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  • Jabulile Sonya Ngwenya

Kumulus Water Blazes a Trail in the Fast Growing Global Atmospheric Water Generator Market

PIC CAPTION: Iheb Triki, co-founder and CEO at Kumulus Water is passionate about using atmospheric water generators to ensure people in water stressed areas have access to safe, healthy and clean drinking water. Image: Supplied / Kumulus Water

The right to clean, safe, physically accessible and affordable drinking water is a basic human right for all. This right is recognized by the United Nations as it is an essential right that enables people to realise their full potential with dignity. Despite this, 2 billion people, or one in four people across the world still do not have access to clean, drinking water. This means, according to a World Health Organization report, only 25% of the world’s population have access to safely managed, clean water. 

A lack of access to clean, drinkable water sources is a major social and economic risk that nations cannot afford, especially in times of calamity and especially when the fact that only 1% of earth’s water is drinkable. With this in mind, water-stressed countries who have long confronted the realities of water scarcity are emerging as the unlikely leaders in providing innovative solutions to a challenging global issue. Iheb Triki, co-founder and CEO of Kumulus Water tells AfricArena’s Jabulile Sonya Ngwenya how a revelation in the midst of the desert made him realise there is water in the desert and sparked the idea for Kumulus Water, an award-winning deep tech startup that extracts water from air.

“The covid pandemic got me thinking deeply about full autonomy and self-sustainability during difficult times,” Triki says. He says during this tumultuous time, he often wondered, “If we can produce our own energy, why not our own water too?” It was a thought that stuck in Triki’s mind, and as he pondered this question deeply, something happened to make him realise it was possible. 

He chuckles as he recalls the life-changing moment that made him realise it was possible for him to produce his own water without relying on water delivered through an aqueduct system. “A trip to the desert reinforced this idea further when I woke up to find the cars and tents covered in morning dew. That's when I realized we could replicate this natural phenomenon to make water,” Triki says. “It was a lightbulb moment that inspired me to create Kumulus Water. I thought, why bring all of this water over hundreds of kilometres when we can create our own water anywhere?” 

An engineer at heart, with a curiosity about how the world works, Triki and his co-founder Mohamed Ali Abid, the CTO at Kumulus Water, got to work to test out their ideas and theories until they struck gold with their flagship product, the solar powered Kumulus-1 atmospheric water generator and they launched Kumulus Water in 2021. 

Kumulus, Triki says, “is a startup that offers innovative atmospheric water generator machines. These machines transform air into drinking water, addressing environmental concerns such as plastic waste and CO2 emissions. Targeting regions with unreliable water systems, Kumulus provides a sustainable, cost-effective, and convenient solution for businesses, hotels, and CSR initiatives.”

The Kumulus-1, Triki says can easily produce between 20 litres to 30 litres of healthy, clean drinking water each day, ensuring households are able to seamlessly carry out their day-to-day functions without depending on ageing infrastructure where the water quality may be compromised or waiting for water shortages to be resolved. 

What makes Kumulus so successful, Triki points out is that, “Kumulus’ distinctiveness lies in its deep-tech focus, centred around innovation and research. Kumulus embraces an innovative water-as-a-service and renting business model, offering a unique approach that eliminates the need for large upfront investments, making the solution more accessible and affordable. Furthermore, Kumulus sets itself apart by ensuring superior water quality that adheres to EU and WHO quality standards. This focus on innovation, coupled with a customer-centric business model and commitment to high water quality, positions Kumulus as a leader in the atmospheric water generator market.”

A fast growing market, particularly given how nations are looking at efficient ways to solve water scarcity issues and avoid water wars, the atmospheric water generator market for the year 2024 currently has a market value of $2.65 billion and this is expected to grow to $4.55 billion by 2030. With a rapid 9.4% CAGR growth from this year until 2030 onwards, it is projected that the atmospheric water generator market will be one of the fastest growing markets beyond 2030. This means Kumulus is pioneering this market, alongside like-minded competitors. 

Building Kumulus, Triki says, has not been a bed of roses. It’s hard work building something new, something that has never been seen before, especially when it is outside the centralized water system and makes use of innovative decentralized water infrastructure systems. This hard work is not possible without passion and a vision to take them through the difficult times. “We're passionate about what we do because we're tackling one of the most pressing challenges facing not only our region but the entire world: water scarcity,” Triki says. 

“The critical importance of access to clean water cannot be overstated. By addressing this issue head-on, we're not only making a difference in people's lives today but also ensuring a more sustainable future for generations to come. Our passion stems from the belief that everyone deserves access to safe and reliable water, and we're committed to making that a reality.”

“We started Kumulus with a humble $20,000 and our journey has been marked by exploration, creativity, and placing trust in the right experts and mentors,” Triki shares. He continues, “We've remained open to suggestions and ready to pivot when necessary, seeking guidance and being receptive to feedback from our team and stakeholders. Embracing uncertainty and staying adaptable to change has proven crucial to our success as we navigate challenges and drive innovation forward. Our commitment to our vision, coupled with our willingness to learn and grow, continues to be fundamental to our progress.”

A qualified civil engineer, Triki’s engineering background has helped him to shape how he and his co-founder built Kumulus. “Understanding deeptech and sustainability is at the core of what we do, and my studies in civil and environmental engineering have given me a deep understanding of both.” And he adds, his co-founder, Abid’s “deep understanding of thermodynamics, coupled with his passion for sustainability, his innovative spirit and dedication made him the ideal collaborator to join me on this exciting journey.”

He says an advantage he has in building Kumulus is the ability to “simplify complex issues and approach them strategically to break them down into manageable pieces.” He adds, “my experience in private equity taught me invaluable lessons in fundraising and financial management, which have been essential for our growth. Combining all these experiences has been key in bringing Kumulus Water to life.”

Developing Kumulus, he says, “was a journey that took dedication and perseverance. Like many innovative endeavours, it wasn't a straightforward path. We encountered numerous challenges along the way, particularly in navigating the ambiguity of bringing a new invention to market. With no blueprint to follow, we relied heavily on trial and error, learning from each setback and iteration. From refining the technology to ensuring regulatory compliance, every step presented its own set of obstacles. We had to overcome technical hurdles and logistical complexities. But through it all, we remained resilient and adaptable, continuously refining our approach based on what we learned. It was a process of discovery and innovation, fuelled by our unwavering commitment to solving the pressing issue of water scarcity.”

Raising funds for Kumulus has not been without its challenges, Triki shares, especially since it is a hardware-centric deep tech startup. “Developing tech from scratch required investment in research, development, and manufacturing capabilities,” he says. On top of that, Triki smiles, “convincing investors of its viability and scalability in a market often skeptical of hardware innovations was a hurdle. However, we're grateful that our backgrounds and track records allowed investors to put more trust in the project. By showcasing our prototype's robustness, emphasizing our solution's potential impact, and outlining a clear path to market, we secured support from investors who shared our vision for a water autonomous world. Despite the challenges, it reaffirmed our belief in our mission and the resilience of our team.” 

Kumulus showcased their technology at the 2023 AfricArena Tunis Summit and won the AfricArena Best Deep Tech Startup Award. This award, Triki says, “gave us a nice boost. It helped us get noticed more in the innovation ecosystem and made it easier to connect with potential partners and supporters during and after the summit. It's a recognition that we're onto something meaningful with our technology.”

Kumulus successfully raised a pre-seed round of €2.2 million. This raise, Triki says, “has been instrumental in advancing our mission. The majority of these funds have been allocated towards the development and refinement of our flagship product, the Kumulus-1 atmospheric water generator. Additionally, the investment has enabled us to fulfil our initial pre-orders and expand our market presence into Spain.”

When the funding winter hit, Kumulus had to find a way to thrive through it. “We adopted several strategies to pivot and thrive,” Triki reveals. “Firstly, we focused on optimizing our operational efficiency and cost structure to ensure financial sustainability. Additionally, we built strategic partnerships and leveraged alternative sources of funding such as grants and non-dilutive financing to support our early growth initiatives. Furthermore, we intensified our efforts to demonstrate the value of our innovative solution and our long term vision to potential investors. Through these strategic adjustments and a resilient mindset, we positioned ourselves for continued growth and impact.”

Kumulus is aiming to raise a bigger seed round this year, and funds Triki says will be used “to develop a new line of products and further expand in the North African and Southern Europe regions. Our round is currently in progress and any investors interested in joining can reach out to us through”

Speaking further on Kumulus’ expansion plans, Triki says, “We plan to establish production hubs in key countries to enable localized manufacturing and distribution of our solution while keeping a close control of the maintenance and the quality. By customizing our approach to suit local needs and building strategic partnerships, we can be better equipped to address the drinking water needs of our future markets.” 

A wise approach, especially given the rising need for innovative water solutions to meet global demand and in light of Triki’s mission to see Kumulus serve 1 million people using their technology by 2030. “To reach this goal, we would need to make our solutions more robust, to expand in our value offering, and to access new markets. We believe that the path is long but exciting, and the adventure is just beginning!” 

Triki points out that being a startup in the MENA landscape is not without its challenges. “Navigating the North African/MENA ecosystem offers a rich tapestry of opportunities alongside distinct challenges. From diverse regulatory landscapes to varying access to funding and occasional political uncertainties, startups encounter a dynamic environment requiring nuanced approaches. Success hinges on cultivating trust, adapting strategies to diverse market needs, and fostering resilience amidst the region's complexities.”

What has allowed Kumulus to expand the way it has to date is its ability to embody innovation and adaptability and embrace feedback from customers, clients and stakeholders in such a way that fuels their growth. Doing these things, Triki explains, has helped the team to “iterate on our technology and remain agile in responding to market dynamics and demands.” 

A day in Triki’s day-to-day life sees him fulfilling his responsibilities as CEO and leader of Kumulus. “As CEO, finding the right rhythm is crucial for effectively managing various responsibilities. I prioritize my schedule to align with my focus areas, ensuring I allocate sufficient time to strategic priorities. Personally, I reserve mornings for critical tasks such as financing, sales, and overarching company strategy, capitalizing on my peak focus and energy levels,” Triki says.


He continues, “as the day progresses, I transition from a strategic focus on financing and sales to a collaborative role alongside Mohamed, my CTO, lending my insights and expertise to address technical challenges and drive forward our product development efforts.” He shares a nugget of wisdom, saying it is important to stay in touch with your team. “It’s important to also allocate time to your team: discuss, listen, have lunch with them and disconnect from the CEO-Employee dynamic.” 

Burnout is a dreaded word among both corporates and startups. Keenly aware of the damaging ripple effects of burnout, Triki emphasises it is crucial for CEOs “to understand the vital importance of balance to avoid burnout and ensure sustained productivity.” He shares the best advice a mentor gave him was about focus. “You need to focus, there’s tons of things you want to do, find the top three things you need to do to sell more and focus on them, you and your team.”

When he is not occupied with building Kumulus, Triki enjoys quality family time. “For me, nothing takes precedence over spending quality time with my family, especially my two children, as it serves as a cornerstone for maintaining mental and emotional well-being amidst the rigours of work. Equally crucial is prioritizing physical fitness through sports, while also making space for personal reflection, whether through reading or meditation.” Triki shares that he is currently training for a half ironman competition and he reads non-business related books in his downtime.

Looking at the transformative effects of deep tech, Triki says, “the proliferation of deep tech and AI is reshaping industries worldwide, and Africa is no exception. With applications ranging from agriculture to healthcare, these technologies are driving unprecedented levels of innovation and efficiency. By harnessing the power of AI, water technologies in Africa can optimize resource management, mitigate water stress, and improve access to clean water. Innovations such as Kumulus can utilize AI to optimize energy consumption and water production, further strengthening the level of impact they are delivering.”

Building a deep tech and AI startup Triki says is challenging, yet rewarding and “in a world full of challenges, we just need bold innovators to take the first steps, and visionary investors to support them.” His advice to founders aspiring to build deep tech and AI startups is to “seize the opportunity, particularly as our region and continent boast a wealth of talent and engineering expertise waiting to be tapped into. I encourage everyone to explore deep tech ventures and embark on the journey of building innovative solutions. While this field may not have received the attention it deserves in the past, it holds the key to shaping the future and making a meaningful impact.”

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