Air pollution claims over 12 lakh lives in India in a year. But the entire discussion on the topic is focussed on outdoor air pollution. Indoor air quality doesn't get the attention it deserves, in spite of the fact that we spend most of our time indoors.
Aayush Jha, a lawyer by profession, who lived in Bhilai in Chhattisgarh till 2016, was oblivious of the health problems that indoor air pollution can cause. Until he moved to Delhi. It was when his father suffered chest pain due to the dreaded Diwali air pollution that the problem struck home. One solution was to buy an air purifier. But Jha realised that a purifier works in only one room and costs Rs 8,000-10,000. Not a convenient, practical solution for a middle-class family.
He started looking for alternatives that were cost-effective. Creating new hardware wouldn't have worked as the aim was to keep prices low. So, he took the existing infrastructure - the air-conditioner - and converted it into an air purifier.
This is how it works. Air purifiers basically have a strong fan with a sheet of HEPA filter and activated carbon to absorb contaminants in the environment. HEPA filters require a strong fan. Clairco developed a cellulose fibre sheet using the electrospinning technique that can work with the air-conditioner's weak fan and turn it to an air purifier.
The only problem: the sheet is very thin due to slow speed of the fan. This means it has to be replaced every two months. To overcome this problem, Clairco has introduced a subscription-based model under which it charges customers Rs 2 per square foot per month and its team of technicians instals, replaces and maintains these filters. The cost includes everything from hardware (filter, air quality monitors), service (installation, replacement) and maintenance.
Moving to the operating expenditure model allows brands, big and small, to use the services without any significant capital investment upfront. Srinivas P. Reddy, VP of real estate and workplace at health and fitness start-up Cure.fit, says: "Their clean air-as-a-service model works for a start-up like ours as we pay for only what we use." Usually, for a one lakh square feet building, the initial capex for air purification is Rs 1.5 crore, he adds. "Plus, the subscription model means they have their skin in the game and there is an assurance that my customers will get clean air," says Reddy. Clairco's air filters are installed at 120 Cure.fit outlets. Overall, it is managing four lakh square feet area for its clients. One of the clients is coffee brand Blue Tokai.
Anand Subramanian, Senior Director, PR and Communications, Ola Cabs, an angel investor in the firm, says one of the key reasons he invested in Clairco was that it made a hardware business into a service that is scalable and has the potential to solve the problem of air pollution, affecting cities not just in India but across the globe. The company recently raised an undisclosed amount in seed round from AngelList India, led by their Head of Investments Prakhar Agarwal. It ended last financial year with revenues of Rs 15 lakh.
To ensure better service, Clairco uses data from air monitors that are put alongside the filters. This data is fed into machine learning algorithms to ascertain the exact time for replacing the filters. This data is also available in real time on its mobile app or web dashboard.
Though Clairco's air filters can be a retail product for households, the company is currently focussing on B2B clients to achieve economies of scale. It plans to start a pilot for B2C consumers within the next 12 months.