EO interviewed EO New Delhi member, Jai Dhar Gupta, to learn how he’s using entrepreneurship to tackle air pollution.
How did you take advantage of a health scare and turn it into a successful business?
EO was the root cause of my awakening. I signed up for the half-marathon at the EO Global Leadership Conference in Athens, Greece, in 2014, and I started training on the streets of Delhi. One evening, I developed a wheeze. Things went downhill pretty quickly. My lung function dropped 45% within two weeks! I went from feeling like a young man to feeling terminal in a matter of weeks. Desperate for a solution, I began visiting pulmonary specialists, all of whom threw the kitchen sink at it: tests, steroids, nebulisers, antibiotics, antihistamines … you name it, I was doing it.
Fast forward 11 months: I’m on a camping trip in Delhi, and I see a mom wearing a pollution mask. I started a dialogue. I was intrigued enough to research the masks when I got home. I was willing to try anything for my health. That was when I discovered PM2.5. All the health effects of PM2.5 were a match to my symptoms. From that point on, I started educating others about air pollution. I started researching solutions and means of protection, and every time I found a credible solution that worked for me, I decided to share it. What started out as a passion to learn turned into a business.
What are the effects of air pollution on one’s body, and how can we stay healthy?
Air pollution can affect our health in many ways, with both short-term and long-term effects. Different groups of individuals are affected by air pollution in different ways. The extent to which an individual is harmed by air pollution usually depends on the total exposure to the damaging pollutants; the duration of exposure and the concentration of the pollutants must be taken into account.
Examples of short-term effects include irritation to the eyes, nose and throat, and upper-respiratory infections like bronchitis and pneumonia. Other symptoms can include headaches, nausea and allergic reactions. Short-term air pollution can aggravate the medical conditions of individuals with asthma and emphysema. Long-term health effects can include chronic respiratory disease, lung cancer, heart disease and even damage to the brain, nerves, liver or kidneys. Continual exposure to air pollution affects the lungs of growing children and may aggravate or complicate medical conditions in the elderly.
You can protect yourself and remain healthy by being aware. Invest in a consumer air quality monitor or call an inspection company to conduct an air quality test in your home and office. Indoor air is typically of worse quality than outdoor air, so beware!
What are the pros and cons of creating a business around a niche product?
Today, the entire world is plagued by air pollution. There are both natural and man-made pollutants. What we offer the public seems like a niche product; however, as environmental consciousness grows and we gain access to information about the pollutants in our air, more and more people like us are adopting innovative solutions. For example, we’ve developed and backed products for round-the-clock protection: masks, car and room air purifiers, centralised air purification and air quality monitors. We are also considering a foray into the home inspection business.
How are you staying current as your industry evolves?
We have partnered with some of the leading media filtration and product companies in the world. Since we have our own retail operations, as well as premium locations, we have a pretty good sense of the untapped or evolving needs of the customer. We are young and nimble, and are able to design or innovate pretty quickly. Additionally, 1.25 billion people, combined with little or no environmental consciousness, spells a large opportunity in India. We’ve started looking for distributors in other South Asian countries that are also plagued by air pollution; those who are environmentalists at heart and can advocate for change. We have already secured a distributer in Nepal and are looking toward Bangladesh and Pakistan next.
Your masks continue to be a popular product in your region. How have you positioned your business for future success?
We innovate and constantly improve. As such, we become a moving target. We also partner with some of the leading media filter suppliers in the world, and we are at the forefront of technological changes. What’s more, we are the only company that spends big money on certifications from independent labs. Credibility and legitimacy are big differentiators, regardless of your industry.
Jai Gupta is a member of EO New Delhi, and has started an environmental products company, Nirvana Being, to protect us from air and water pollution, and create awareness of a more sustainable path. He is a Graduate of the Wharton School of Business.
This article was originally posted to Octane in June 2016.