Founder Feature: Awair
Wearable fitness devices were the first health technology products that truly made me consider whether health tech had the ability to make a big splash into the average, consumer goods marketplace. With fitness devices, you did not have to have a particular illness or set of health needs to find use for them, which is rare in the health tech world. While their merits may still be debated, it was still nonetheless remarkable that all the sudden almost everyone was monitoring their steps on their wrists.
Ronald Ro and his team at Awair have developed a consumer-facing healthcare product that, similar to the wearable fitness device, may soon be found in the hands of individuals all across the country. Awair is a sleek device that monitors the quality of air in a room and then provides recommendations to create a healthier home environment. This device is moving beyond simply monitoring the health of one's body and is instead taking into account the large impact that the environment plays on health outcomes. The premise behind Awair is that you should not only be worrying about air quality once you are suffering from the adverse consequences of pollution, chemicals, or dust. Instead, you should be working to stabilize your environment and prevent these adverse consequences from ever arising.
Awair's app, which tracks your air quality overtime and gives you recommendations for improvements, works with iPhones, Androids, and the Amazon Alexa, thus making it an ideal device for technology junkies. Their device Glow can even connect to non-smart devices in your home, such as fans, to automatically turn them on when a change in air-quality is detected.
Interview with CEO Ronald Ro
We interviewed Ronald recently to learn more about his company and what the journey of developing Awair has been like so far.
What is the creation story of Awair? Why did you feel that such a product should exist for the everyday consumer?
Ronald Ro (RR): When I found out my first child was born with eczema I, like many other parents, wanted to try to find the best way to help with her pain and discomfort. After many frustrating months of research and trying a seemingly endless number of strategies, I began to realize that my daughter’s suffering was closely linked to the quality of the air around her. I also realized there weren’t any products available that could help me understand what was in her air and how I could make sure she was comfortable.
I have an engineering background, so I began creating prototypes that could track chemicals and toxins in the air, and test them in my daughter’s room. I partnered with my friend (and now Co-Founder), Kevin Cho, whose children were in and out of the hospital for asthma. Together, we created what would become the first-ever Awair.
With the help of that Awair, I was able to quickly understand the changes I needed to make to the air in my home for my daughter--interestingly enough, in the process of trying to calm her eczema it we had created an overly-humid environment with round-the-clock humidifiers. It was satisfying and relieving to start to see improvements in my daughter’s health as we continued to track her air. Other parents started asking me about the device--they were very interested because their kids were also suffering from allergies and similar conditions. The level of interest was impossible to ignore and inspiring, so we decided to create fifty of our air quality monitors by hand, which sold out very quickly. Since then, Awair has blossomed into a company that is committed to helping everyone, everywhere overcome the ambiguity of “healthy air” and take control of their health.
What field did you work in before you developed Awair? How did this background prepare you for running your own business?
RR: After starting my career as an engineer at Boeing Company, I worked for Samsung’s consumer electronics division and its corporate strategy office for 4 years, leading the company’s new business and technology commercialization efforts. I then joined the Frankel Commercialization Fund, where I was an Investment Fellow, helping to build and invest in Michigan-based early-stage startups.
I then joined Cisco and was instrumental in launching, building, and scaling new products and business. In that role, I was responsible for product management, supply chain and business strategy. I helped grow a small team to a sustainable business unit that generated $30M revenue.
I hold a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering from the Purdue University and a masters degree in industrial and operations engineering and an MBA from the University of Michigan.
Who is Awair best suited for?
RR: We always jokingly say in the office, ‘the only people who need Awair are those who breathe air’. Awair is one of those products that once you have, it’s hard living without. Many people don’t think about air because they don’t see it, but the fact is that we wouldn’t drink dirty water, but so many of us breathe dirty air. For example, did you know that over 90% of grade schools are within one mile of a highway? So the short (and cliché) answer is ‘everyone’, but we really do passionately believe that everyone should take control of the air they breathe because it has such a significant
impact on short term and long term health.
How did you decide upon the 5 components that go into calculating the Awair score?
RR: Through extensive (and continual) research and testing. We also reference recommendations from the WHO, EPA, ASHRAE, OSHA, and more.
- Temperature: Temperature makes all the difference for productivity, comfort and mood.
- Humidity: Too much or too little moisture leads to cold, flu symptoms and risk for toxic mold.
- Carbon Dioxide: Indoor exposure to carbon dioxide can impair focus, decision-making and productivity.
- Chemicals (VOCs): Toxic chemicals can be found in everyday materials. They can cause skin and respiratory irritation.
- Dust (PM10 and PM2.5): Dust can travel into our lungs and trigger health problems like asthma and allergies.
Awair uses 5 dedicated sensors for each air quality factor and compiles these readings to provide you with real-time measurements via the display and on the Awair app. We typically recommend one Awair per room but it can monitor up to 1,000 sq ft.
What are some examples of the actionable steps that Awair provides users when a change is detected in air quality? How does Awair decide what tip to show a user?
RR: Based on your air health and your preferences, Awair serves up relevant and actionable insights. We have thousands of insights, and that number continues to grow. Here a few examples…
- Your bathroom has a high chemical score. For places that are heavily cleaned, consider placing a Peace Lily, as it removes airborne chemicals from cleaning products.
- Your nursery is accumulating too much dust. Consider washing toys and linens for cleaner air.
- There are too many chemicals in your air. Consider washing your linens and wiping down furniture with a wet rag.
- Be careful with candles. Conventional candles are made from paraffin, a petroleum by-product which omits VOCs. Opt for 100% soy and beeswax candles!
- For extra humidity, instead of using your bathroom fan after a shower, use a room fan to push the damp air out into the other rooms of your home.
What are your next 3 milestones and goals for 2018?
RR: We want to continue to expand globally, as we are getting many requests from global retailers. We’ll be providing a robust solution for enterprise and B2B clients--they have reached out in droves, and we are providing a comprehensive platform. We’ll also continue improving our products and impacting lives. The response to our products has been amazing and we want to keep spreading the word and empowering people to thrive in their environments.