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HCL and UpLink Call for Applications Globally for Second Challenge of Aquapreneur Innovation Initiative


HCL, a global conglomerate and UpLink, the open innovation platform of the World Economic Forum, announced opening the applications for the Zero Water Waste Challenge – part of the Aquapreneur Innovation Initiative. The challenge calls for innovative water usage approaches to improve freshwater conservation from supply to demand, moving towards zero water waste. At the end of the challenge, 10 winners will receive a total financial award of 1.75M CHF.

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Important Dates to Note

21 August to 2 October 2023

Open for submissions

17 October to 15 November 2023

Review and selection process

January 2024

Announcement of the winning Top Innovators

This is the second challenge out of five Challenges of the HCL and UpLink’s Aquapreneur Innovation Initiative. Launched last year at Davos in May 2022, to create a first-of-its-kind innovation ecosystem for the global freshwater sector. The last date to apply for the second-year challenge is October 2nd, 2023. Full details and eligibility criteria can be found at this link. Under this initiative HCL committed $15 million until 2027 to support the water-focused entrepreneurs.

Roshni Nadar Malhotra, Chairperson, HCLTech said, As the climate change continue to intensify and fresh-water resources become scarcer, the corporates have a unique opportunity to make a substantial difference in the world we live in. At HCL, we are committed to help resolve this global crisis. In partnership with UpLink, we are all set to announce the second edition of our Aquapreneur Innovation Initiative moving towards zero water waste. While our commitment to this vital cause is unwavering, we invite fellow organizations to join us in this shared mission, contributing essential funding and catalyzing widespread exposure.”

Gim Huay Neo, Managing Director of the Centre for Nature and Climate at the World Economic Forum said, The Aquapreneur Innovation Initiative is building a vibrant innovation ecosystem for water which is crucial for the conservation and restoration of all-natural ecosystems. By connecting innovators, experts, investors and partners, this initiative is fast-tracking high-impact solutions to enhance water security. Already, we’re seeing significant impact with the ten winners of the first Innovation Challenge and we’re excited to surface and support a new cohort of aquapreneurs .”

The focus of this year’s challenge will be on:

  • Capturing and protecting freshwater supply

Protecting groundwater reservoirs by capturing additional water resources. Solutions could focus on recharging groundwater, capturing storm- and rainwater or water from the atmosphere, preventing or minimizing leakages, boosting ecosystem resilience or monitoring and managing freshwater.

  • Water re-use and recycling of materials

Increase water-efficiency by reusing and recycling water resources. Solutions could include products that enable shower, washing machine and sink water to be recycled for non-potable uses, or reuse of water in industrial facilities, cleaner and greener tech to purify reused water, etc. Ideally need to manage trade-offs, e.g. need to have sustainable energy support, as well as focus on water quality.

  • Saving water in agriculture

Reduce water withdrawal in agriculture through smart irrigation. Solutions could include precision irrigation, remote sensing, regenerative agricultural practices focused on water retention, and technologies such as mobile applications to optimize the amount and timing of water applied to crops. ​

Evaluation and selection criteria for 2nd year will include:

I. Organizational structure

  • Financially viable business model: solution demonstrates a sustainable business model and revenue approach, and presents proof of funding history, as well as investable opportunities for investors or philanthropic funders.
  • Stage: beyond the ideation phase and demonstrating the potential to scale and achieve long-term financial viability, impact, and sustainability. UpLink Top Innovators have typically reached the pilot to growth/scale phase of their operations.
  • Management team: committed, diverse and values driven management team with the right skillset and demonstrated execution capabilities, and including local staff, or the willingness to work with local stakeholders.
  • Measurement and standards verification: solution demonstrates a clear impact monitoring, evaluation, and verification framework. The metrics and indicators should be tracked transparently, reference and apply relevant, robust standards, and receive independent credentialing and third-party verification.
  • Governance and operating models: solution has a legal entity attached to the project or technology. The operating model shows the extent to which the project has achieved financial viability and sustainable revenue streams or has a vision and plan for achieving it.

II. Key characteristics:

  • Innovative: while many water technologies already exist, innovation is needed in service, pricing, partnerships, and business models.
  • Replicability: submissions from across the globe that are scalable in their local contexts and potentially replicable in different parts of the world.
  • Holistic and sustainable impact: solution demonstrates ‘win-win’ benefits for multiple agendas, particularly society and the environment. Solution supports the water agenda in the long term, delivering impact that outlasts the length of the challenge.
  • External risk: solution is aware of any risks and uncertainties associated with achieving the desired outcomes.

Top 10 water-focused entrepreneurs will be selected as Top Innovators to join the UpLink Innovation Network, an exclusive program tailored for Founders, CEOs, Executive Directors, and more. They will get various benefits, including access to selected events, projects, and communities led by the World Economic Forum and its partners. Participants will gain strategic connections with organizations within the Forum's and UpLink's networks, fostering valuable collaborations. The program extends targeted support encompassing technical, business, and operational guidance. Notably, a financial incentive is provided – among the selected Top Innovators, up to 10 can each receive 175,000 CHF from a total fund of 1.75 million CHF.

About HCL Group

Founded in 1976 as one of India’s original IT garage start-ups, HCL is a pioneer of modern computing with many firsts to its credit, including the introduction of the 8-bit microprocessor-based computer in 1978 well before its global peers. Today, the HCL enterprise has a presence across varied sectors that include technology, healthcare and talent management solutions and comprises three companies – HCL Infosystems, HCL Technologies and HCL Healthcare. The enterprise generates annual revenues of over US$12.8 billion with over 223,438 employees operating across 60 countries. For further information, visit

About UpLink

UpLink is the open innovation platform of the World Economic Forum, dedicated to unlocking an ‘entrepreneur revolution’ to support positive systemic change for people and planet. Launched at the Forum’s Annual Meeting in Davos in January 2020 in collaboration with Salesforce and Deloitte, UpLink is now a thriving ecosystem of 400+ Top Innovators, investors, experts, and organizations, who are driving positive impact for the UN Sustainable Development Goals.

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