Startup@IITD: Mapping the Pollutants

Aerogram, a startup led by Dr Sarita Ahlawat with alumni of IIT-Delhi, is devising a network to predict real time air quality in a local mapped area. The designed device is equipped to monitor multiple pollutants. The startup is aligned with its vision to be the leading provider of data on air quality and be the most preferred air pollution management organization. The immediate aim is provisioning of real-time local air quality data based on micro-mapping of defined air pollutants to enable masses in taking timely and precise actions to limit exposure. Also, the data is to be leveraged by concerned authorities to help adopt suitable strategies to reduce/remove the sources of pollution. In order to achieve accuracy and efficiency in achieving the mission, Aerogram designs and builds its own low-cost AQM devices which are used to establish a robust network wherein the devices are technically capable of smooth communication amongst each other which allows effective calibration. The accuracy of data achieved via a robust network enables conducting a more in-depth analytics to generate reports and information which is shared with the concerned users.

Dr Sarita Ahalawat, CEO of Aerogram speaks to Dr Vanita Srivastava about her startup journey, the challenges and more.

Edited exceprts:

How and when did you get the idea for the startup?

While preparing for a marathon, I got sick. Being a biologist, I was intrigued on the causes of the sickness and realized that it's mainly because of the air pollution that has been rising in Delhi NCR during latter half of the year. This further sparked the concern on deteriorating air quality and its impact on the masses, especially children and senior citizens. To our surprise, the data available in our ecosystem was far from accurate and was not locally mapped. There was technology available in the market but there was a lot of scope for further improvement. We decided to build low-cost devices and its network which could help micro-map the defined air pollutants on real-time basis. This was to make near-accurate data easily available to the population so they could make informed decisions to limit exposure.

What were the major challenges?

Although air pollution is an established concern, not many stakeholders believed in our concept of creating a network of low-cost devices which could help create heat-maps for in-depth analysis. Our initiative was built completely out of passion and for social impact, which made it very difficult for us to develop a sustainable business which is the foremost criteria for many investors/stakeholders. Further, creating a network of our low-cost devices was a unique concept, which needed several iterations, consistent team and sufficient resources. Arranging that by convincing the naysayers took dedication and determination.

How were you able to compete with other players in the market?

One of the key realizations that encouraged us to setup was the huge gap in the existing offerings, particularly in technology and implementation. We consistently focused on our implementation plans continuously evolved our technology .

What are your future plans?

We intend to establish a robust network of low-cost AQM devices across India covering each state, city and district. The exhaustive data so gathered will help in our detailed analytics with which we can further venture into projects to reduce and prevent the air pollution. Further, in addition to monitoring existing defined air pollutants, we plan to monitor various harmful gases present in the air.

What is the most important thing you have learnt from your startup journey?

When to say no. Saying no to opportunities that do not align in your short/long term plan is very difficult at early stages, but is very important in order to not get distracted.

8th November 2019