„CEE Star of the Week“ is our weekly series of short stories where we present a company from Central and Eastern Europe that has recently achieved something significant – closed an investment round, won a prize, successfully launched on a new market, made a prominent hire, etc. The stories can be found both on trendingtopics.at and trendingtopics.eu.
Air quality is worsening everywhere around the world – from the wealthiest to the poorest cities, but what solutions are there to make our cities more breathable? Airly – a Polish startup that develops a global air quality platform, addresses the air pollution crisis by providing ultra-local and accurate predictive air-quality data for governments, companies, and citizens to help them understand the air they breathe. It recently received a $2m pre-seed round investment to scale up its AI-based solution and its CEO, Wiktor Warchałowski, shared in front of Trending Topics what the startup hopes to achieve with the fresh investment, what are their main challenges and what lies ahead in terms of growth and future plans.
Trending Topics: What does the $2 million investment round mean for your company and what do you expect to achieve with the raised money?
Wiktor Warchałowski: The money from the investment round will help us to achieve two goals. The first is to continue our mission: to scale faster and implement our solution worldwide, helping Airly become a single source of air quality data across the globe. We also want to prepare a new version of our product – a system that maps air pollution using mobile sensor networks.
What is unique about your startup and the solution that you provide to your clients?
Air quality is a widely discussed topic right now. What makes Airly unique is that we provide a complete solution to measure air quality. Our system consists of air quality sensors that measure three sizes of particulate matter (PM1, PM2.5, PM10) as well as NO2, O3, SO3, and CO gases. Our devices measure air quality in real-time, and the results are available immediately on our live air quality map for both desktop and mobile devices. Thanks to our AI-based algorithm, we are able to provide a 24-hour air quality forecast, with 95% verifiability.
How was the idea of Airly born?
The story of Airly begins in 2016 when I and my two colleagues who also graduated from AGH Technical University of Kraków – Michał Misiek and Aleksander Konior, were preparing to take part in a marathon during wintertime. We felt the smog in the city made it harder to train and devised a system using air sensors to let us know where the cleanest air to train in was. As the project came to fruition, we managed to raise funds to build 100 air quality sensors and give them away to the people in different parts of Kraków to build a network in their home city.
How did you manage to set foot on the market and gain your first customers?
Our first initiative has become a game-changer for the community of Krakow. The southern part of Poland had (and still has) a serious smog problem, and the hyper-local, real-time network of air quality sensors has shed completely new light on the problem. The next few clients were municipalities which, after they heard about Airly in the media, wanted to launch similar networks. As there was significant demand for these kinds of solutions, companies also started to approach us. They realized very quickly that joining the fight for clean air in Poland would add great additional purpose for their business.
What is your business model?
We, of course, sell our own sensors, but also we want to be seen as a data science company, that provides the richest, most thorough set of current, historic, and future data about air pollution. Our business model is focused on three different groups: local governments & municipalities, companies, and media outlets who are interested in using Airly’s air quality data for their news. Also, we’ve recently launched an online shop for individual clients who want to buy our sensors and contribute to expanding our worldwide network.
Who are your biggest investors and clients up to this point?
Our recent financing was led by Giant Ventures, the multi-stage fund backing purpose-driven technology companies. Leading angel investors also participated, including members of Sir Richard Branson’s and Sir Ronald Cohen’s families; Pipedrive co-founder Martin Tajur; Cherry Ventures partner and former Spotify CMO Sophia Bendz; former Gojek CMO Piotr Jakubowski; and Henkel board member Konstantin von Unger. Existing investor Wojtek Burkot (ex-Engineering Director at Google) also participated in the round via his fund Bitspiration Booster. Poland’s National Center of Research & Development provided additional funding.
Regarding our clients, we are very happy to partner with companies such as Philips, Aviva, Veolia, Skanska, PwC, and Motorola to mention only a few.
What are the most recent innovations and projects that you have been working on?
Together with Innogy Polska, we’ve recently launched the SmoGO! Map of Warsaw 25 zero-emission cars by innogyGo! with air quality sensors are constantly exploring the air pollution level in Warsaw. This is the first mobile measurement of air pollution on such a scale. Data on air pollution is uploaded on an ongoing basis from the street level from innogyGo! users. They are used to update the SmoGO! Map of Warsaw.
Another very interesting project is the crowdfunding action Romania Respira (Breathe Romania) that we conduct with the local branch of Phillips. The first edition at the beginning of 2020 helps to provide almost new air quality sensors all across Romania. Right now we prepare for the second edition of the action that will take place not only in Romania but also in Bosnia and Herzegovina Croatia, Serbia, and Slovenia.
Can you share some more detail about the research you conducted in April this year?
Piotr A. Kowalski and Aleksander Konior from Airly showed that there might be a correlation between higher levels of air pollution and a faster rate of spread of the coronavirus. The data also suggested that regions with higher levels of air pollution have been more seriously affected by COVID-19 in case of mortality and the general course of the disease.
What have been the hurdles and challenges from the beginning? What challenges do you expect for the next 12 months?
The difficulty in the expansion of our system is caused by the fact that it takes time to build our air quality sensors network in further countries. That’s why we tried to make the installation of our sensors as simple as it could be. Even a non-technical person can set-up and launch our sensor in a very quick time. But this process is becoming much faster as Airly becomes more popular in many parts of the world. Another thing is that we are looking for a way to engage more teenage users to use our app on a daily basis, as they are the new generation, and they will build the world of the future, hopefully, without air pollution.
What, in your mind, is the biggest success of Airly up to this point?
The biggest success is the fact that we were right to suppose that a solution like ours was needed. An even greater achievement is the fact that our mission is understandable in every corner of the world and our solution is adopted very quickly everywhere.
What will come next for Airly?
We want to become a single source of air quality data, globally until 2025. We hope to reach places over the world, where the problem of air pollution is the most pressing. And help communities around the world to solve their problems.