Water Design Japan, a Japanese startup selected by "Forbes Asia 100 to Watch" in 2021 and won the first prize in the Monozukuri Hardware Cup contest in the same year, is seeking strategic partners to expand markets worldwide in 2023. Their ultra-fine bubble (UFB) nozzle generates nano-sized bubbles to get rid of biofilm and sediment in water pipes to keep the water clean without using chemicals are receiving the attention of investors and corporations.
"The UFB technology was developed by Japanese scientists, and UFB DUAL, the nanobubble generating nozzle innovated by Water Design, had its use result published in a Japan Dialysis Doctor's Conference paper in 2019," co-founder and chief marketing officer (CMO) Natsumi Ito said in an exclusive interview with DIGITIMES. "And since then, we started to expand the applications of the technology and founded the company in 2020."
Scientists found that microbubbles prevent oyster farms from the red tide (paralytic shellfish poisoning) problem in the Hiroshima prefecture of Japan. This was the first step, and when the bubble is generated at the nano level, it is able to remove and prevent biofilms, which result in clog and slime in waterpipes and drains. "The water looks white with the microbubble, which can stay in the water for up to 12 to 14 minutes. But nanobubbles can stay in the water for up to 1 to 2 years," said Ito.
The nozzle products of the company were developed, tested, and manufactured in Japan. The idea is the nanobubbles can go underneath the dirt and remove it from the bottom. And there is a negative electrical charge around the bubbles. So when the nanobubbles attach to the surface, they will create a coating benefit. The invisible nanobubbles will coat the surface inside the water pipe, just like a cushion or coating, and it will be harder for the biofilm to grow, explained Ito.
"Semiconductor foundries have similar routines to dialysis clinics, they have to frequently use a lot of filter systems to clean the tap water into purified water, and that filter probably gets clogged and dirty and needs to be replaced over time," said Ito. "And if the filter life expectancy can be extended with the use of nanobubble nozzles, wastewater can also be minimized. So the water usage could remain almost the same or likely be reduced."
Ito added that for the semiconductor or any factory, one of the strengths of their product is that the water pressure drops only 4% or less when it is installed in a water pipe system.
Water Design's nozzles are patented, approved as a water supply, and passed drinking water testing all in Japan, and are available in standard size and customized sizes, the biggest fits the 15-centimeter pipe size. Water Design Japan operates in a B2B model, with products adopted by over 7,000 institutional customers so far, including beverage companies, food companies, and beauty product manufacturers. "We have shipped to 12 countries, and we have heard from customers interested in our products from around 90 countries so far," said Ito. "Proof of concepts (PoC) has been ongoing, in different industries such as manufacturing, beauty, medical, gas, utility, food, and so on, and there are various universities using our technology for research as well."
The company's product founder, Masahiro Shibatsuka, former CEO of Mitsubishi Chemical Cleansui, has a rich engineering background and is very experienced with water-purifying machines. The nanobubble technology has been researched in the early 2000s. "And Mr. Shibatsuka has known people doing research in this technology. He simplified the application of the technology and applied it to various industries."
CEO Kazushi Fujita is a serial entrepreneur, who has been doing business between China and Japan for over 10 years, while Ito, serving as chief marketing officer, has accumulated her experiences with startups in Japan.
The company now sells its products through 100 distributors in Japan but has been doing PoCs overseas because the water quality, humidity, climate, etc., in each country, is different. Ito said the company is keen to cooperate with semiconductor companies, which have similar cleaning processes for water pipes just like dialysis clinics. "We think it is best to install the nozzle when they first construct their fabs, like the ones TSMC is building in Kumamoto and others expanding elsewhere because artificial environments built for PoC don't work," said Ito. "
Water Design Japan has been profitable and is bootstrapping at the moment without an imminent need for fundraising. "But we get many interests from more than 30 VCs and CVCs so far, and we appreciate that people are thinking that our company has a high potential," said Ito, emphasizing that what the company is looking for is strategic partners that can help expand the nanobubble technology applications and expanding the product markets.
Water Design Japan participated in Taiwan's Epoch Foundation's Garage+ accelerator in 2022, to look for potential strategic partners.
Ito said aside from continuing to expand markets, the company will launch a B2C dog shampoo product, which is also based on nanobubble technology, in 2023. "As climate change is creating more and more water crises, we believe this technology is able to help," said Ito. "We are more than happy and open to speak to potential partners."
Water Design Japan co-founder and chief marketing officer (CMO) Natsumi Ito; credit: Water Design Japan