Three female founders’ plans for addressing water challenges

by Admin
Three female founders’ plans for addressing water challenges

As the emerging global water crisis gains greater public attention, more start-ups are addressing water quality and consumption in their business plans. And more of them are led by women.

For instance, women made up half the candidates nominated for the prize funding component of a 2023 water challenge launched by FoodShot Global. This New York-based network of banks, companies and investors supports young companies developing sustainable food system technologies, by providing funding through either equity investments or through its GroundBreaker cash prize.

“In the prize, 16 of 32 nominees are women,” says Sara Eckhouse, executive director. Between them, the finalists will share a total prize pool of about $500,000. Eckhouse says investors “are recognising the value women bring” and adds that women-led companies “often have more of a social mission”.

Below, we look at three examples of female-led businesses that are incorporating concerns over water supplies into their ventures.

FREDsense Technologies

The carbon emissions generated by the world’s ships are a well-known problem, but port managers face a specific environmental challenge: water contamination, which harms marine life and natural habitats. Stormwater draining from the port infrastructure, for example, contains grease, metals and other pollutants, while vessels discharge wastewater into harbours or leach chemicals from anti-barnacle coatings on hulls.

So, in 2021, to tackle some of these contaminants, the Port of San Diego enlisted FREDsense Technologies to run a pilot project monitoring the levels of aluminium, copper, lead, zinc and nickel in stormwater. The Canadian company’s portable kit turns genetically engineered microbes into sensors that can detect chemicals in water quickly and cheaply.

Co-founded by Emily Hicks in 2014, FREDsense has raised about $1mn in a pre-seed round and $2.5mn in investment funding.

‘Sending a sample to lab, it can take six to eight weeks to get the data back, whereas we can do it right away’: Emily Hicks

To tackle water contamination, it currently offers two products — one for arsenic detection and one for rapid lab analysis of PFAS (per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances) — also dubbed “forever chemicals” because they fail to break down in the environment. Customers are water treatment providers, which require rapid verification of their remediation at utilities, airports, military bases and other facilities.


For Fabumin, a seed-phase company co-founded in 2021 by Tel Aviv-based Adi Yehezkeli, water conservation is a key benefit of the process it uses to make a plant-based alternative to albumin, the protein in egg whites used in cooking.

A woman, in a laboratory, wearing a lab gown, smiles for the camera
‘In the past two years, we’ve seen more women in decision-making roles’: Adi Yehezkeli

The company has developed onsite water recycling technology that it plans to sell to legume factories, enabling them to reuse 80 per cent of their wastewater. Fabumin will buy the remaining 20 per cent of the legume liquid waste to dry and grind into the powder used for its albumin replacement, which it will sell to food companies.

This also cuts water consumption, since egg production requires large amounts for chickens to drink and for cultivating poultry feed. “Everybody benefits from this process,” argues Yehezkeli.

Having run a feasibility pilot, funded by the Israel Innovation Authority, the company is seeking $1.5mn in funding to build logistics infrastructure but plans to expand by relying largely on revenues, rather than investment capital.

talmond foods

Another agrifood company working on water conservation is Ghana-based Talmond Foods. Founded in 2019 by Elie Fink, the company’s plant-based snacks are made using Ghana’s tropical almonds, which do not require irrigation — unlike true almonds. 90a8 4b43 a415 951aaf83e92a
‘We are able to tap into a niche where funding . . . is trying to bridge the gap female founders face in accessing finance’: Elie Fink

In Ghana, the company works with local communities to harvest naturally growing tropical almonds and will supply seedlings to 1,000 farmers over the next two years. It has also planted 1,300 tropical almond trees on its farm, in order to assess their water efficiency. “We should have that data one year from now,” says Fink.

The company, which is seeking investors through crowdfunding, sells its products in Ghana and Switzerland, and plans to make them available in Germany next.

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As well as water conservation, the company’s success in land restoration and in creating a diversified income stream for local farmers have helped it to attract funding. It secured pre-seed equity investment from US-based Sustainable Food Ventures. In addition, it received technical assistance funding from organisations such as the Landscape Resilience Fund, which funds small businesses in areas facing severe climate risks, and Dutch non-profit organisation IDH, which supports sustainable trade in developing countries.

As Hicks, Yehezkeli and Fink seek investment funding to scale up their businesses, they are navigating a venture capital industry that is still male-dominated. 

But this may be changing, says Yehezkeli. “When I started my journey, I would usually walk into a room full of men,” she says of her early fundraising efforts. “In the past two years, we’ve seen more women in decision-making roles.”

At times it can be helpful to be in the minority. Hicks recalls being the only female founder in a Silicon Valley accelerator of about eight companies: “We looked a little different,” she says. “So we got a bit more attention.”

Meanwhile, Fink notes that investors focused on sustainability often aim to redress gender imbalances as part of the package. “We are able to tap into a niche where funding and a lot of investment is trying to bridge the gap female founders face in accessing finance,” she says.

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