Bulgarian smart face mask start-up AirLief seeking investment to expand in CEE

Bulgarian smart face mask start-up AirLief seeking investment to expand in CEE

AirLief, a Bulgarian producer of protective face masks founded in 2017, aims to expand in Central and Eastern Europe and needs to attract investment in order to speed up its commercialization plan, founder and CEO PetarZhivkov told SeeNews.  

"A key objective for this quarter is to finalize our expansion strategy and be ready for entering Serbia and Poland by the start of the colder months," Zhivkov said in a recent interview with SeeNewsafter was granted "Bulgarian start-up of the year" award in the annual PowerUpcontest organised by InnoEnergyand Cleantech Bulgaria, a local organization supporting the development of start-ups in the field of smart cities, energy, climate change and sustainable development. 

"We will be also actively looking for investment over the next months," Zhivkov said but declined to elaborate on the amount of the needed investment.  

AirLief has carried out a feasibility study of the Serbian and Romanian markets which found growing but unmet demand for protection masks sustained over the past two or three years. "There are virtually no or few competitors and no market champion," Zhivkov said, adding that sustainability is also a big issue as the majority of masks sold on the markets in Serbia and Romania are disposable and it is harder to find good quality. 

As regards the market in Poland, AirLief has already made a pilot version of its data solution application which was tested in three Polish cities. Interest and satisfaction results were very promising so the company is further exploring opportunities in scaling the application across major cities in both Western and Eastern Europe. 

AirLiefmanufactures smart face masks made of 60% recycled materials that can connect to mobile devices via Bluetooth. AirLief masks provide prevention and protection against air pollutants and viruses, while the company's free application upgrades air quality data from over 80 countries with health information and automatic personalization tool. 

In terms of potential, the start-up sees Turkey as a viable option as well, and is currently exploring the market there.

AirLief's team consists of just seven people but the company plans three or four new hires. "The objective is to have the sales power locally - hence, we'll be looking for suitable people in Belgrade and Krakow," Zhivkov noted.  The company broke even at the end of 2019, it said in its presentation during the final stage of the start-up contest.  "We have achieved a 50% gross margin and 25% earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation, and amortization (EBITDA) margin. However, for the expansion and the commercialization of the data solutions, we need additional investment, private or public," the CEO said in the interview. 

In the context of the current coronavirus pandemic, AirLief has definitely witnessed a stronger demand for its protective masks - it has registered a monthly revenue growth of 400% in February and March. "Most of this spike in demand has been simply driven by fear. However, we expect to observe long-term habit change related to face masks," the CEO said. AirLief's forecast is for a 30-40% increase of its pre-crisis monthly recurring revenue in the third quarter of 2020. The start-up does not project a decrease in demand anytime soon as people will be wearing masks for quite some time. "Let's also not forget that air pollution is not going anywhere. 

In six months, Serbian, Bosnian, Bulgarian and Polish cities will be making again the top ten most polluted cities around the world!", Zhivkov noted.

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