The most daunting problems often have the simplest solutions. A case in point is the Nanomaji water filter conceived by a diverse group of students with the support of the fiber-based materials company, Ahlstrom.
“Nanomaji was initiated by the New Global research and innovation project as part of our experimentation on how Finnish companies can innovate resource-scarce solutions for the biggest, most challenging world problems,” says Project Manager Sara Lindeman from Aalto University.
“This combination of large company and small company is an approach with much potential.”
It’s also a great example of the kind of business advocated by the Impact Iglu community. Launched in the university’s Department of Management Studies by Aalto Global Impact, Impact Iglu serves as a contact and networking hub for would-be entrepreneurs with special interests in societal or environmental impact and emerging markets.
“Nanomaji started as a school project in October 2014,” says Sanna Puhakainen, Nanomaji’s Chaos Pilot. She explains that the name combines Nano, referring to the filter material, with the Swahili for water – Maji.
Success in the Climate Launchpad competition in Finland gave the project a boost. The team embraces members from Finland, Brazil, Latvia, Taiwan, China and Mexico, drawn from a wide range of studies, from design to sustainable business.
“We started work together with a two-week trip to Tanzania where we had workshops with local students,” says Puhakainen.
“We researched the end users and the market by conducting interviews with potential end users, entrepreneurs and experts, made observations of the water facilities and arranged a workshop with the local students and startup founders,” adds designer Emma-Sofie Kukkonen.
The backing of a globally-active company with a €1 billion turnover such as Ahlstrom has advantages, but product ideas succeed or fail on the basis of their virtues. The idea in this case is a special water filter that relies on gravity alone. In Tanzania, water usually needs to be boiled for drinking, and charcoal burning is the usual source of heat. In addition to CO2 emissions, this leads to deforestation, which in turn leads to soil erosion. Nanomaji can eliminate this process.
“Ahlstrom participated in the student innovation project that aimed to create a business model and frugal product for providing pure drinking water in developing countries,” says Tarja Takko, Vice President, Group HR at Ahlstrom.
“The students came up with an affordable water filter solution that uses Ahlstrom’s patented Disruptor™ technology.”
In addition to access to technology, Ahlstrom provided expertise for Nanomaji. The Walter Ahlström Foundation, a Helsinki-based foundation supporting science and research, helped to fund the initiative.
“This was a very fruitful experience and for sure we will be involved in similar projects in the future,” says Tarja Takko. “This business case is interesting for us as Africa has great potential as a future market.”
Sanna Puhakainen is hopeful about the cooperation with Ahlstrom: “They have the knowledge about the technology and we have fresh new ideas how to use it.”
Text: Tim Bird
Photos: Nanomaji / Sanna Kukkonen
The original article is published in the Aalto University Magazine issue 15.