A Scalable Software Solution to Tackle Air Pollution

Embryo Ventures
6 min readFeb 11, 2021

Pollution is a problem. In Great Britain alone, air pollution contributes to 40,000 premature deaths according to the Royal College of Physicians. The monetary burdens pollution induces — £40 billion in lost productivity, early deaths, and healthcare costs — are themselves more than enough reason to pursue a long-term solution to this problem. AirSensa is a venture taking on this challenge.

Pollution: A silent killer.

AirSensa offers a dramatic vision that focuses on the scalable collation and use of data to drive meaningful local and global policy changes. Harvinder Hungin has been working with AirSensa for the last four years, after a successful career in investment banking and business building, where he has applied his experience to developing AirSensa’s unique strategy for combating pollution. In his words, “you cannot deal with what you cannot measure.” The unique value of AirSensa is a globally scalable software platform that ingests huge amounts of dynamic data on a continuous basis, capable of being retrieved efficiently and disseminated through APIs to the people and organisations who need it. The beauty of this idea is its limitlessness. AirSensa can process data from a multitude of sources; traffic volume, footfall, soil pollution, water pollution, meteorological data, even train times, and of course air pollution. By appropriately interrogating the data, one has access to all information necessary for policy changes at one’s fingertips. The key question remains: how will this vision be realised?

Harvinder Hungin: Our founders had to initially develop our pollution sensor technology so that our units could be produced at a price point that is attractive for building an entire city-wide network of pollution monitoring. We also built into our platform a powerful IOT system to manage all of our units remotely and systematically assess them for accuracy and drift. All pollution sensors in use today require regular, reliable calibration, or they will degrade and become biased. Simply, AirSensa is a massively scalable software platform with autonomous management and calibration capabilities designed to be used to better understand the neighbourhoods, cities, and world we live in.

Mary Letey: With an amazing idea like this, what motivated you to use crowdfunding for your current round?

HH: Seedrs allows us to raise some money, but crucially crowdfunding introduced us to such a level of social media exposure that simply, it was worth doing for that aspect alone. We used crowdfunding as publicity. We’ve been contacted by senior executives at Amazon and at the World Bank, and investors from large real estate companies, who discovered us through crowdfunding. Its quality exposure.

ML: Tell me more about your business model.

HH: Cities’ biggest problem is that they have little elective budget. We are offering data as a service to cities, not just a sensor-based capital project. We believe this data has value, not only to the cities and policymakers, but to the citizens. We’ll ask for a five to ten-year contract for our data. But the city doesn’t have to worry about the deployment of the sensors or how to pay for them; rather we will fund that on the back of the contract. We have an algorithmic approach, based on city topography and weather patterns, to determine where the sensors need to be placed. The city then gets access to all the data and analytics, in real-time, and can interrogate it with a minimal team rather than needing a large team of data scientists of their own. This approach lets cities deploy our solution relatively cheaply as a cash flow item, not a capital expenditure item.

ML: And what is AirSensa’s role in monitoring pollution in rural areas?

HH: Rural areas are very important in agricultural and ecological terms. We can monitor soil, water and pH in addition to air pollution. We’ve been working on a pilot project in one of the Caribbean islands, where cruise ships pollute the air extensively, and climate change has already had measurable effects on water and soil acidity. We work with in-region scientific and academic institutions to help analyse the meaning of all this data, which will help the agricultural industry understand what crops they should be growing, when they should be harvesting, and other considerations. There are many valuable practical insights to be gathered from the data we collect.

ML: How have you secured market interest for this data?

HH: Our data is valuable for everyone; citizens, businesses, and cities. People want to know about the world they’re living in, and the offices and homes they occupy. They want to know how safe they are. All cities understand that they need a healthier environment for their citizens. To achieve this, better policy-making and interventions require better data — real-time, hyperlocal data. Our data in Manchester is being used to optimise traffic light phasing to reduce pollution hotspots for example.

HH: Factories and industrial companies are becoming customers of ours because they need to monitor their pollution footprint much more effectively for their ESG reporting. It is becoming critical for companies as part of future risk assessment. Their need to report is working to help us grow our coverage.

ML: What do you see as future opportunities for AirSensa, and the environmental landscape in general?

HH: In the future, you will be able to know the air pollution profile around a specific prospective house or school before you make a decision to move. Our data is likely therefore to impact the value of real estate. Further, our data will impact the pricing of many other assets and services, which are currently not properly priced because they’re not taking into account fully the risks and liabilities of pollution and climate change. Our platform is capable of ingesting data on place of any variety, from any source. Our vision for the future is to offer a single platform for city data, on which cities could deposit datasets already generated by them, and used to power new services. Our model guarantees that cities could also be paid where that data creates a commercial gain.

ML: What has been the most challenging part of working at AirSensa for you?

HH: Lots of startups begin with an idea and some way to make money out of that idea. For us, there was a huge amount of understanding that had to be developed first. How do we invent the technologies that don’t currently exist? How do we communicate the problems we’re solving? How do we guarantee the scalability of the solution? None of those questions are trivial, and they must be designed in clearly from the start. We had to pioneer many aspects of software platform design, a set of patented calibration technologies, and modular sensor design; all of these steps are massively complex in their own right. From my background in business building, I explored the nature of our data and analysed what business model would allow our vision to be rolled out globally. Not only have we had to develop the technology, but we’ve had wait for the stars to align so that the market for data develops, which it now has.

HH: Working to grow AirSensa has been a challenge that I could not have predicted. But like the founders, I firmly believe we need to leave the earth in a better state for our children at the absolute minimum. If the scale of death caused by air pollution was instead happening on roads, governments would ban all driving! The thought of not having clean air in our cities, or only have healthy air inside homes or cars is extremely depressing. I knew we’d have to create an entirely new business model to solve this, and I believe we’ve now achieved that. We’re ready to scale up now and achieve our long-term goals, both for the business and for our society.

— Written by Mary Letey

Embryo Ventures is an innovation and venture development partner to the most exceptional entrepreneurs and forward-looking organisations. We are passionate about backing ventures that are destined to make their impact on the world.