Tata Water Purifier Wins the Top Prize for Novel Product
An inexpensive water purifier aimed at households that may not have electricity took this year’s top prize in The Wall Street Journal’s Asian Innovation Awards.
Nearly 300 entries came in from the region, with the Journal’s independent panel of judges selecting 12 finalists. From them, they chose the Gold, Silver and Bronze awards, as well as the Credit Suisse Technopreneur of the Year.
The judges reviewed entries looking for products and services that break with conventional processes in creative ways. Kenny Tang, chief executive of Oxbridge Weather Capital and the head judge for the awards, said his criteria also included real-world benefits in Asia.
“The important criteria for me is the use, in the practical sense, that it could be,” he said. “That’s been a clear feature of the winners, not just this year but in recent years as well.”
Another judge, Rosemary Tan, whose company Veredus Laboratories Pte. Ltd. won the Gold award in 2006, said these awards help organizations further their work. “People really look at your technology more seriously because it’s been recognized, it’s been judged,” she said.
Tata Chemicals Ltd.’s filter, called Swach, the Hindi word for “clean,” won the Gold award. It uses natural components such as rice-husk ash, a byproduct of polishing rice, and attaches to a water-storage unit to purify water. When its filtration capabilities are exhausted, it prevents water from passing through, a safety measure designed to keep unsafe water from being accidentally consumed.
“We are privileged to be working in this space,” Sabaleel Nandy, head of the company’s water-purifier business, said. “The demand in India is very huge. There are over 250 million households, and we would like to make sure that they have a purifier that will save them from waterborne diseases.”
Swach costs 999 rupees ($22.50), and Tata expects to sell one million units this year. It is now considering taking the device to other markets, such as Africa, Southeast Asia and Latin America, Mr. Nandy said.
Functional MicroArray, a drug-delivery device made of tiny needles, won the Silver award for Suzhou Natong Bionanotechnology Co., while PassWindow, an authentication method for online accounts, took the Bronze. Microsoft Corp.’s Engkoo online dictionary won the Readers’ Choice Award, determined by votes on WSJ.com.
Natong founder Bai Xu said he is receiving more interest from major pharmaceutical and cosmaceutical companies in the U.S., and is also looking to get into the European market. “We will probably have a few deals regarding different products” in the coming year. Currently, Natong’s LiteClear acne treatment is in use in China.
PassWindow creator Matthew Walker said, “The whole world is searching for a solution to this problem.” The Singapore firm is in talks with banks and government security departments that are interested in the method, he said, and is launching a personal online service for individual customers as well.
Intuitive Automata Inc. won the Technopreneur award, which honors an entry that best applies technology with the greatest potential for commercial success, for its weight-loss robot, Autom.
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“All the finalists highlighted are doing interesting and very useful work,” said co-founder Cory Kidd. “It’s an honor to be considered part of this group.” In the coming months, Intuitive Automata is raising capital and rolling out Autom to the U.S. market. He said other programs are still in progress, including managing type II diabetes and improving medication adherence.
The device’s mix of health-care relevance and biotechnology cut “across so many boundaries,” Veredus’s Dr. Tan said. “I felt the technology should be applauded.”