This Swedish IIM A alumnus is trying to save you from air pollutionSindhu Kashyap
The air we breathe is slowly choking us. A fact amply made clear by the startling and rather grim revelation that Delhi’s air quality at PM 2.5 particles has been named the worst among 1,600 cities by the WHO. It is no wonder then that the quality of air across the globe is one of the most debated topics at the ongoing Climate Change Summit in Paris.
Stockholm-based Airinum was founded with a belief that people all over the world have a fundamental right to breathe clean air.
Four friends Alexander Hjertström, Fredrik Kempe, Johannes Herrmann and Mehdi Rejraji, who met at Stockholm Business School, developed a modernised breathing mask that protects against air pollution, bacteria and virus and other pollutants. Unlike other masks available in the market, Airinum claims to combine high-quality protection with comfort and design.
It all started at the end of 2014 when Alexander travelled from Sweden to India. He was moving to Ahmedabad for six months to study at the Indian Institute of Management (IIM). Within the first month, he noticed that his long-gone asthma symptoms had resurfaced because of the pollution in the air.
Alexander struggled to find a protective mask that actually helped and was practical to wear every day.
“I saw people walking around the street with simple scarves, trying to protect themselves. Sadly, I knew they did nothing to stop the pollutants in the air, which get stuck inside our lungs and blood stream, leading to severe health complications. That was it, I decided then and there to do something about it, and when I came back to Sweden, we started working on building Airinum,” says Alexander.
Back to the drawing board
Alexander reached out to key people he felt would complement his skills and called upon his friends. They instantly loved the idea and joined in. Alexander says this venture has a strong purpose and can make a difference to the world.
Airinum’s mission is to provide the best breathing protection for everyday life, while helping raise awareness about air pollution so that people can breathe without endangering their health. Alexander also focused on the look of the mask considering the style-conscious urban citizen his firm was targeting.
“In this way, we give urban dwellers something they actually want to wear, instead of feeling embarrassed. In the long term however, we hope that this product doesn't even have to exist,” says Alexander.
Chokes along the way
The biggest challenge he says has been to develop a product that really works to protect different people, since each face is different, by making the mask fit better and prevent air leakage. They used stretchable material that easily contours to the wearer's face. This allows the mask to offer higher protection, because a good filter isn’t enough by itself.
“There was a lot of iteration in the early phase. Another important challenge we overcame was to make the mask more comfortable. Today, we use a type of material that makes the mask more breathable, this is important as many users claimed they felt suffocated while using masks for a long time,” says Alexander.
The mask is made up of a polyester type fabric that is light and highly breathable. The filter is an advanced multi-layer technology that protects the wearer from smells, dust, bacteria, virus, pollen, PM2.5 – in essence 99.9 per cent of everything you inhale.
Kickstarting with a bang
They have now teamed up with the right partners to grow at a stable pace. The main strategy is to sell online, so as to scale into several markets fairly fast. The team comes from a mixed background (Sweden, Germany and France) and comprises business and engineering graduates.
They launched on Kickstarter on the 23 November 2015. They have had great traction and became overfunded within less than 24 hours. Their backers are from more than 30 countries, spanning Europe, the US and Asia. The campaign is up and running till 27 December 2015.
An innovative part of their idea, according to Alexander, is also implemented in the business model, where they will offer subscriptions for filters, but the skin of the mask will be reusable (washable). All filters on the market today have a limited life-span, and it becomes difficult to breathe in because particles clog them up.
Therefore, to keep up the high performance and stay hygienic, they recommend customers change the filters frequently.
Solving the bigger problem
The team is looking into several options for the future, especially into different verticals for the mask. One aspect they are working on is increasing awareness about deteriorating air quality.
They intend to figure out the best way to contribute to a less polluted environment. In the long run, they hope to develop products that directly reduce pollution. “But for now, the most crucial step is to provide people with better means to protect themselves against the acute health problem of air pollution,” adds Alexander.