It’s no secret that the air in China is severely polluted. Decades of accelerated industrialization has taken it’s toll on the environment, leaving millions of people without access to clean air, constantly surrounded in a grey apocalyptic haze. It is estimated that 350,000 – 500,00 people die from causes related to air pollution in China each year.
The most nefarious of airborne pollutants are the so called PM 2.5 particles — those that measure less than 2.5 microns in diameter. These particles are capable of penetrating deeply into the lungs and are very difficult to filter. According to the WHO, every increase of PM 2.5 concentration by 10 microgram / cubic metre of air results in an increased risk of lung cancer by 36%. In Beijing, a city of over 11 million people, the PM 2.5 index can reach over 500, beyond the measurable index.
It is estimated that 350,000 – 500,000 people die from causes related to air pollution in China each year.
Despite the obvious dangers of breathing in carcinogens daily, many people in China do not regularly wear a breathing mask. Some people believe that they are not effective, while others do not wear them because they believe they look ugly.
Swedish startup launches a new kind of breathing mask
A Swedish startup, Airinum, based in Stockholm has plans to help make a difference in the public health of developing countries such as China and India, where air pollution levels are particularly severe. Their goal is to bring a breathing mask to market that is effective, easy to wear, stylish, and reusable. On November 23rd, they will launch their crowdfunding campaign on Kickstarter in order to get the financial support they need to put their breathing mask into full production.
Interview with Johannes Herrmann, co-founder of Airinum
We sat down with Johannes Herrmann, one of the co-founders of Airinum, to discuss the upcoming launch, his company’s vision, and also entrepreneurship.
Tell me about the inspiration behind the Airinum breathing mask. How did all the co-founders come together to create this startup?
Despite the poor air quality in China, very few people wear air masks regularly. How does the Airinum tackle low adoption rates of air masks?
- Information on the health effects of air pollution has not yet reached the general public. People are not fully aware of how bad it actually is to breathe in polluting particles
- The current options on the market are either terribly looking and uncomfortable or they don’t have any protective function
What was the design process for the Airinum like? How did you create prototypes? Were there any difficult design trade-offs that had to be made?
In China, everyone talks about the PM 2.5 index. How effective is the Airinum against these especially dangerous pollutants? How does this compare to other breathing masks already on the market (like 3M)?
One of the most important factors affecting breathing mask efficacy is fit. A poorly fitting mask is almost as bad as wearing no mask. How does the Airinum address this problem? How will a user know his/her mask is fitting and working properly?
- Stretchable binding around the outside of the mask that adjusts to the shape of the face
- 4 different sizes that fit anyone from age 6+
- Ajustable ear loops that ensure fit in between the sizes
- A head strap that is provided with every mask to tighten the fit and remove pressure from the ears
The Airinum is re-usable. How often would a person in an extremely polluted city like Beijing need to replace the filter? How much does a replacement filter cost?
Let’s talk about manufacturing. After creating your final prototypes, how did you go about finding a suitable manufacturer for full production?
Can you comment generally on the amount of startup capital you needed to get to the Kickstarter stage? Did you receive any pre-crowdfunding startup investment?
What was the hardest part of your startup journey thus far?
Do you have any tips or hacks you can share with other starting entrepreneurs?
What is your vision for Airinum in the future, after the Kickstarter campaign? What about your plans for China, specifically?