In Arabic, hawa dawa means something like pure air. Which is precisely the issue that the Munich-based start-up Hawa Dawa is working on. The company has designed an AI-based system for mapping clean air in cities. By integrating all sources of air quality data (satellite data, weather data and geodata) with its own sensor network. This is how they create temporal and spacial maps which show air quality in high resolution.

Small measuring units are installed on lantern posts or buildings that collect raw data. With the help of the latest IoT technology, this data then sent to the cloud and is “adjusted accordingly by a central artificial intelligence to take account of weather conditions, sensor drift and other disruptive factors,” as the company states on its website. The software also combines this data with other data sources such as traffic, weather, and satellite data to generate area-wide models almost in real-time.

The inventors were presented with the Munich Startup Award 2019 at the Munich Oktoberfest as part of the Bits & Pretzels start-up festival back on October the 1st.

Innovation Origins spoke with CEO and co-founder Karim Tarraf about his company and his vision for Hawa Dawa.

The Hawa-Dawa-Team © Hawa Dawa

How did you come up with the idea of launching the start-up?

Whether in the field of development cooperation or within sustainable economic development, you always want to use your own work to change something in the world and make a positive difference. Unfortunately there is a lack of substance and influence in many areas of people’s everyday lives. This became very clear to me when Egypt was on the brink of collapse during the space of 18 days, despite the billions in economic aid it had received. Only by taking one’s own destiny into one’s own hands and entering unexplored territory in technology fields and business models, does anyone get an opportunity to change the world in a sustainable way. Of course, it is by no means a recipe or a guarantee for success. We founded Hawa Dawa with the conviction that with the right team, the right technology and the right approach, we would be around at the right time.

What makes Hawa Dawa so special compared to your competitors and what problems does it resolve?

In just two years, we were able to increase the number of cities and municipalities who we directly work with to 19. We have developed one of the most comprehensive technologies for the collection and analysis of environmental data on our own. In other words, we’ve made our own complete architecture that is specially designed for this application. In the coming months, we want to demonstrate the potential and scope of our company in three representative projects. As well as cater to the growing international interest at the same time.

What has been the biggest hurdle you have had to overcome?

Going your own way and building your own market means doing pioneering work. A path like this is in itself full of hurdles that need to be tackled successively and in a structured manner. Although this also means that you get going without solving every issue satisfactorily. In my opinion, this kind of approach is difficult in Germany and in Europe in general. All the boxes have to be ticked before you start. Thoroughness is often mistaken for a lack of courage. That’s why we respect those people who don’t care about the tech-scene glamour and who just ‘do their thing’.

Mainly local investors are still stuck in old business models. The will to help shape the world and how it will be (and should be) is too often left to pioneers from Silicon Valley or China. Pioneering spirit and thoroughness are among Germany’s virtues. “We are pioneers in a new market.”

What motivates you to go to work every morning?

Working at Hawa Dawa means not only contributing to a better environment, but also enabling open and spirited cooperation in a multicultural and interdisciplinary work environment. For instance, in our work we have noticed that we are able to recruit and inspire administrative staff and CEOs.

© Hawa Dawa

Was there ever a moment when you wanted to give up?

Of course. That is part of the journey. That you consciously decide against giving up and instead carry on. This validation is important.

And vice versa: What are you particularly proud of?

Our team, which managed to deliver an extremely complex product and a vision for sustainable cities.

What can we expect from Hawa Dawa in the coming years?

Reducing climate change and environmental pollutants, promoting sustainable mobility and healthy living environments are and will remain our main focus. Of the 500 largest companies in the world, 215 have submitted detailed climate reports. Their self-reflections are a stunning insight into the changing nature of global business. Companies estimate that USD 970 billion in assets are at risk from climate change. In most cases over the next five years. So the potential for smart technologies like Hawa Dawa to help resolve these problems are immense.

What is your vision for Hawa Dawa?

Reliable information on air pollution has so far been a matter for experts. Hawa Dawa’s vision is to use intelligent technologies in both the public and private sectors to integrate relevant air pollution data into decision-making processes. When air data is included in decisions on traffic and logistics management, real estate, urban planning and health management, we have the opportunity to fundamentally change cities.

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