Since the beginning of the competition, we designed our project from an entrepreneurial perspective. We wanted to go beyond the iGEM competition so that our project could have a real impact on health and the environment. To this end, we have taken many steps to assess the need of the public, quantify the demand for our device, and prove the usefulness of the services we would offer.
We conducted surveys and had several meetings with professionals to better answer these questions. We also took part in Medicen Summer School on Business Creation in Life Science and organized roundtables about “Entrepreneurship in Biotechnologies” during our meetup, to improve our entrepreneurship skills, and be able to better understand our market. After demonstrating there was a real need for our tool and a potential demand from experts in the field, we built an innovative functional air purifier. To ensure that our device was fully functional, we designed an app' that allows the customer to manage the filters recycling process.
From the beginning, we were also keen on taking advantage of our multidisciplinary skills. Not only did we focus on the biological aspect, but we also seeked to develop other essential aspects of the project to start a business. We were fully aware of the importance of protecting intellectual property when initiating a business. We benefited from the expertise of Azéline and Maud, two team members studying intellectual property law, who gave us valuable advice throughout the project.
Finally, our project could not have been done without the great support of our sponsors and our partners to whom we pitched ideas and presented our project. They helped us a great deal while achieving our goals.
Our team is made up of 15 passionate and hardworking students in their last year of master’s program, coming from parisian universities and Grandes Ecoles. We are a multidisciplinary team composed of biologists (UPMC and Diderot Paris 7), chemists (Chimie ParisTech), engineers (CentraleSupélec, Ecole Polytechnique, ESPCI), jurists (Paris Saclay University) and industrial designers (ENSCI-Les Ateliers). This multidisciplinary expertise was a great asset for our project since it allowed us to create synergies among our specialties and to constantly learn from each other.
Each member made the best use of his or her skills and expertise to ensure the project's success. Together, we now form a team that understands the importance of collaborating to ensure that we have acquired the proper knowledge to build a successful product and to create a sustainable business.
There is a worldwide rising concern about air pollution. 2016 WHO report estimates that 6.5 million people died from air pollution-related diseases in 2012. Outdoor air pollution is broadcasted, but household air pollution is less publicized but unfortunately not less deadly. There are many sources of indoor pollution in the domestic setting: smoking, cooking, aerosol cans, paint, etc. These sources produce organic volatile compounds which are among the most dangerous pollutants. Those compounds induce pathological disorders (cardiovascular, cerebral vascular accidents, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, lung cancer …). We worked on a solution called æther to avoid the accumulation of pollutants in the domestic setting where most people spend about 80% of their time.
Using a sustainable developmental approach, we worked on a compact scalable biomimetic device. Our solution differs from existing air purifiers through three assets:
- - it will be energetically autonomous (no battery, no plug);
- - not only will it trap the pollutants, but it will also degrade them. Existing devices often move the problem, as the pollutants are trapped and accumulated but not degraded;
- - the device will be a DIY kit based on simple material.
By doing so, we hope to make an affordable and user-friendly device which will actually be used by people all around the world, unlike existing air purifiers. Indeed existing tools represent a niche market for now, as they are very expensive.
Our device also includes a web application, whose functions are as follows:
- - Allow a better targeting of the filter according to the pollutants present in the consumer's home;
- - Allow the management of the life of the filters;
- - Raise awareness on good behavior to limit indoor pollution in the household (ventilation, materials to avoid ...)
This breakthrough air purifier is called aether in reference to the Greek goddess Aether who personifies Heaven in its upper parts, where the air is warmer and entirely pure. We conceived aether and thought it out like a real ecosystem. Indeed, we imagined the life cycle of our product from its conception up to the recycling of the filters.
We have been working since January on the development of an innovative material capable of decontaminating the air by capturing fine toxic particles. This material is a natural polymer, produced using synthetic biology. We selected the biopolymer according to multiple criteria: the elasticity, the resistance, the asepsis and finally the affinity with water. Indeed, the water will play a dual role: it will capture the pollutants and allow the enzymes on its surface, to degrade the trapped particles. The micro droplets that create a moist environment, will condense on our biopolymer. On one end of this biopolymer are fixed the enzymes, that will degrade the pollutants. On the other end anchoring proteins are fixed, to fasten our filter on many different surfaces. Our aim was to functionalize this polymer by linking it to enzymes that target a category of pollutants. We chose a degradation pathway that targets polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, as a proof of concept. Once the enzymes were purified, we characterized their activity.
Outside the laboratory, we already designed a model of our device and we are now working on the prototype. Our objective is to present a functional prototype with satisfactory performance by the end of December 2018. We also prepared a model of the smartphone application associated with the aether device. We plan to have finished the development of the app' around the same time. Indeed, our goal is to launch a big-scale beta testing by late 2019.
Our project stages are summed up in the following Gantt chart.
|TASK/ DEADLINES||T3 2017||T4 2017||T1 2018||T2 2018||T3 2018||T4 2018||T1 2019||T2 2019||T3 2019||T4 2019|
|Enzyme activity characterization Proof of concept with anthracene|
|Expansion to other polluants|
|Finding production sites|
|Design of the model|
|Design of prototype 1|
|Field testing prototype 1|
|Design of prototype 2|
|Field testing prototype 2|
|APPLICATION & DATA|
|Analysis of field testing 2|
|Participation to congresses (Giant Jamboree, TEDx,...)|
|Start up competitions|
|Publicity campaign launch|
To better understand our market, we proceeded in three steps.
- 1) Surveys and investigations
How is the air pollution issue perceived by citizens, and what potential solutions could be considered? We conceived a survey about the use of synthetic biology to fight air pollution, for which we received more than 2 300 responses worldwide. We obtained 1 874 answers from Europe, 213 from Asia, 97 from North America, 71 from Africa, 24 from South America and 9 from Oceania. The aim was to better understand the expectations of people concerning air pollution, and if the idea of using Synthetic Biology as a solution was well perceived and accepted. If some people are reluctant to let Synthetic Biology enter their everyday life, most consider that air pollution is a big enough issue to use new tools to fight it.
You may click on the questions to get a better look at the maps
- 2) Meetings with professionals
When sharing our vision and project goals with professionals, we realized the high demand for such a tool and so we became even more confident that it would be a good business opportunity. We discussed several situations and contexts our device could be used in. We benefited from their expertise to further develop our project. We were even told that if our system were to be fully functional, they would be willing to pilot it in the field and seriously consider a future collaboration.
Medicen Summer School on Business Creation in Life Science:
The Institut Pasteur, in partnership with the Medicen Paris Region competitiveness cluster, organized on July 6-7, the second edition of a summer university course, devoted to the creation of a life sciences business. This event aimed to give participants the essential skills needed when launching a business in life sciences (biotech, medtech, e-health, etc.). The Summer School explained the first stages of the creation of a start-up, dealt with the search for initial and secondary financing as well as the essential role of the team in the business creation process. A micro-coaching session allowed participants to benefit from personalized advice from experts with various profiles (entrepreneurs, investors, representatives of incubators and competitiveness clusters).
Réseau BIOTechno is a French network and a unique organization in Europe, uniting 12 doctoral students and PhDs associations of Biotechnology spread over the whole country. The aim of the event “Forum BIOtechno 2017” organized on June 16th, was to enable PhD students to highlight their skills transferable from Academia to industry. We took advantage of this opportunity to present our project to biotechnology experts. It was also a great opportunity to train ourselves to pitch the project.
VivaTech is the world’s rendezvous for startups and leaders to celebrate innovation together. It’s a gathering of the world’s brightest minds, talents, and products. On June 17th, we had the opportunity to present our project to several enterprises, get feedbacks and discuss potential partnerships.
French Ministry of Environment
On August 8th, 2017, we met Mr. Hubert Holin, in charge of air quality at the Ministry of the Environment. We introduced him to iGEM, our project, and the application scenario we envisioned. M. Holin cemented our idea of targeting indoor pollution. Indeed, he explained that when cleaning outside air, it is better to fight the sources than to offer a solution downstream. He also confirmed the advantage of an energy autonomous device, specifically for some emerging countries, where access to electricity is not always guaranteed. He told us that it would be interesting to have a first commercial phase (in the scenario, we considered rather a free distribution) on a smaller scale (10,000 copies for example). Such an approach would show the politicians that there is a true market for the general public and that there is a real solution to the problem of indoor air pollution. By mapping the pollutants, we could also sound the alarm. Finally, Mr. Holin gave us valuable advice on how we could get funding for aether.
City Hall of Paris
September 11th, 2017, we presented our project to City of Paris. Mrs. Caroline Daude, Transport Consultant, and Mr. Serge Orru, WWF France Advisor and Former Director, welcomed us to discuss aether. They were very interested in our project and in the fact that we are a multidisciplinary team. When we have our final prototype, we will come back to City Hall to talk about their potential support in the development of our project.
AIRPARIF is an organisation responsible for monitoring the air quality in the Paris agglomeration. On August 11th, 2017, we met with Thomas Alcaraz, engineer at Airparif, that gave us the opportunity to become members of the Airlab, a broad ecosystem with a network of actors in the fight against air pollution. It positions itself to push the structures of Ile-de-France and to develop employment and the economy around the fight against pollution.
7th morning of the HEIQA college of experts" (Health Environment and Indoor Air Quality)
On October 26th, two of our members, Azéline and Juliette, participated in the working morning of the HEIQA panel of experts. They attended a series of conferences on indoor air quality and could interact with allergy and health specialists and people working on the development of indoor air cleaners. This conference confirmed and backed a conclusion we had formed: there is still too little work and studies on indoor air while it is the most dangerous and toxic. Creating an indoor pollution database would be an excellent initiative. Azéline and Juliette then attended a conference on air purifiers with a presentation of the state of the art existing models. It turned out that systems that have the most chance of success in the future are those that do not consume energy (passive), that do not produce more pollutants after use, and that are not too expensive. Azéline and Juliette then had the opportunity to present our project aether, which received very good feedback.
- 3) Current state of the art air purifying devices market
Categorized as luxury products a few years back, air purifiers are emerging as a necessity product across the globe very fast, especially in developed economies. With increasing industrialization and expanding vehicle fleet, the quality of air across the globe is lowering at an alarming rate. In addition, coal used in thermal power generation and as a fuel source in households across many emerging and underdeveloped economies, is significantly deteriorating indoor air quality. Due to depleting air quality, people are encountering increasing health risks such as asthma, lung cancer and other respiratory and cardiovascular diseases. In the face of these statements, the demand for air purifiers has been increasing globally over the last few years.
According to “Global Air Purifiers Market By Filter Type, By End Use Sector, By Region, Competition Forecast and Opportunities, 2011 – 2021”, the global air purifiers market is projected to cross $ 29 billion by 2021. 50% of the air purifiers market is now in China. This market is growing constantly (average growth: 10-15% per year), and faster than we think. In 2017, we expect 9 million air purifiers will be sold in China. According to market projections, more than 50% of the Chinese population will be equipped before 2020. And the next market will probably be India.
We can divide the current supply in two main categories:.
Large companies where depollution is not the main activity: Philips, Dyson or LG. Traditional air purifiers. Their price fluctuates between 200 and 1,500 euros. These device suck up and filter the internal air, retaining particles and gases. Their biggest drawback is, when used at high performance levels, they are very noisy. They also use up a lot of energy, which in terms of "pollution balance" can be a paradox. Indeed in the many countries where the primary source of electricity production is coal, the trapping of a gram of pollutants by the filter of an air purifier, can induce simultaneously the release of 100 grams, while powering the device! Their maintenance is quite expensive: the filters, which can cost between 50 and 120 euros, must be changed at least once a year, or even more often in the most polluted countries. Nevertheless, they cannot filter ultra-fine particles, which are the most toxic, because they enter the blood and tissues, and are considered by WHO to be a major public health problem.
Startups like Aube, Air Serenity, Reqova…
We can divide the purifying methods in three groups:
- -Ionization: Ions have the virtue of cleaning the particles from the air by charging them electrically, once charged, the particles fall back down on the ground. The problem with conventional ionisers is that they emit a lot of ozone, a dangerous gas for health.
- -Photocatalysis: A process by which a photocatalyst causes a chemical reaction, in which the ultraviolet rays will degrade and decompose the polluting particles.
- -Cold Plasma: Air Serenity uses a unique cartridge that mixes a filter, absorbent sponges and cold plasma to capture fine particles, chemical pollutions and microbes.
Innovation capacity: There is currently no filter using our technology
Market share: We expect to occupy the segment of inexpensive air purifiers. There is little competition in this segment.
Today, there are only a few studies about indoor air pollution. We will create an unseen database about this issue and spread it with researchers. This side project will improve the visibility of our device, aether.
Our product is a modular device in its design, and can be modified according to specific needs (ie. adapt aether to cars, offices or schools)
The support of the Institut Pasteur gives us a certain exposure.
Less financial capacity (required for the development and the marketing plan)
Low brand image
We need to make engineering tests, and to measure our device’s performance under real conditions to ensure the viability of our product.
We need to define a “pollutant bank” and to design filters that are more specific to these pollutants.
Market with high growth potential: $29 billion in 2021.
If overall pollution decreases, specifically in Europe, scientific discoveries on the effects of pollution on health lead to lower tolerance levels.
Important players already well established on the market: Dyson, Philips, LG…
Newcomers: startups like Air Serenity, Teqova ...
Our system relies on intensive research that needs to be done.
In our global world, focused on innovation and entrepreneurship, it seems legitimate and necessary to protect one’s creation. For this purpose, multiple tools are available. But let’s start with the different parts of our project that deserve protection:
First of all, there are the biologics we produced in the lab.
- They are an invention. Thus, they could be protected by patent law.
There is our filter itself (or at this point: its prototype).
- This is an invention as well. But it is also a three-dimensional product.
Therefore, the filter could benefit from both protections: patent law; and design and model law.
Eventually, there is our logo.
- This last one could be protected by a copyright such as a trademark.
Patenting is an appropriate way to protect one’s creation: it offers a monopoly for the inventor, but this advantage is limited to 20 years in order to provide the society with a right to use and re-use the creation. Thus, the patent is an incentive tool for technological innovation. It contributes to technical progress, economic progress and social welfare. Therefore, it seems necessary to protect one’s product before entering the market.
Interested by such a protection for aether, we decided to patent our project. But a major problem occurred to us: Can we patent it even if we are involved in the iGEM competition ?
We made some research and asked the previous iGEM Paris Pasteur team (that has made a guide about iGEM and intellectual property). Here is what they wrote about patenting: “As previously mentioned, the rules of iGEM regarding patenting are quite unclear. On one hand, the foundation promotes open science when it comes to the parts deposited into the registry (…). But on the other hand, filing a provisional patent is one of the judging criteria of the “entrepreneurship track”, that allows teams to be eligible for a grand prize: “The cross-track entrepreneurship prize recognizes exceptional effort to build a business case and commercialize an iGEM project (...) Have you filed a provisional patent on your project/device/process? Have you raised money to build and ship products?”.”
From their work, we deduced that this grey area was profitable to patent. Thus, we continued our process to patent our final product, like the way we created it. Biobricks, as they are concerned, remain recorded in the registry of standard biological parts. This registry follows the open source spirit of Get & Give (&Share). Therefore, we did not want to patent our biobricks.
Nevertheless, one of the French patent condition was still a problem for us: novelty. Indeed, everything that has been disclosed to the public in any way, including material posted on wikis and presented during the giant jamboree cannot be patented.
Thus, to ensure the economic viability of aether, we chose to patent our project before going to Boston.
Unfortunately, because of a tight deadline, we did not patent our product before going to Boston.It is still possible for us to patent it in a country where a novelty grace period exists.
We decided to protect our prototype by depositing at the Institut Pasteur Patent office a request for patenting our device. It also benefits from design and model protection. Thus, its shape, its pattern and its color are ensured, such as its running.
At least our logo is safeguarded by copyright (there is no registration needed). Nonetheless everything in the scope of the iGEM competition falls under the Creative Commons (CC) attribution license 4.0, which is the most permissive license. Consequently, when we’ll have evolved enough to create a startup, we will add another protection to our logo: a trademark. This last attribute would be considered as our best achievement. In fact, it is the one that represents best the entrepreneurial aspect of our project. It will be a way to recognize aether through communication and to emphasize the value of our work. This trademark will become a distinctive sign for our future customers. Thus, it's truly important when developing our product and to enter the market.
The third iGEM Parisian Meetup
We decided to host an event where French teams could have the opportunity to present their projects in front of a public and jury, just like at the giant jamboree! The goal of this meeting was to: 1) place the teams in competition-like conditions; 2) socialize with the French teams and have a great time and 3) work together and consider the post-iGEM life from an entrepreneurship point of view. Indeed, the theme of our meetup was: what can I do after iGEM? With this perspective in mind, we organized round tables on entrepreneurship in biotech, open science and organized a pitch contest with experts, such as Lorenzo Croati of the Pitch School. Almost all the French teams took part in the meetup. We thank Bordeaux, Evry_Paris-Saclay, INSA-UPS_France, IONIS-Paris, Paris_Bettencourt and UPMC_Paris, for taking part in this event.
To conclude, we want to go beyond the iGEM competition with aether. To this end, we have taken many steps to assess the need of the public, quantify the demand for our device, and prove the usefulness of the services we would offer. Intellectual property was also one of our main concern during the past ten months. And finally we pushed other French teams to have the same entrepreneurial spirit by organizing the 3rd iGEM Parisian Meetup that was centered on the theme : what can I do after iGEM ?