Anton Valentin Rădulea is the CEO of Airvolt.io, a Romanian start-up founded in the pandemic year that aims to develop a product to fight pollution in cities. Airvolt’s plan is to place air purifiers in urban environments, both indoors in public buildings and outdoors, which also function as advertising space. The start-up is in the pre-seed period and plans to install the first purifiers in Bucharest in 2023, as a test ground for the European and North American markets.
How did the story of this start-up start, who came up with the initiative of the project, and the idea behind it?
Anton Rădulea: The idea of the Airvolt start-up started to take root somewhere around the fall of 2019, when I got back in touch with Alexandru Rădulescu, my old friend and high school classmate from C.N. Gh. Șincai in Bucharest. Alexandru brought my company at that time a national distribution contract for Airly sensors in Romania (the first smart network for monitoring urban environment pollution in Europe, founded in 2017 in Poland by Wiktor Warschalovski).
Actually, the starting point of our story is mid-January 2020, when we met Jakub Madej, Airly’s International Sales Director, in Bucharest. As he was showing us Airly sensor hardware for the first time in a PUB in Piazza Romana, during a break in the presentation, I asked him “- Jakub, Okay. We measure air quality. And then what… I wish we could come up with solutions for that too“.
Advertising, a new market to fight pollution
Airvolt started to build practically from that moment on, as we started to research and study together several technological and biotechnological solutions for rapid pollution mitigation in urban environments. And try to bring them to Romania. We wanted to integrate as many technologies as possible, preferably European ones, to increase the standard of living in local communities and support the growth of Smart City ecosystems in the country. It was also at that time that we discovered first-hand that the fiscal and bureaucratic rigours of working with the state are often insurmountable for a small, start-up company like us. Our company’s concept, business model, and even its brand have undergone several changes in its first two years of existence. We won’t deny the fact that somewhere along the way, the ambition to design and build our own product right here in Romania emerged.
How important is the problem of air pollution in cities and how does Airvolt aim to solve it?
Anton Rădulea: The problem of air pollution in cities is one of proportions beyond our daily reach.
No less than 7 million people die prematurely each year globally due to poor air quality(1). Urban air quality decreases life expectancy by more than 4 years per person in polluted cities. A simple calculation shows that the cumulative collective time humanity loses today amounts to more than 13.5 billion life years(2). Or in other words, a number of years +3 times the entire age of planet Earth(3) to date!
Air pollution today is a problem that can only be solved through a combination of sustainable solutions and decisions, collectively. Airvolt aims to tip the balance towards a greener, more breathable future by filtering the air in urban environments for pollutants that would otherwise find their way into our lungs more easily every day.
Who is your product aimed at and how does the technology behind it work? Who are the manufacturers of the purification technology and how did you choose to link your product to the advertising medium?
Anton Rădulea: The end users of Airvolt are the people, the visiting public who will be able to benefit from a higher quality of the air they breathe when visiting urban and public spaces, indoor or outdoor. Airvolt’s technology enables Brands to access a new, real-time, smart and relevant Social and Environmental Governance channel that allows Advertisers to measure the environmental impact of every dollar spent online.
The intellectual property related to our hardware was developed, almost exclusively, in Romania. However, the business model could only mature with the help of several local and international entrepreneurs and investors. Among the most important hardware manufacturing partners in the European Union, we should mention the specialists from Cautis Romania, one of the most experienced suppliers for high standard metal fabrications in Romania. Most of our sub-assemblies are also produced in the EU, and this commitment to European technology will remain present in the company as far as possible in the future.
Most of the Airvolt co-founders are experienced Marketers and Advertisers. On a slightly more comical note, I would venture to say that we looked at the budgets spent on advertising media at one point and thought we could take some of it and put it to work for the community. It also remains to be seen how successful it will be.
How much have you invested so far in the start-up? What type of investor is your message aimed at?
Anton Rădulea: The product development phase has so far required an investment of more than €140,000 from Familly & Friends, along s investments from the co-founders’ own funds. We are already enjoying the presence of several Business Angels in the shareholding who also have other technology and environmental start-ups in their portfolio. We hope that their number will grow, most likely under the leadership of a private equity company, once the next investment round closes in January 2023. Most of all, we want investors who believe in the profitability of a company with a positive environmental impact.
How has the project progressed so far in the pre-seed stage and what are your plans for late 2022 and 2023?
Anton Rădulea: It has been quite difficult to attract capital, from the position of an early-stage technology start-up with a hardware component, in a market with an investment affinity more oriented towards software solutions. The end of 2022 also saw a second incorporation of Airvolt in the US as a Delaware-C corporation, designed to facilitate collaboration with US, Commonwealth and international investors.
2023 will certainly see a substantial deployment of Airvolt Amplifiers in Bucharest, as a test-ground for the European and North American markets. We are already enjoying the support of some Early Adopters in terms of Locators, but also in terms of Advertising customers. We are confident in the traction potential of the company. The next 24 months will be a testing period.
Are there any similar projects that have inspired you in building this start-up? How strong is the market for these products?
Anton Rădulea: We have looked over the last few years at what several companies in the urban air quality management segment are doing and have learned, often even from their mistakes. OOH advertising is a huge market, transitioning to digital environments, and globally worth more than $34 billion in 2021. The air purification technology segment in commercial and public environments also saw over $5 billion in the same year. All of this came amid a massive infusion of Venture capital, worth over $120 billion, into the Social and Environmental Governance (ESG) sectors around the world. Thus, we felt that our product made sense and could build a niche market that is valid for many urban agglomerations around the globe.
Can you give us examples where you highlight the benefits of Airvolt.io technology to businesses, public institutions, but also to ordinary people?
Anton Rădulea: For social & environmentally responsible business that Advertise, we represent a low-to-no-cost way to engage in the conversation about air quality in cities. Thus, public institutions enjoy a new category of smart street furniture that directly and positively impacts the air citizens breathe. By simply posting messages on our network, advertisers become Investors for Air Quality, while ordinary people enjoy great content and reap the benefits directly.