Dan Bowden, a member of the second cohort at URBAN-X, helps active urbanites in polluted megacities like Beijing and London to reclaim their outdoor lifestyles and commute and exercise without fear of breathing highly polluted air. Dan, who co-founded the company in 2016, talks about the origins and ambitions of O2O2.
What inspired you to start O2O2?
All three founders experienced air pollution and the failures of the current technology separately. Jerry wore masks and respirators on a daily basis and knew deeply of the discomfort and flaws in the technology from a user’s perspective. I (Dan) was living in London and was aware of the little recognized public health crisis caused by air pollution. While experts estimate there are some 10,000 deaths every year in the UK from air pollution, there was a paucity of information to enable community understanding and create a personal connection to the issue. Finally, for Ilya, the issue was more personal. Ilya’s family faced serious health problems while in China and in his case the issues were so bad they triggering a move to New Zealand.
As products offered to the market have not fundamentally changed since the 1960s, we believed there was an opportunity to leverage the emerging properties of nanofibers, recent advancements in battery technologies and advanced computer modeling to create a new solution for those at risk of air pollution
What is your main mission?
O2O2’s mission is to empower our community to enjoy their cities again without the fear of air pollution. By virtue of being a powered device with the integration of sensors, we will also collect invaluable data on personal health and on the environment, diagnosing health issues and optimizing exercise regimes.
How did being part of the URBAN-X ecosystem help you to grow and develop your initial idea/product and deal with the roadblocks you have faced so far?
We walked into the doors of URBAN-X with a Tupperware container, some patents and a few very rough prototypes. We walked out with an engineering proof of concept, a product which was validated to an academic level, some amazing partners, a network of contacts and lasting friendships. For us URBAN-X was the catalyst for our business and opened doors which were otherwise closed to a company of our size and maturity. I personally found it invaluable to be in an environment of creativity and new thought.
OUR SOCIAL STRATEGY IS CLOSELY LINKED TO OUR ENVIRONMENTAL ONE.
—Dan Bowden, Co-Founder of O2O2
What’s next for O2O2?
We are now taking our engineering prototype to a consumer product, reducing the product’s weight, battery efficiency, aesthetics & connectivity. Partnerships which will help us create size and scale.
In the longer term we are integrating sensors which will create personal and environmental data.
What are the main risks you are facing in the future and how can they be mitigated?
O2O2 has an amazing global opportunity at hand, but with hardware and a desire to become a full stack solution comes a lot of challenges. Some examples are the immense scope of opportunity, copycats, scaling and the challenges that come with targeting the Chinese market.
In light of these challenges, we are making sure we are enjoying the ride which is important to keep you motivated, passionate and gives us some perspective on what we are trying to do.
There aren’t many companies proposing new pollution-filtering wearables and what O2O2 is developing is a radical shift away from the white paper masks we have in mind when we think of such products – how difficult will it be for O2O2 to overcome behavioral barriers and convince people to actually wear such futuristic masks?
Firstly, we need to identify the right audience. O2O2 has to focus on people who already wear masks or respirators, and will be looking to engage with those who are already frustrated with the products on the market and have a chronic need. Within this group we have to find those early adopters – the young, educated, tech natives who don’t look backwards but look forward, they want to be out and enjoying their city. We believe we have identified this market with the 20-30yr old Chinese and will design our product and whole user experience for them.
As an educated target market we do require external validation, which is why we have a partnership with AUT in place. We have a special weapon in that by virtue of being a powered device we are able to also provide the user with live feedback.