Airlabs provides solutions for cleaning air in the home and your car. They use nano carbon technology that removes more than 95% of nitrogen dioxide as well as other pollutants.
We spoke to Airlabs’ CEO, Sophie Power, about how she started the company.
“My background is in business – I started out in Luxury Goods investment banking then via an INSEAD MBA, went into private equity, ending up as the CFO of a global marketing agency, which I left to co-found Airlabs. I had been working to advise different start-ups for several years but nothing could prepare me for the task of running my own company!
“I live in Islington with my son Donnacha (almost three) and husband John, and we’re expecting our second child in May. We are always on the move and we found lugging a buggy around a pain at first. We now have an Omnio stroller that transforms into a backpack that you can even take as cabin luggage on a plane. It has literally transformed our lives!
“I co-founded Airlabs when I was pregnant with Donnacha. As any first time mum, I did a lot of research into how I could have the healthiest pregnancy and give my child the best start in life. What I realised was that the air pollution in London was having a huge impact on the health of my unborn son and there was little I could do about it. In the UK, especially in cities, we breathe high levels of nitrogen dioxide, primarily from diesel fumes, as well as other harmful pollutants. The levels we breathe here cause stunted lung growth in our children – a study in East London of eight and nine-year-olds showed their lungs were 5-10% permanently smaller when exposed to poor quality air. The younger the child, the more they are affected and most affected are those in the womb (I’m pregnant again so want to be super careful myself!). Our polluted air also makes our children more likely to develop asthma, as well as causing worsening of symptoms. We as adults are also affected with respiratory conditions and in total, air pollution shortens our lives in London by a massive 16 months!
“The pregnancy hormones made me very angry about this and I left my job to co-found Airlabs together with Professor Matthew Johnson, a Professor of Atmospheric Chemistry at the University of Copenhagen. Together with our team, we developed the first effective way to remove these harmful pollutants from the air, as well as engineer a “bubble” of air outdoors for people to enjoy. We have already developed clean air bus shelters for the Body Shop, as well as a clean air bench for Transport for London which is off Oxford Street.
“The Airbubbl, the unit we have just launched to clean pollution inside cars, was a light bulb moment during some research we carried out last year. We were looking for outdoor pollution hotspots in London using a specialised vehicle equipped with sensors. It also sensed the quality of air inside and what we found was that this was often far worse than outside – in fact up to 10 times the legal limits!! When you think of it, it makes sense – the air intake of your car is close to the exhaust of the vehicle in front and standard car filters only trap particles – harmful gases pass straight through. It is far more dangerous for your lungs to drive than to walk outside!
“Knowing we had the only proven technology to clean these gases, I set my team to work on the Airbubbl – to give parents a way to protect themselves and especially their children. It sits on the back of either headrest and delivers clean air to both the front and back seats. We have just launched pre-sales on Kickstarter but have already had interest from concerned parents around the world hoping we launch in their country. Anyone who drives in a city or in traffic, especially with their children, will benefit from the Airbubbl.
“I am passionate about reducing the health impacts of pollution – especially on children – and seeing our products in the market and knowing the positive impact they can have on people is incredibly rewarding. The reaction to the Airbubbl, which cleans the polluted air inside a car has been amazing – we have mothers of asthmatic children writing to us about how this will change their daily lives and others who are just grateful for the work we are doing highlighting the issues and giving them easy tips to protect their children.
“We still have so much to do – bringing our clean air zones to polluted cities such as Beijing and Delhi, integrating our technology into new cars and providing clean air workspaces and schools. And for that we will soon need to bring in further investment. It’s a huge task but I have an incredible team behind me who are all working to have the biggest impact on health we can globally.
“Running my own company actually makes it easier to combine both work and family – I can leave for nursery pick up at 5.30, taking calls as I walk there then be back online at 8.00 once Donnacha is in bed, for example. My husband is amazing and we share pickups and drop-offs which helps me be with my scientific research team in Copenhagen a day every week. I fit in exercise by running everywhere I can!
“When I’m not working, my greatest indulgence is to be in the countryside running and a few times a year I go away for the weekend and run ultra-marathon races up to 150 miles non-stop. Having that time away is so indulgent as I’m away from my family but it’s the time I need to clear my head, de-stress and get some clean air in my lungs!
“I think I manage to valance my work and home life by focusing on getting quality time with my children where I am completely focused on them (and not on my phone!). Donnacha loves to bake banana muffins with me and have little adventures like toasting marshmallows on a fire or going bug hunting. It’s easy to feel guilty about working but what really matters is that you are there for them when they need you. I could never provide the learning and play opportunities at home that he has at nursery so he gets the best of both worlds too.”