July 20th, 2012
03:19 PM GMT
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Editor’s note: Outlook is CNN's in-depth look at business climates around the world. To August 12, 2012, we’re focusing on Singapore.

Singapore (CNN) – In the drive for economic development, sometimes the fundamentals are forgotten. And nothing is more fundamental than clean water.

It is estimated that 800 million people live without access to safe drinking water; a fact that convinced Singaporean Oliva Lum to use her expertise as a chemist to address the problem.

Lum devised a solution and business plan to help quench the thirst of her home nation. She sold her house and car to raise capital to fund the project.

“I was 28 years old when I started this company and I was very naïve. I thought one day the world is going to be out of water and so I thought water is a sunrise industry and I wanted to save the world,” she told CNN’s Richard Quest.

The company she created, Hyflux, has since sold its water treatment systems to countries across the world and is now worth nearly $1 billion. The company’s technology is now used to provide 10% of Singapore’s water.

Reverse osmosis is the key to the Hyflux designs. Membranes many times smaller than the human hair are used to turn sea water into drinkable water and even to recycle waste-water.

Lum believes Singapore has grown to be a lot more supportive of entrepreneurs and business start-ups.

“It was much more difficult than now," she said. "(Now) there are a lot of government incentives for entrepreneurs. Then you were on your own.”

CNN’s Outlook series often carries sponsorship originating from the countries we feature. However CNN retains full editorial control over all of its reporting.

Filed under: Outlook Singapore

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