Ran Korber of BreezoMeter: “Final piece of advice is to always think positively”

My fifth and final piece of advice is to always think positively. Doing so has provided me strength and pushed me to always move forward. It is basic but important. If you believe you are doing good in the world and each step forward brings positive change there is no need to imagine failure. In […]

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My fifth and final piece of advice is to always think positively. Doing so has provided me strength and pushed me to always move forward. It is basic but important. If you believe you are doing good in the world and each step forward brings positive change there is no need to imagine failure.

In recent years, Big Tech has gotten a bad rep. But of course many tech companies are doing important work making monumental positive changes to society, health, and the environment. To highlight these, we started a new interview series about “Technology Making An Important Positive Social Impact”. We are interviewing leaders of tech companies who are creating or have created a tech product that is helping to make a positive change in people’s lives or the environment. As a part of this series, I had the pleasure of interviewing Ran Korber.

Ran is the CEO & Co-founder of BreezoMeter. His burning ambition is to improve the health and quality of life for billions of people across the globe by providing accurate and actionable air quality data. He has a B.Sc. in Environmental Engineering from Technion and vast experience in the environmental and health fields, as a former environmental manager at F&C LTD. As co-founder and CEO of BreezoMeter, he is proud to be able to work towards bringing his dream to fruition each day.


Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series. Before we dive in, our readers would love to learn a bit more about you. Can you tell us a bit about your childhood backstory and how you grew up?

Born in 1982, I have been passionate about the environment since my childhood in Haifa, where the issue of air quality in the beautiful, but polluted, city regularly receives news coverage and is a concern among everyone who lives there.

As a kid I had a very busy schedule. I enjoyed studying, reading as many books as I could, and playing basketball. As a small child I studied for 10–12 hours a day in various programs for gifted children and at the same time played basketball on multiple teams.

Once out of high school I served in one of the Israel Defence Force’s (IDF’s) elite computer units and became a logistics officer. Following my IDF service, I went on to study at the Technion, the Israeli Institute of Technology, ranked amongst the world’s top 100 universities. There I received a BSC in environmental engineering, winning first prize in 2011 among the renewable energy projects sponsored by the Israel Sustainable Energy Society. While still studying at the Technion, I became the first Chief Environmental Officer, and supervised several chemical plants belonging to Israel Chemicals Ltd (ICL), a multinational manufacturing concern.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?

In 2015 BreezoMeter was recognized for excellence by the United Nations and the White House. I had the privilege to meet former U.S. President Barack Obama twice: once in the White House and once when he invited me as part of his collaborative advisory group, Presidential Ambassadors for Global Entrepreneurship, alongside famous entrepreneurs to the first visit he had in Kenya as President. On the same trip I also met President Kenyatta, the President of Kenya.

Between 2015–2019 I met and showcased our technology to many world leaders such as the PM of France, and the President of Catalonia. All of them were so supportive of BreezoMeter’s mission and truly believed in the impact it could have on the world.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

There are a great number of people who have helped along the way, and I am grateful to every one of them.

One person in particular who I am grateful towards is Aviad (Avi) Eyal, the co-founder and managing partner of Entree Capital. In the summer of 2014, BreezoMeter was less than a year old. At that time the company raised a pre-seed amount of 220k which was for launching our first product in the United States. We hoped this launch would allow us to close our Series Seed before we ran out of cash to pay our first employees. Unfortunately, the 2014 Gaza War, also known as Operation Protective Edge took place and many Israelis were called for reserve duty.

Running a start-up is a battle in and of itself, and now BreezoMeter had to manage another battle on top of that. Not only that, we were almost out of capital with no investors willing to meet with us because of the missile fires, no ability to travel outside of the country, and no product ready for U.S. launch due to many of our team members being called for reserve duty. Without me even asking Avi offered to further invest in the company and even convinced another investor to join. That kept the lights on after the operation was over and for enough time for BreezoMeter to launch the product and eventually get seed funding from a Silicon Valley based VC.

Even today I know I can still count on Avi to have my back. He has taught me to never give up. He also has helped many other companies in similar ways, saving them and investing capital at critical times.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“If you find unique ways to pull disciplines together, you open up experience for people. … You solve problems that people didn’t even know they had and build products they couldn’t live without” — From the book the Creator Code pg. 137

This quote is especially relevant to how we built our team at Breezometer. In order to create a product that was unprecedented in technology — in a market that needed to be educated — we knew success was dependent on the people we enlisted. Every person at Breezometer brings a different background or point of view to the team, which can be a challenge, but results in the best ideas. Our strategy and product direction is often the result of cross departmental brainstorms and hackathons. The input of experts across the company has had a tremendous impact on our technological and product ideas.

Our belief is that if you bring an air pollution expert, a meteorology expert, big data engineers, product specialists, and marketing and sales professionals together in the same room, magic will inevitably happen.

You are a successful business leader. Which three character traits do you think were most instrumental to your success? Can you please share a story or example for each?

I think the three traits that were most instrumental to my success were my investment in people and culture, my focus on doing good, and the fact that I dream big. All three of these have driven me to accomplish all I have today. Investing in people and culture has been a big focus at BreezoMeter. I created a company that puts focus on the right culture and celebrates its employees, and in doing so managed to cultivate a group of passionate, creative teammates. The unique methodology for monitoring exposure to the air that we breathe has come to be trusted by leading brands across industries. But this powerful technology is only made possible by an unparalleled level of dedication between colleagues and to the mission. Today it is each individual’s contribution plus the people-focused culture that remains the secret sauce to BreezoMeter’s success.

My focus on doing good by improving people’s health and dreaming big are the two traits that led me to creating BreezoMeter, and pushes me to continue growing the company. When BreezoMeter was first established, air pollution was (and I believe still is) the world’s biggest health challenge. As more and more people became aware of the stark realities of climate change, we expanded our solution to inform people about other environmental hazards that have worsened in terms of impact on human health and safety — e.g., Fires and Pollen.

Then, last year we faced a new world challenge: The spread of a global virus which, according to experts, was “a once in 100 years catastrophic event”. As a company with the mission to improve the health of billions I wanted to aid in the mitigation of the coronavirus’s impact on our health, in any way that I could.

In response to the virus, BreezoMeter held an internal cross-team hackathon to explore the subject in more detail. The ultimate aim was to deliver meaningful information that would be of practical use to the public and the most vulnerable segments of society. The hackathon was focused on research for finding the cause for severe covid -19 symptoms and what effect they have. We wanted to contribute to bigger research projects that would benefit the general population.

Let’s now shift to the main part of our discussion about the tech tools that you are helping to create that can make a positive impact on the planet and the environment. To begin, which particular problems are you aiming to solve?

According to the World Health Organization, more than 91% of the world’s population lives in areas where air pollution exceeds its established guideline limits. Additionally, approximately 8.9 million annual deaths are attributed to air pollution. The COVID-19 pandemic, which has resulted in devastating health impacts for millions of people around the world, has further highlighted the negative effects of air pollution exposure on our health. Multiple studies have found a link between exposure to hazardous air pollutants and increased COVID-19 death rates. I want to protect people from the dangers of air pollution and help them be more aware of their surroundings. Air pollution is invisible, you cannot see it, you can’t feel it and you can’t even smell it. And for us humans it’s hard to fight or avoid something we cannot see. Due to an information gap people are even less aware of air pollution, according to the U.S EPA: “About 120 million Americans live in areas that have no EPA pollution monitors at all”.

Air pollution is extremely dynamic, it fluctuates on an hourly basis and can show different results at any given time from street to street. This is due to human activity and our effect on air pollution. For example traffic, lockdown and power plant emission.

Before BreezoMeter every air pollution forecasting service used the same government data that drew from the same sensors. The biggest problem is that to predict the air pollution and pollen, you need to have observations and you need to have specific models that use those observations. I aim to address this with BreezoMeter.

How do you think your technology can address this?

To solve this challenge we gather data from multiple sources and have developed sophisticated AI and ML algorithms that crunch thousands of different data sources from millions of observations. We take into account ground measurements and satellite observations from multiple space-borne platforms. We then use a range of models, and add to those, machine learning algorithms, and official governmental information which together provide a full set of data on the fires. In addition to that, we also take into account additional information like weather, traffic, land cover and terrain.

It is of particular importance to us to be able to continuously check our accuracy, as well as validate ourselves to observational data wherever available. We are dedicated to consistently improving our algorithms and methods and reevaluating the data and methods that we use.

We also found that providing a visualization of the behavior of air pollution events made it far easier to understand the location and dynamic behavior of the pollution in order to take action accordingly.

Can you tell us the backstory about what inspired you to originally feel passionate about this cause?

The road to the foundation of BreezoMeter began in 2012. After studying at the Technion Institute of Technology and working as an environmental engineer in several factories, my wife and I were ready to settle down and had begun the process of looking for a home. My wife is ashtmatic and at that time she was pregnant with our older daughter.

We had the usual checklist of parameters that every couple has, from apartment size to the rankings of the local schools. As an environmental engineer, I also knew the dangerous effects of long-term exposure to air pollution and how they could jeopardize the wellbeing of my wife and daughter. So I turned to my colleagues in the environmental protection agency with what I assumed would be a simple question: where is the healthiest place to live in Israel’s northern region?

Turns out, getting a reliable answer wasn’t that simple. To my astonishment, there was no credible data from which to draw a verified conclusion. While the environmental protection agency did monitor air pollution, they only provided a very partial image. Because of the wide dispersion of the pollution sensor units they were using, you could often see as big as a 50-kilometer gap between one sensor and another. That’s not exactly what you would call location-specific. When I was unable to find the information I needed, the idea of an app to map and quantify pollution down to street level resolution was born.

My next step was to turn to my long time best friend, Emil. He was a natural choice with a B.Sc. in Software Engineering at the Technion under his belt, experience in hi-tech and major defence projects and a passion for solving technological problems in our environmentally challenged world. Together we put in motion the beginnings of BreezoMeter.

How do you think this might change the world?

Apple’s adoption of BreezoMeter’s air quality data in their weather app was a gigantic step towards better global outreach, opening the door for hundreds of millions of potential users, something the team and I are incredibly proud of. My main objective for the near future is to go from millions to billions of potential users, expanding the amount of people who will use BreezoMeter to make educated decisions that improve their personal health and lifestyle. In the long term, we will be able to not only inform the public on air pollution levels but also provide accurate data on the risks from pollen, weather, and fires.

Our mission at BreezoMeter is to improve the health and quality of life for billions of people worldwide, by providing accurate and actionable environmental data and insights. I would like to increase our forecasting capabilities in the future by incorporating earthquake predictions, and information on local water, radiation and more.

Keeping “Black Mirror” and the “Law of Unintended Consequences” in mind, can you see any potential drawbacks about this technology that people should think more deeply about?

This is a technology which really can only be used for good. The only drawback I see is that the public doesn’t always know who to trust. If a body is seen as the “authority” then the public will come to them for reliable data. But because their methods of monitoring or their minimal data sources sometimes hinder the reliability of the air quality data this can lead to unhealthy situations.

Based on your experience and success, can you please share “Five things you need to know to successfully create technology that can make a positive social impact”? (Please share a story or an example, for each.)

I hold true what Reid Hoffman, Linkedin’s co-founder, famously said: “Starting a company is like throwing yourself off the cliff and assembling an airplane on the way down.” Creating something out of nothing, especially something that didn’t precisely exist before, is not a walk in the park. You have to be all-in.

The first thing you need to create a successful technology that can make a positive social impact is to focus on doing good. If you at least focus on a positive social impact, karma can be on your side. It’s not about making money or getting glory, it’s about succeeding for the sole purpose of helping others.

The second thing you need to do is think outside the box. With no income and no VC money in the beginning we needed to be creative. We decided to sign up for a variety of startup competitions. This brings me to my third point; never give up. We didn’t win every competition that we signed up for. Since we remained steadfast, BreezoMeter eventually was one of the six chosen winners in a UN competition for the most innovative ideas that could positively affect the world. Simultaneously, the company won Israel’s Most Promising Startup award during the global entrepreneurship week and later won the global award in the same category as well.

The fourth I talked about previously but bears mentioning again, the people are the secret to success. It’s important to find employees who share a genuine passion with the mission statement of the company and the goals of the organization. For example, people who connect to topics of social progress like protecting the environment, health equity, and improving people’s lives. Luckily, a significant portion of the modern workforce is looking to work for a company whose vision they believe in, and the team that grew with us, and continues to grow, is the nucleus of the impact we have had.

My fifth and final piece of advice is to always think positively. Doing so has provided me strength and pushed me to always move forward. It is basic but important. If you believe you are doing good in the world and each step forward brings positive change there is no need to imagine failure.

If you could tell other young people one thing about why they should consider making a positive impact on our environment or society, like you, what would you tell them?

It’s no secret that we invest most of our waking hours into work. So why not invest those hours into creating a positive social and environmental impact? The ROI you will get when all of those dedicated work hours are going into something positive is an enticing incentive alone. It’s also great to see how proud your children are of having a dad that works at a place whose mission is to help the world.

Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why?

If I could have a private breakfast or lunch with any person in the world it would have to be Al Gore. For more than 40 years, former Vice President Al Gore has been at the forefront of the movement to solve the global climate crisis. Today, VP Gore maintains his role as one of the leading figures in the global movement to solve the climate crisis. As chairman of the Climate Reality Project — the organization he founded in 2005 — he has trained thousands of committed activists to discuss the reality of the climate crisis and its solutions.

How can our readers further follow your work online?

www.breezometer.com

Linkedin: https://www.linkedin.com/in/ran-korber-aa721a29/

Thank you so much for joining us. This was very inspirational, and we wish you continued success in your important work.

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