First of all, how are you and your family doing in these COVID-19 times?
Tania Solé: We are all well. Thank you for asking.
Tell us about you, your career, how you joined AirSpeQ.
Tania Solé: I am a serial entrepreneur that has worked both in high tech and automotive emissions. Among others, one of the high tech companies was a networking company based out of Israel that was looking to open an office in the United States and which I ended up selling to Intel Corp. I also ran an automotive smog test only shop and coordinated with the Bureau of Automotive Repair (BAR) in California regarding the smog emissions program. Then about three and a half years ago, I was introduced to the founders of AirSpeQ by one of their advisors. After a couple of months of meeting, we agreed on the next steps for the company, so I agreed to join the company. It has really been a good fit with my background in both high technology and air pollution emissions.
How does AirSpeQ innovate?
Tania Solé: The founders have been at the forefront of particulate matter monitor development. The company has been funded through small business innovation grants (SBIR’s) from US government agencies that include the National Science Foundation (NSF), National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), and National Institutes of Health (NIH.)
How the coronavirus pandemic affects your business, and how are you coping?
Tania Solé: Fortunately, our SBIR funding has not been impacted; however, it has delayed an equity investment which would have allowed us to expedite our go to market plans.
Did you have to make difficult choices, and what are the lessons learned?
Tania Solé: We were in the process of hiring, and so the pandemic and strict shelter in place in California delayed and complicated some of our hiring. We had a couple of false starts as we had to change our hiring processes to a largely virtual process, which created some issues. In the end, we settled on a process that involved initial virtual interviews with a follow up in-person interview with only one person on the team and the rest of the team on screens. We have now successfully added two additional team members.
How do you deal with stress and anxiety?
Tania Solé: Personally, the first six months of the pandemic were a bit disorienting, but then AirSpeQ was selected as one of the winners of the Talents Taipei 2020 competition. Winning meant that I got to go to Taipei for a month. While I did have to quarantine for two weeks, I also got to experience life almost the way it was pre-pandemic. Those four weeks in Taipei allowed me to see the light at the end of the tunnel, regain a lot of confidence and understand that the future for AirSpeQ is very good.
Who are your competitors? And how do you plan to stay in the game?
Tania Solé: In a certain way, the air pollution monitoring space is a very crowded space. There are high-end laboratory-grade equipment manufacturers that sell expensive monitoring equipment to governments and large organizations, and there are a lot of what are known to be low-cost, low-quality optical sensor manufacturers. In fact, when I had the virtual interview for the Talents Taipei 2020 competition, the program director was a bit dismissive and said that there were a lot of companies trying to solve this problem but that nobody was succeeding. I let him speak a bit, and then I finally interrupted him and asked him how many were funded by NASA, NIH, and NSF. I suppose it was a good answer because they did end up selecting us.
Your final thoughts?
Tania Solé: The reality for AirSpeQ is that Covid-19 has only broadened and reinforced awareness as to how very noxious air pollution and especially fine and ultrafine particulate matter air pollution is to human, animal, and plant health.
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