The Middle East and North Africa is one of the most water-scarce regions of the world. One report back in 2000 indicated that, while the region is home to 6.3% of the world’s population, it contains only 1.4% of the world’s renewable freshwater supply. Palestine faces a particularly acute water crisis due to the Israeli occupation. According to Amnesty International, any new water installation in the Palestinian territories requires the permission of the Israeli army. Furthermore, even though the majority of a major freshwater aquifer lies under the West Bank, the Israeli government controls its access and has built its own extensive water supply network across the occupied territories.
Baker Bozeyeh, a sustainability engineer born and raised in Palestine, launched Flowless to address this very major pain point in his home country and region. Born out of Baker’s own work with a Palestinian utility company, he recognized the need for a better water management solution to optimize usage of this precious resource. Born out of Palestine’s Founder Institute Program, Baker and Flowless have been deploying their solution in Palestine and elsewhere in the region since about 2019. I had the chance to chat with him earlier in the summer. I hope you enjoy!
Hani: Can you start by quickly introducing yourself and Flowless?
Baker: I am a sustainability engineer. I’ve been working in the water sector in Palestine for a couple of years now. And I have started Flowless along with some of my co founders.We help utility companies and agribusinesses increase water efficiency. We provide a comprehensive system that helps in optimizing processes and automatically detecting faults in water and irrigation networks. Our system uses artificial intelligence and IoT technologies to collect real time data and analyze it, providing interpretations that help in decision making.
Hani: Tell me a bit more about your background – How did your career bring you to the point of establishing this company?
Baker: I’m a civil engineer. Early on in my career path, I worked with a utility company here in Palestine. Through my work with this utility company, I came across the challenges and the gaps in the water sector in Palestine, which is pretty much the same challenges faced in the MENA region. Like many parts of the world, we have an underdeveloped water infrastructure, the many issues in service for the community are included, including water quality and water flow, as well as challenging nature, like water scarcity. Most of the work is done manually, including networks monitoring water distribution control, and operations management. It takes so long to detect problems, to fix these problems and to make decisions. When decisions are made, they are made reactively, rather than proactively.
This is why we started Flowless. We wanted to contribute to water sustainability and community resilience by providing a local solution that, you know, that addresses the context and can act upon its complexities.
Hani: Was there a particular moment that kind of clicked to you that you wanted to start a company?
Baker: It was actually a very long journey of going through the challenges and trying to understand them, and trying to see what the world is doing to mitigate these challenges. Because as you know, we’re not reinventing the wheel. Such solutions are available worldwide. But we are providing a solution that is more flexible and adaptable to the local context. We also went through some support programs like Founder Institute, which was actually the beginning of Flowless.
Hani: Can you tell me more about your product and value proposition and how is it specifically adapted to the Palestinian context into the regional context?
Baker: The basic problem we’re addressing is water stress. Let me provide some information about water stress. Yeah, first of all, worldwide, the annual losses due to water losses are estimated at $14 billion. And in Palestine, 33% of the supplied water is lost before even reaching the end customer. This is equal to like $54 million every year of losses in Palestine due to water losses. This inefficient water management contributes to water stress. Flowless aims to help the key players in the water sector to reduce their you know, reduce these losses and increase the water supply efficiency.
Hani: Who are those key players? Who are your customers? Who are you selling to and how do you pitch to them?
Baker: We’re targeting water utility companies, which often are municipalities or governmental entities, but they can also be private companies in the MENA region. In either case, they are still using conventional water supply systems. We also work with agri businesses and farmers,who still use traditional irrigation and agriculture methods, and we have recently been expanding further in this domain. We help them with remote monitoring and automated control for their water systems. We deploy our hardware, which is used for real time data collection of various parameters like water quality and water flow. Then, our platform analyzes this data and provides interpretations that help in process optimization. This includes precision irrigation for farmers, and leak detection for municipalities. Ultimately, this reduces their operational costs, by reducing their losses and increasing their productivity and profitability. Farmers using precision irrigation and smart irrigation systems reduce their water consumption, but at the same time increase the yield of crops.
Hani: Do you feel like you have to do a lot of education about the problem itself? Or does the market already know that this problem exists?
Baker: Each system owner knows their system better than anyone else. Municipalities, for example, are well aware of the gaps in their systems and their operations. But the thing is, they often don’t know how to solve these problems. The same goes for agri businesses and farmers. They know that water costs and energy costs are a big burden for their profitability and their operations, but they are hesitant to reach out to other companies for solutions, and remain unaware of their feasibility. Our work is not educating them about their problems, because they know that they have problems. We’re actually educating them about the feasibility and viability of tackling these problems.
Hani: Has that been relatively easy? Have they been receptive to adopting this new technology?
Baker: Our solutions are part of a global wave of such technologies in water and irrigation systems. The whole world is heading in this direction. However, the economy and situation in Palestine can make it a burden, especially for small scale farmers or small scale utilities, to introduce new international systems. On top of the financial cost, they don’t have the basic know-how to procure or install the systems. For us, it’s actually about improving the effectiveness and efficiency of such solutions, and adding value for our customers.
Hani: How has the company grown since launch?
Baker: We have been in operation for a little bit over two years. We are still bootstrapping. We didn’t raise any external money from investors. We have implemented our project in more than 13 locations in Palestine. We work with the the major players in the water sector, including the Palestinian Water Authority, some big utility companies, and municipalities. We have much more work in the pipeline, including projects in Jordan. We are looking to expand to Lebanon, and make further headway in Jordan and the rest of the region.
Hani: How many, how many employees do you have?
Baker: We have 4 team members right now. However, we are expanding our capacity because we have a strong potential and we need to meet the increasing demand.
Hani: In the past two years, what would you say has been the most challenging part of running this business? What would you say are some of the things that stand out as accomplishments that you’re really proud of?
Baker: You might imagine that funding would be the biggest problem, but it’s really not. We have been doing well in terms of depending on our revenues to keep us going, in addition to some support programs and grants. So funding isn’t really our biggest challenge, it’s more so the ecosystem and the gaps in the ecosystem. An early stage startup really needs support, mentorship and advice. We’re in an emerging ecosystem and finding those components is more difficult.
We also work a great deal with governmental organizations, both as key players in the sector, and as customers. Dealing with the government is always a challenge. There is a misinterpretation of the public private partnership here in Palestine. This could be a great instrument for development, but it’s currently misused and misunderstood. Governmental organizations are always hesitant to work with private companies as partners. They work with private companies as suppliers orcontractors, but not as partners. We’ve been working on building trust with these government entities, and this is actually the first step in our client journey, building the trust with our partners.
I would say that the biggest achievement for us is having established Flowless as a credible, local provider with a successful track record. This is key to establishing trust up front with new partners, and we look forward to building on it.
Hani: What are some of your goals for the future for Flowless?
Baker: The big strategic vision is to be the leading organization providing these sustainable water management solutions, across the world, not just in the MENA region. The immediate next steps towards this is working to maintain strategic partnerships in the region, not only with the governments, but also with the support organizations, with development agencies, and with businesses as well. To do this, we are expanding to new geographic regions, and expanding our product offerings. These are the next big milestones that we have in mind.
Hani : I want to come back to you and your personal experience. Anything that stands out as things that you’ve learned thus far as a first-time founder?
Baker: There have been challenges and I guess there will always be challenges in this world, but it has been a great experience. I never regret it. We’ve accomplished so much and I’m really excited about the future. I’m not only talking about myself, but also about my co-founders and my team members. We have been doing things that we didn’t even think were possible for us. As a first time founder, I am constantly learning. Support programs, like Founders Institute and cewas, have been really helpful in providing guidance and advice for us.
Hani: How do you stay motivated to work the long hours required when launching a company?
Baker: For me, it’s all about seeing the potential, and also the tangible outcomes out of our work. We have a big vision and we’ve started to see the traction making it a reality. Seeing our impact in the market, seeing our impact on the mindset of the organizations and people that we work with, is a great motivator for us.
Hani: If you look 15 years down the line, what do you as an individual hope to have accomplished by then?
Baker: In the last couple of years, I would say that my life is pretty much tied to Flowless. It’s really hard to isolate my goals from Flowless’ goals. In 10 or 15 years, I see myself and Flowless’ as the leader in water supply management inthe MENA region. By then, I hope that we will have also expanded to the international market, including Africa, Asia, and maybe Europe as well.