Every year, 2.8 billion people are confronted with the consequences of drought. The UN expects that in 2050 half of the world is facing water shortage. “With Sponsh, the most remote dry areas can have access to water. It works ‘off grid’, does not require energy and is affordable. Every square meter of Sponsh yields one liter of water per day.”
What is Sponsh?
“Sponsh absorbs water from air and releases it. When it‘s cold, like during the night, Sponsh gets moisture from the air to exude during the day. It is a temperature-sensitive special coating, that is hydrophilic with low temperatures and hydrophobic with high temperatures. It consists for 90 percent of recycled PET. You can roll Sponsh as a cloth around almond trees or vines, but also place it on the ground to directly provide crops with water.”
What principle is behind it?
“Catarina Esteves, Kurt Hamming and I have been inspired by nature. Some plants and animals are masters of surviving in harsh conditions. Think of cactuses and succulent plants and the Namibian desert beetle is also a great example. It catches miniscule water drops with its abdomen from the wind blowing over the sand dunes. Air always contains water. On earth, air contains six times as much water than all rivers combined.”
How did the idea arise?
“During a camping holiday in Portugal in an extremely dry and hot period. Despite the drought, our belongings were covered in dew every morning. I contacted Catarina, who did an interesting research at the TU Eindhoven. That led to founding Sponsh. Besides, I have experience with growing start-ups and bringing them to market. Before, I was engaged in The Ocean Cleanup as the sidekick of Boyan Slat.”
When did you know Spons was viable?
“Since November. Until then, only one square centimeter of Sponsh existed. Now, the number has grown to fifty, and these are tested in Germany. The results are promising. In January, we’ll go to South Africa to test Sponsh in practice. Our team now consists of six employees.”
How did you experience Sponsh’s participation in the AIA?
“We hestitated about participation in the AIA. After all, we were still in the testing phase. However small and conceptual, the jury was entusiastic about the proof of concept. They labelled Sponsh as an outright innovative product that copies a natural process to help nature. The jury report literally says: ‘They have gold in their hands – as either a product or producer of the source of life’.”
What lessons have you learned during the Innovation Awards?
“That it is cool to explain what your product is about in one minute and that it is a challenge to get to-the-point. And that the AIA is an innovation festival that goes beyond a one-time awards ceremony. During the run-up, you are repeatedly in contact with the jury, an expertly group that asks critical questions; for example, about the way you plan to deal with certain issues.”
What are the challenges for Sponsh?
“You never know beforehand whether it will work in real life and on a large scale. A risk that could surface is that the material stops working earlier than expected. The judgement of the jury invigorates us, as well as the knowledge that there are many possible other applications for Sponsh, such as diapers and clothing.”
What kind of trends do you foresee in Sponsh’s market in the coming years?
“According to many, making water available in places where it’s needed is the global challenge of this century. Water becomes more and more scarce, which means that our market grows fast. It is our ambition to become the affordable alternative to rain. We want to give hope to farmers in dry areas and convert deserts into fertile, green areas.”
What is your golden tip for innovators?
“Entrepreneurship and innovation are fun! Be sure to know why you are innovating, to spark internal motivation that gives a lot of energy. Find the balance between continuing despite all setbakcs and listening to others. I know too many entrepreneurs with the founder’s syndrom.”
*) Sponsh is the winner of the Accenture Innovation Awards 2018 in the theme Nutrition.