To diversify its clientele and minimise risk exposure, Boon is launching a consumer-centred solution while also shifting its focus to international markets
On 11th January, Union Minister Jitendra Singh called on the private sector to come forward with tech solutions that can cover nearly 14 crore households where clean drinking water is yet to reach. The Indian government plans to make provision for clean drinking water in every rural household by 2024 and only 55.62 per cent has been achieved so far, according to available data.
Access to potable water is a critical need for a nation that is frequently troubled by water insecurity resulting from droughts and floods. This is why Singh, in-charge of the Ministry for Earth Sciences, opined that the country needed start-ups to rally around and provide technology-backed solutions to make drinking water available at a viable price to the most mofussil parts of India.
This is what Boon, formerly known as Swajal, has been endeavouring to achieve since its inception in 2014. The start-up has already worked with various government bodies, such as the Rajasthan state government to provide clean drinking water in Barmer; and with the Indian Railway Catering and Tourism Corporation (IRCTC) to provide clean drinking water across railway stations in the country.
Advait Kumar, co-founder of Boon, recalled how the company pioneered its solar-powered WaterATM self-service water refilling solution. A user paid directly at the machine or used a prepaid smart card, following which the machine sanitised the plastic bottle and then dispensed a litre of normal or cold water into it for Rs 1 and Rs 2, respectively.
Each unit could produce 5000 litres of drinking water per day, giving the masses access to clean drinking water at the push of a button. The company soon set up installations across several parts of the country. However, during the pandemic and the ensuing lockdown, many of these installations were affected and some were later decommissioned.
In its new avatar, Singapore-based Boon plans to resume working with various government and non-profit organisations to implement and scale similar solutions to help households that do not yet have access to clean drinking water.
The water-tech start-up has its R&D centre in Gurugram, with teams in Mumbai, Pune, Dehradun, Hyderabad, Chennai, Kolkata and Bangalore. Interestingly, it has chosen Singapore as its headquarters since this location gives it strategic visibility for ASEAN (Association of South East Asian Nations) countries and access to a commercial port to route its products. Boon is currently working in Africa, ASEAN and Middle East regions other than South Asia, though India continues to contribute the majority to its revenues.
While Boon’s core business was traditionally with sectors with high footfalls like railways, airports, hotels and offices, these verticals took a nosedive during the pandemic-induced lockdown, impacting the company’s revenues. In FY2020-21 and FY 2021-22 the company registered Rs 5 crore in revenue.
However, things have now taken a turn for the better. “Our last quarter, we did the same amount of revenue as last fiscal year, and this quarter will be our highest ever as forecasted,” stated Kumar adding that he expects the company to register Rs 32 crore in the current fiscal.
Currently, the company is largely oriented toward business-to-business and business-to-government clients. To diversify its clientele and minimise risk exposure, it is now coming up with a consumer solution, which it plans to launch shortly.
It is also shifting focus to international markets while launching more tech products. “We are exploring multiple options and we have some installed machines in Africa in partnership with the UN. Also, we are working with local partners to expand our presence to South America next,” Kumar revealed.
While Boon already has the IoT platform Clairvoyant for online streaming data on drinking water quality, it is now going beyond drinking water to enable local municipalities and other organisations to monitor water. This can be applied to sewage treatment plants, industries releasing effluents or even sizeable public water bodies.
Further, Boon has received funding from the New Delhi-based Technology Development Board of the Department of Science and Technology to develop more efficient water purification and dispensing systems.
According to Dr Vibha Tripathi, Boon’s founder, cities like New Delhi waste up to 50 per cent of water in leakage and theft in drinking water distribution. “Boon has a project with public policy think tank NITI Aayog in collaboration with the Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs (MoHUA) to build and deploy affordable technologies based on IoT to monitor and predict failures in this distribution.”
The start-up is already deploying its technologies to monitor changes in the quality of large water bodies like Srinagar’s Dal Lake. “For a holistic system across the country and to drive impact, we need to address not just the drinking water segment but go beyond and ensure that our freshwater sources are also monitored and taken care of,” Dr Tripathi stated.
“This is one of the ways in which we plan to leverage IoT, data analysis and AI. We are expanding the capability of our systems and have come up with WaterSense, a plug-n-play water monitoring system,” she added.
Kumar claimed that the water monitoring machine in Srinagar, installed in partnership with Srinagar Smart City Limited (SSCL), will allow the government to monitor the water quality at the famous water body. “With time, using predictive AI and forecasting, [we can] anticipate and mitigate issues before they occur,” he added.