We caught up with Yosi Romano, CEO and Co-Founder of Brizi. Brizi protects babies from the harmful effects of air pollution and informs the community on levels of air pollution. This is done via a physical device that cleans the air and delivers filtered air to the point of inhalation. This includes a sensor and app that shows the levels of air pollution in the form of a heat map.
The purpose of article series ‘Product | People | Potential’ is to feature and showcase the very best UK start-ups with great potential, truly inspiring businesses that are shaking up their sector. We capture and share the stories behind the name. We collate authentic peer to peer real-talk, while celebrating the growth and success thus far and gather a glimpse of what’s ahead.
Yosi: My name is Yosi Romano. Our company is an owner of a patent for a portable air filtration for young babies. It’s open air filtration, so you don’t have to put a face mask on your face – given kids under the age of three years old cannot put a facemask on.
We became aware to the problem of air pollution in urban centres all over the world, especially in Europe, due to the heavy use of diesel, but every urban centre globally is suffering from the same problem. Pollution can be the outcome of emissions of traffic, but it also could be the wear and tear of tyres, brakes, and tarmac. So you’ve got particles of metal, dust, gases and fumes floating in the air.
Children are shorter than us, and when they sit in their buggy or pram, they are nearer to the ground. They are actually situated where the heaviest and most dangerous parts of pollution are concentrated. We can all be exposed to a certain level of gas pollution in the air for a certain time and our lungs have the capacity to clean it after a while. In young children, however, the immune system is not fully developed, they can have harmful effects from this pollution in the form of allergy, limited capacity of lungs, respiratory illness, and when they are sat next to the ground, the heaviest particles of metal and rubber are situated close to the ground. That’s what we’re trying to prevent.
Yosi: We went to pram manufacturers initially with the idea, and they were happy to accommodate us with a trial. We didn’t want to lock ourselves in with one manufacturer, so we could make our product universal with any pram. By chance, we were exposed to the Dragon’s Den and one of the producers there asked if we would like to participate. At the stage that we were in, we were not sure if we would want to participate, but we took the challenge for a bit of exposure. We then met Touker Suleyman, one of the dragon’s on the show.
He has seven other baby products that he sells online on his platform, and for us it was the right thing to do to join someone who already has a platform for sales. He also has engineers that work for him and improve his products or take prototypes into realisation. We had all the clean air research covered in collaboration with the University of Surrey with Professor Prashant Kumar who is one of the leading scientists when it comes to urban air pollution. He was happy to experiment with us, because he had never heard about innovation like this.
We are now researching other options that became available thanks to the acceleration of technology, and that’s fascinating. Taking one product to the market is what you need to survive, but to innovate on top of that is really exciting for me.
Yosi: I came up with the idea when Alma, my daughter, was two years old. She was in her pram, we live in the centre of London, and just when we go to visit the grandparents or take her to the nursery. I realised most of the routes are next to main traffic routes. When I researched a little bit more with my brother, who studied biochemistry in Cambridge, I first became aware of what’s in the air we are breathing, but secondly of the hierarchy of the particles in the air. We ignore so many facts about the air until there is a problem. Now we are a bit more aware due to the Coronavirus, but we had started this project way before that.
Alma today is six years, so it’s been in the pipeline for four years. The latest pandemic made us look at other possible solutions.
Yosi: When you deal with patents, you don’t really know how to form a team that will have the answers for everything. We needed design, we needed air flow, air filtration, respiratory knowledge or expertise and we needed testing facilities that didn’t exist (that we needed to build specifically for that purpose).
We went to a design office in London called “Map Project Office”, and they have a team of twelve people with different expertise. They became equity owners and partners, because they believed in our product. We gave them a presentation, and they answered all our needs when it came to specific expertise, like design, engineering, electronics, etc. etc. You don’t want to collaborate with someone that you need today but you won’t need tomorrow.
Yosi: Initially we went to an antenatal group and asked them what they thought of something like this. We tried to do it very simply, and not to do a sales pitch, because we were not trying to sell it to them, we were trying to understand if they needed it.
As a parent, you’re busy with so many things. The milk, the diaper, the endless list of things you’re carrying and you don’t need to carry another thing, so it was important to make the device autonomous, to make it to attach to any kind of pram, to make it foldable, slim, and that it doesn’t look like a clunky and scary medical device!
That was our approach and then experimenting a little bit with Alma in the pram to see if the white noise disturbed her, alongside the flow of the air. We went through a few phases of innovation and then went to the antenatal group asking, “What do you need from this product?”.
When it comes to baby products, they need to fold, they need to be light-weight, they need to go on a flight, then need to go through mud! The innovation they put into prams is stunning. It’s answering a real need.
And that’s where Map and ourselves did a real leap when it comes to innovation, and let’s not forget the help from Professor Kumar and his expertise. And that’s what makes our product unique.
Yosi: To take a product and to test it outdoors in real life conditions when there are gusts of wind, and to learn how air moves, it’s unusual. We learned that air moves in cloud formation, rather than in gusts, and had to adapt to that. To create a product that is quiet enough, that’s a design issue. Luckily enough, our product is very padded as it needs to be comfortable for the head of the baby, and it muffles the sound. Babies are not so worried about monotonous noises, they are more worried about high pitches and change in pitch. These were the main obstacles.
Yosi: So we had a lot of talks with VCs, green VCs, ethical VCs… everyone who represents money and ethics and loved the product when they first heard about it. But it’s a physical product and until the time comes that the data is valuable, we rely on the physical product. And finding ‘Low Profile Holdings’ a company that Touker Suleyman owns, that was really important.
I said in the pitch that we came for Touker Suleyman and found Touker Suleyman. A few of the other investors got offended and I said, “Don’t get me wrong, we would be happy with any of you, but we came specifically for Touker Suleyman” and that’s who invested in the end.
A lot of pram companies are going into growth phase, and they know that we have more than one product in our pipeline, so they are the potential investors for us and not just VCs. If you get your investment from someone who is within the field of baby products, you can grow together. The efforts they are doing to expand their business in China can affect your business as well. We are hoping to go hand and hand with this type of investment.
Thank You for sharing!