the innovation process has been cultivating resilience and flexibility, when faced with a challenge like Next Generation.

”We used a fair amount of time developing one idea that turned out to be non-viable. So we had to pivot our solution and address the challenge, that we were given from a different angle. What I learned from that is a) never to give up and b) there is never just one solution to any problem. There are multiple solutions to any problem, you just need to be flexible and go at it differently," says Matias Lemus.

Another student participant in the programme, Josina Wittenberg, who competed in the finals with the project ReTeto, had a similar learning experience, that was both intense and character-building.

”At the beginning, we were these four strangers meeting in front of a screen and faced with solving this exciting but big challenge. It was a huge undertaking, but we managed to somehow work as a team and draw on each other’s strengths and skills. I ended up taking on a new role as a leader of the team, which I had never tried before, so I definitely stood up to the challenge and gained so much from being a part of Next Generation," says Josina Wittenberg.

Next Generation, it seems, did not only bring forward many bold and visionary ideas as a first steppingstone into a more sustainable future of the water sector, but also helped create the toolbox for 100+ young academics and entrepreneurs to execute these ideas in their roles as future water leaders.


Watch or re-watch the event here: Finals – Livestream – Next Generation Water Action



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