After graduating in civil engineering from IIT-Madras, Deekshith Vara Prasad was working on an Indo-German project on air quality management. During this time, he had discussions with his professor and other IIT-M students who were working on the project about air pollution and its adverse impact. That, says Deekshith, was the trigger for AirOK Technologies Pvt Ltd, the venture he started with two other IIT-M alumni, Yasa Pavan Reddy and Sravan Krishna.
They wanted to develop an air purifier that used the latest technology, where the filter would be more efficient and last longer than other purifiers. The pollutants have changed over the years and the trio wanted to design and manufacture a filter that would counter all the pollutants. They did extensive studies, after which they launched the company in April 2015. Their plan was to not only make purifiers, but also have equipment to measure and monitor ambient air quality and offer customised solutions for various user segments.
According to Deekshith, Chief Executive Officer, AirOK, they handled a project for Doordarshan Kendra Chennai, which had a severe pollution problem in its server room, because of which the mother boards were getting corroded. “We successfully gave them a solution and they were happy. That gave us a boost,” he says. Being at IIT-M’s Incubation Cell helped their venture a lot, as they were able to test out their purifier in an office environment. They also got ₹5 lakh seed fund from the incubation cell, which helped them test and validate the filter.
AirOK raised about ₹12 crore from the Delhi-based SAR group, which markets the Livpure brand of purifiers, in November 2017. AirOK is using that money to launch its own purifiers in the market. While Livpure will sell only to the residential segment, AirOK will target the commercial, hospitality, industrial and hospital segments.
Yasa Pavan Reddy, CTO, says their filters can last up to a year, which brings down the cost substantially. The filters have also been designed to remove all types of pollutants. The innovation in the filter is not just in terms of technology; the founders had to keep a strict watch over the costs. Both Deekshith and Pavan say the biggest challenge they faced was in coming up with a filter that had the best of technology, lasted longer than other filters and was more efficient in clearing the air of pollutants, with a tight leash on costs. The pilots they did included a hospital in Chennai, where the bacteria level in the ICU came down after the air purifier was placed in the room. “We are confident that our air purifier will bring down the pollution in any kind of environment,” says Pavan.
Typically, he says, filters need to be changed once every 3-4 months, but AirOK’s filters will last a year. Their purifiers will be priced at around ₹20,000, almost half that of those in the market now. “Affordability is what will help us when we don’t have a brand name and once we establish ourselves, the brand will play a big part,” says Pavan.
It is their tight control on cost that has helped them price the purifier aggressively, he adds. The pricing and the filter technology, say Deekshith and Pavan, give them the confidence to face competition. The purifiers have Wi-Fi, bluetooth and touch interface and show how the filter is functioning. They can make up to 30 units a day and can go up to 1,000 at their present location itself. They anticipate that they will need to raise ₹25-30 crore within a year, if their growth plans are on track.
According to them, they hope to shortly launch outdoor air purifiers, which is at a concept stage. With some support, they hope to introduce it commercially in the next eight months. The other products in the pipeline are purifiers for cars and kitchens. Pavan says they have plans to go global too, for which they are applying for certifications. He says there are challenges in launching the air purifiers globally, but the acceptance for these purifiers is much greater abroad than in India.
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