Published on theBeijinger March 23, 2019
How much would you pay for clean air? RMB 100? RMB 1,000? RMB 1,000,000? For most people, when faced with the frightening statistics about air pollution and the damage it is wreaking on our health, the sky's the limit, and this "shut up and take my money," attitude is encouraged by major air purifier manufacturers, who can charge extremely high prices to bring you the luxury of clean air.
Smart Air aims to change that. This Tuesday, May 21 the Beijing-based social enterprise and B Corp launched their very first Kickstarter campaign, which will fund the production of their prototype, 'The Sqair,' which they bill as the world's most cost-effective air purifier. The petite Sqair, with it's stylish, Scandi-minimalist design represents a natural next step for the social enterprise who started out selling super-cheap DIY air purifying packs and running education workshops in 2013. The company was born when founder Thomas Talhelm, a social psychologist with no background in engineering or air pollution, realized that getting access to clean air is actually much simpler, cheaper, and more efficient than the big businesses let on.
Since then, Smart Air has sold some 50,000 units around the world and reached more than 6,000 people in ten different countries via their education workshops and seminars.
Bringing to market an air purifier that would be both highly effective and stylish, "something you would actually like to have in your home," was the next logical step for chief engineer and product lead Paddy Robertson. The Sqair, which is the result of some three years of testing and prototyping will retail for USD 95 and can clean the air of a 40sqm space in less than half an hour. According to Robertson, an aerospace engineer who and was able to apply his experience in fluid dynamics to the unit design, this makes it 30 percent more cost-effective than any other model on the market.
While the Sqair is much sleeker than its DIY, and function-over-form siblings such as the Cannon and Blast models, the underlying principles are the same: "All air purifiers are just a HEPA filter and a fan. That's it." Robertson says that while other companies add elements like UV lights, ionizers, connected apps, carbon filters, and high-tech displays to their models, these are often unnecessary, and more about increasing the price than cleaning the air. The technology used in HEPA filters has not changed in over seven decades, and a fan is, well, a fan. Stripping the purifier back to its most basic elements, and maximizing its effectiveness (even the stylish European beech legs have an ulterior motive, acting as vibration dampeners and cut down on noise) has allowed the company to keep their prices extremely low, up to 10 times cheaper than other models on the market.
For now, the challenge is bringing the prototype to production. The Kickstarter campaign is an "all or nothing" meaning that if the monetary goal is not reached in the required time, the product will not be made. Robertson says that in the event of this, they will have to assess their options, but private investment will not be one of them, saying, "We want to stay independent and true to our mission, we're worried that investors would care about one thing only: money."
Thankfully it appears that their mission is finding an audience. In the 48 hours since the campaign launched, backers from near (China, Thailand, Pakistan, and India) and far (New Zealand, the Netherlands, Australia, and the USA) have already pledged over USD 10,000, half of the USD 20,385 goal.
The biggest problem the team is facing right now is shipping costs, which for some countries is double the cost of the actual unit, so they are working on creating local distribution units in strategic points around the world to tackle the problem. They are also investigating 'Robin Hood'-style price structures, such as taking some of the margins from their higher priced models to subsidize and lower the cost of their simplest clean air machines.
For now, Smart Air have their work cut out for them. And for the future?
"If in ten years time there is no more air pollution and no more need for air purifiers, we'll close down, and go on to the next thing," says Robertson, adding, "there are plenty of problems in the world that need solving,"
The Sqair Kickstarter campaign runs until Friday, Jul 5. Check it out here.