I am a Fulbright scholar, Yale and IIT alum and have 10+ years of experience across private equity, product development, and environmental policy. Having worked in 7 countries across 5 continents, I have developed a great understanding of different cultures, which has been an invaluable skill during my journey.
I began my career as a Research Associate at J-PAL, working closely with India's Ministry of Environment on air pollution regulation. During my undergrad, I worked on nanotechnology based flexible solar cells in Ireland. After completing Masters In Environmental Management from Yale. I worked on solar asset financing at PEG Africa and clean energy investing at GoldenSet Capital. Today, I am the Founder & CEO of Blue Sky Analytics ("BSA"), a Geospatial Data Intelligence firm building environmental datasets for ESG investing and climate risk assessment. With all my work, I am committed towards Climate Action and female representation in decision making.
Blue Sky Analytics
One-line project summary:
Blue Sky Analytics uses satellite data and AI to provide high resolution environmental insights for ESG and Climate risk products.
Present your project.
Environmental monitoring today is done mostly either manually or via Internet-of-Things (IoT) sensors. Both of these methods are not only expensive but also provide low resolution data. These limitations have hindered climate action as: (i) the available environmental data is inadequate for the scale and intensity of climate risk being faced by the world; and (ii) procuring relevant environmental data is time-consuming, inefficient and expensive.
BSA is leveraging a combination of satellite data, cloud computing, and AI/Machine Learning to build an end-to-end Data Refinery that can process raw data into insightful information on critical environmental parameters in real-time. The data provided by BSA is not only of 1000x higher resolution but also 1/100th of the cost compared to the current solutions. In addition to serving critical decision makers in the private and government sectors, BSA is committed to democratising access to environmental data through its platforms.
Submit a video.
What specific problem are you solving?
According to a study by WHO, global warming is responsible for around 150,000 deaths each year, and this number may double by 2030 with the current emissions trajectory. Global warming also contributes to the spread of infectious diseases, creates conditions that lead to potentially fatal malnutrition and diarrhea, and increases the frequency and severity of heat waves, floods and other weather-related disasters, affecting millions across the planet. In a recent analysis of the relationship between heat and economic performance by Oxford Economics, hotter temperatures by 2100 due to climate change could slash global GDP by more than 20%, with the GDP for India falling by 90%, if global emissions do not decrease significantly.
Despite the severity of the situation, environmental data is inaccessible, of poor quality, fragmented and expensive making it difficult for the decision makers and the general public alike to effectively monitor emissions and mitigate climate. BSA was created to address this data gap through the use of AI/ML, satellite data, and the latest in cloud computing technology.
What is your project?
BSA aims to build a global environmental data stack. We leverage a set of technologies to build what we call a geospatial data refinery: a system that starts by ingesting satellite data, data from on-ground monitoring devices, and any other credible ancillary public datasets. We apply machine learning algorithms to clean, process, and store these data on the cloud. We then disseminate these data in the form of analytics and visuals to companies, governments, researchers, and the public through platforms like dashboards and APIs.
Our key innovation is that by applying the latest in cloud computing and AI, we are able to generate real-time, high resolution data on environmental parameters for a fraction of the cost of existing ground monitoring solutions. For example, for the cost of installing a low-cost monitor network in Kanpur (an Indian city in the state of Uttar Pradesh with an area of 403.7 square kilometers), aided by one regulatory standard air quality monitor, BSA can deliver air quality measurements for the entire state of Uttar Pradesh (an area of 243,286 square kilometers), thus reducing the cost by approximately by approximately 99%.
Who does your project serve, and in what ways is the project impacting their lives?
BSA aims to democratize environmental data by offering datasets that are as comprehensive and transparent as financial data are today. These datasets are intended to reach a wide range of stakeholders, from decision makers to the public, with the ultimate goal of benefiting all members of society through a cleaner, healthier environment and by mitigating climate change risks.
In 2019, BSA launched BreeZo, a pan-India ambient Air Quality platform that includes web and mobile apps to provide comprehensive information on air quality. It provides graphs, historical data, heat maps, and mean and exposure of pollutants including PM 2.5, PM10, NOx, SOx, CO and O3. Additionally, we have developed chatbots on Twitter, Facebook and Whatsapp to disseminate information about air quality. The platforms and chatbots are free for public use, and we have mechanisms for collecting user feedback. Further, we are adding regional Indian languages to the platform for wider outreach.
We are also doing pilot projects free of cost with several non-profits focusing on air pollution, where we provide access to our platform to help raise awareness about air pollution in specific cities of India. We have bi-monthly discussions with them when they provide us feedback to improve our products.
Which dimension of The Elevate Prize does your project most closely address?
Elevating issues and their projects by building awareness and driving action to solve the most difficult problems of our world
Explain how your project relates to The Elevate Prize and your selected dimension.
At present, environmental data is highly fragmented and inadequate. Moreover, it primarily lies under the purview of government bodies, especially in India, who simply collect it and provide no layer of analysis. BSA's platforms and datasets are accessible and detailed with rich visual analytics for a wide audience to drive informed decisions. Greater access to the public spreads more awareness, brings about change in community behaviour and pushes for a stronger narrative for climate action. Our APIs allow business, research and governments to incorporate environmental intelligence in their solutions, thereby enabling cleaner choices and effective action.
How did you come up with your project?
The idea for Blue Sky Analytics started with recognition of the acute air pollution crisis facing India and feeling compelled to create a business to tackle this and other environmental challenges. While I initially considered other business models, like selling air pollution masks, they all felt like band-aids on a much larger issue that required addressing the root causes of the problem, one of which is the sheer lack of reliable, comprehensive data. My experience working with the Indian government on air pollution monitoring highlighted to me how daunting it was to try and accurately measure pollution using the existing system of ground monitoring devices, and I knew there had to be better solutions.
My co-founder and I set out to build an air pollution data platform that harnesses the power of satellites and on-ground monitors to deliver accurate air pollution data. In addition to just focusing on air pollution, I also wanted to create a full environmental data stack which would provide insights on air, fire, water, ground, and many other indicators. To date, BSA has already started adding datasets for monitoring fire and water to its offerings.
Why are you passionate about your project?
At the age of 22, I joined the Jameel Poverty Action Lab working with India's Ministry of Environment and Central Pollution Control Board and spent significant time in the mining district of Chandrapur, Maharashtra for various work-related projects. Chandrapur lays on the confluence of Zarpat and Irai rivers, and on one of my visits, I witnessed the rivers carrying orange-colored water. I learned that runoff from mining operations went straight to the rivers, degrading water quality and making the water carcinogenic, ultimately polluting the entire district's water resources and inflicting critical health hazards. This incident stayed with me and solidified my life and career choices, making me realize that climate action was not someone else’s job but my own.
Why are you well-positioned to deliver this project?
To create a successful mission-driven business like BSA requires a unique combination of passion, grit, and determination in the face of many obstacles. While I have long been passionate about finding ways to address the coming climate crisis, BSA is my way of applying my combination of engineering, policy, and finance experience to tackle this crisis in an interdisciplinary manner. The causes of our current environmental crisis are linked to all dimensions of human activity and thus solutions must also reflect an understanding of how all of these pieces fit together. Creating effective solutions to a problem as multi-faceted as climate change requires someone who can navigate all of these arenas, but even more importantly, no one person can do this alone. I also pride myself in having built an amazing team comprised of developers, data scientists, designers, media experts, and more who all are all working together on building toward Blue Sky's vision.
Provide an example of your ability to overcome adversity.
When I started BSA, it was extremely difficult to convince people that a climate-focused tech startup was a viable business. I was repeatedly told that since we are focused on climate action, we should explore a non-profit structure as there is no money to be made in a climate-tech startup. There was a general lack of belief from the entire business community, and I faced repeated rejection as I tried to raise funds to build BSA.
However, I continued to persevere and approach people to pitch to them, while ensuring that we continued to work on our product. I told anybody who would listen about what we were trying to build with BSA, and why it was necessary, until the point where we found a few believers and raised our angel round. Our first major breakthrough was when we were selected as a MIT Solver in 2019, and for the first time, people realised that BSA could stand for tech, innovation, and entrepreneurship, not just a charitable cause. It is still an uphill task to change this narrative, but I am dedicated to building an example of how you can build a viable business while changing the world.
Describe a past experience that demonstrates your leadership ability.
The ongoing COVID-19 crisis has dampened the global economy and affected many start-ups and businesses. At the beginning of April 2020, I was extremely scared if I would be able to get BSA through this storm smoothly, as we were also in the middle of raising our seed funding round. By keeping a steady mind, I was able to close our funding round by ensuring that our investors continued to believe in our mission.
Additionally, by strategically managing our finances during the uncertain months, I was able to ensure that there was no disturbance to the headcount or payroll of the employees, and we even kept our promise to hire three more people who had been given an offer. At the same time, I was facing another challenge in terms of managing my employees. To ensure their safety, I made the decision to let my employees work from home, even before the lockdown in India was initiated. The journey from a physical office to a remote workplace while onboarding three employees on a completely remote basis was challenging, but with time and effort we are a proud remote-first company.
Where are you headquartered?Gurgaon, Haryana, India
What type of organization is your project?
For-profit, including B-Corp or similar models
Describe what makes your project innovative.
Conventionally, environmental monitoring has been a self-reported manual exercise. In the last 5 years, the sector saw a rise of IoT devices, which still have limited resolution. Earth Observation (EO) Satellites provide us with way better spatial and temporal coverage.
In the last 5 years, have also seen a high rise in cloud computing and AI capabilities to allow quick processing and deep analytics of crude and heavy EO datasets. What previously needed Supercomputers is today available with a few thousand dollars of Amazon Web Services (AWS) or Google Cloud credits; thereby democratizing EO data analytics for young entrepreneurs and engineers.
BSA, is an early adopter of all these technologies, leveraging Sentinel 5P data (launched in Q4 2017), AWS Sagemaker, TimeScale DB, etc. Further, traditional agencies analyzing satellite data do it in a piece-meal, non-continuous fashion. BSA has built automated data ingestion pipelines and an AI-enabled cloud-native data refinery that provides final datasets via accessible APIs to a variety of users and clients. Thus, yielding cost-effective automation and scalability using cloud and AI.
In addition, our approach is an unconventional amalgamation of deep-tech startup to solve the environmental crisis. After spending years in air pollution and environmental sectors, we realized that empowering an ecosystem with quick data to decrease system inefficiencies was the best way to enable swift and informed climate action.
What is your theory of change?
According to the UNEP's Chief Statistician, there is insufficient data for 68% of the Sustainable Development Goals' (SDG) environmental indicators. Further, due to this lack of environmental data, there is no clear way to track progress towards 12 SDG targets related to the state of environment. The lack of data has also corresponded to a lack of investment toward achieving the environmental dimension of the SDGs. Adequate and reliable environmental data is essential to achieve the SDGs as well as the targets provided by COP 25.
Current monitoring solutions are often expensive and have insufficient temporal and spatial coverage, particularly in developing countries. BSA was created to address this data gap through the use of AI/ML, satellite data, and the latest in cloud computing technology. Our vision is to democratize data related to air, water, and land pollution; and bridge the climate risk assessment gap between the climate research community and rest of the world.
At the site level, environmental monitoring can provide the data needed for local decision-making. Extensive monitoring of environmental quality on a wider national or regional scale through defined campaigns allows “state of environment” reports to be prepared that can give action programs a scientific basis.
By informing everyone in near real time about (with historical datasets and future predictions) about various industrial air pollution sources, water quantity and quality in various water bodies, etc., we expect a greater awareness, accountability and better decision making.
Select the key characteristics of the community you are impacting.
Which of the UN Sustainable Development Goals does your project address?
In which countries do you currently operate?
In which countries will you be operating within the next year?
How many people does your project currently serve? How many will it serve in one year? In five years?
Every year, millions of people breathe toxic air which not only impacts their health but also degrades the quality of their life. Through our first product BreeZo, our real-time air quality mapping dashboard, air quality information can be obtained at a very high spatial resolution of 1km2 across all of India. The app is user-centric enabling common people, technocrats, governments, and enterprises to use air quality data as needed. Our solution is targeted at making environmental data easily accessible. For instance, the states of Maharashtra and Karnataka will be able to view the pollution levels and emissions data from industrial clusters, vehicles etc. We are in conversation with various state governments for smart city partnerships. We are also doing pilot projects several non-profits, where we provide free access to our platform to help raise awareness about air pollution. Additionally, as our app is free, we are serving the Indian market with a population of approximately 1.33 billion.
In the next 1 year, we want to scale BreeZo to rest of the world and develop Zuri, a product developed to monitor farm and forest fires and analyze the bioenergy supply chain to serve the Indian market. Additionally, we want to finish scoping the market for developing products for climate risk and ESG due-diligence.
In the next 5 years, we aim to build datasets for monitoring water, soil quality, emissions and other environmental factors. These global datasets will serve the entire world, as the impacts of climate change have no boundaries.
What are your goals within the next year and within the next five years?
In the next year, I want to build a team of highly skilled and passionate climate entrepreneurs at BSA while at the same time ensuring that our technology is built in a scalable and reliable manner. With all my work, I am committed towards climate action and female representation in decision making. I have the following goals for next 5 years:
I believe that the world in 2030 will be completely different from the world of today and will require a high level of environmental consciousness. Accordingly, I want to start a women led climate action focused venture capital fund. My thesis is to invest $250k to $2 million in brands that are extremely sustainable and ensure that there is no single use plastic, no wasteful fast fashion and a high level of carbon and water accounting. I want to enable and catalyse the next generation of climate tech entrepreneurs all across the world.
In the 10 years of my career, I have witnessed a very poor representation of women in any decision making roles across capital markets, entrepreneurship circles and technology space. Instead of a pay or wealth gap, I perceive this imbalance in decision making as the root cause of an unequitable society. I want to promote young women to work in technology, sports, risk entrepreneurship and specifically running for office through my work.
I want to make BSA datasets the gold standard of environmental data, known across the world like Google.
What barriers currently exist for you to accomplish your goals in the next year and in the next five years?
Our project is a complex engineering undertaking, and though we have a team of dedicated and skilled developers and data scientists, we are facing multiple technical, financial, and go-to-market challenges which are listed below:
- As a young team with limited exposure to experienced managers and tech-mentors, we need help in workflow structuring and architecture;
- The heavy size of satellite products makes processing and data management a herculean engineering challenge; We need to enhance our knowledge and understanding of ML /AI models to efficiently deploy the best solutions;
- For the next five years, our biggest challenge will be in raising capital and building key business partnerships;
- We are operating in a relatively new tech-space, where revenue models are constantly evolving. Space-tech firms like Descartes Labs, Earthcube, and SpaceKnow have been doing good business, but an established go-to-market strategy is yet to evolve. Hence, a critical challenge is to obtain patient capital which can allow us to build technology and products while scoping and exploring business partnerships and customers;
- We want to become a key data provider to the regulatory agencies, which would require strong credibility and brand recognition. Similarly, cracking partnerships in the ESG investments, respiratory healthcare, and insurance sectors are not so simple and straightforward; and
- Expansion into other domains such as water quality monitoring and geographies would yield similar technical and business challenges.
How do you plan to overcome these barriers?
- We are solving for the technical product development challenges by seeking out various CTOs, senior developers and solution architects, and various professors as scientific or technical advisors to allocate 3-4 hours/ week of their time;
- We are participating in various incubation programs to solve for customer, partnership, and go-to-market challenges. As we have investors on board now, we also approach them to solve these problems
- We are also looking to increase our organic PR to both increase the applicant pipeline for various open roles and the customer pipeline for different products.
- Similarly, for partnerships and collaborations, we think the product speaks for itself wherein the team allocates the majority of its time into AI/ML modelling, data cleaning and processing, and building the dashboards.
What organizations do you currently partner with, if any? How are you working with them?
Globally we have partnerships with MIT Solve, the European Space Agency's Copernicus Masters program, and policy partnerships with the Energy Policy Institute at the University of Chicago, Schmidt Futures (for tech assistance) and the Patrick J. McGovern Foundation. We work closely with MIT Solve and the mentors provided by them to solve whatever current issues we are facing, such as hiring qualified employees, connecting with the right people, and general technology and business mentorship. We work with the European Space Agency to better understand satellite data whenever we face a roadblock, and we also get limited free satellite data from them as winners of the Copernicus Masters Award.
Schmidt Futures provides us with technical assistance and introduces us to technical experts whenever required. The Patrick J. McGovern Foundation has provided us with access to funds and their network. In India, we have partnerships with the Centre of Excellence for Research on Clean Air at IIT-Delhi for knowledge support, with Dr. Sagnik Dey as a Scientific Advisor. We also have a partnership with Social Alpha who helped us kick-start our pilot projects for our flagship product, BreeZo.
Additionally, we are incubated at NASSCOM (the apex body for the Indian IT Business Process Management (BPM) industry) in their 10000x startups program, the Internet and Mobile Association of India (IAMAI), T-Hub, Facebook AI for Social Good and The Common Room Summer Residency.
What is your business model?
In terms of the business model, we are first tapping the environmental monitoring market with our air pollution monitoring APIs (BreeZo and Zuri). In this market, we are a freemium data as a service (DaaS) business with three categories of clients: (i) B2B2C eyeballs based revenue via **the BreeZo mobile app, ads and media visualization sales; (ii) B2G subscriptions to BreeZo web platforms for various government and regulatory agencies; and (iii) B2B subscriptions for BreeZo APIs and dashboards for improved analytics or features on various products by sports apps, wearables, healthcare companies, the insurance industry and big media.
At the core of our sales are APIs. We provide datasets for each environmental parameter - air, water, emissions, fire, etc., that can be easily integrated and molded according to our client's needs. These datasets are built on an extensive aggregator, taking in data from geospatial and ground monitoring sources. The data has then been processed to a machine readable format which is usable by our clients in government and enterprise sectors.
We also have accessible platforms with rich visual analytics for the public. Our platform BreeZo for ambient air quality provides graphs, historical data, heatmaps, mean and exposure of various pollutants including PM 2.5, PM10, NOx, SOx, CO and O3. Additionally, we have developed chatbots on Twitter, Facebook and WhatsApp to disseminate information about air quality in an interactive manner. Further, we are adding support for Indian regional languages to the platform for wider outreach.
What is your path to financial sustainability?
In the coming decade, all parts of the world will be faced with many environmental challenges and will need to swiftly and efficiently make sustainable, environment-friendly decisions and systems.
Whether it is crop burning in Punjab, the water crisis in South Africa or the heat crisis in Middle-East, public institutions, private companies, insurance providers, and investors will increasingly require access to better environmental data to understand their own impact, take decisions regarding various projects, quantify risks in the warmed new world, or proactively lead a policy change.
Governments, foundations, global universities, and public institutions are becoming large consumers of such data. Thus we believe that there is a large white space and an exponentially rising demand in the environmental data market.
On the investment side, we are seeking financial stability via an innovative and hybrid mix of equity capital for technology development and grants for data and analytics dissemination to any non-profitable categories. From a sustainable business perspective, BSA aims to become a $700 million startup in the next 5 years, with a focus on the following 3 markets: environmental monitoring ($150 million), ESG due diligence data ($150 million), and climate risk assessment ($400 million). With our environmental intelligence datasets, we hope to address the total market with $20 million in annual recurring revenue (ARR) by 2022.
If you have raised funds for your project or are generating revenue, please provide details.
In terms of our financial resources, we have just closed our seed funding round of $1.2 million led by BEENEXT Emerging Asia Pte Ltd, along with Rainmatter Capital Private Limited and Stanford Angels & Entrepeneurs. We have also won around $750,000 in grants, awards and equity free grants through MIT Solve, the European Space Agency Copernicus Masters Social Entrepreneurship award, and the Social Alpha Liveability Project, among others.
We are already engaging in pre-sales paperwork with some clients in the wearables, insurance and healthcare sector for our first product BreeZo. A well-streamlined flow of revenue would be visible only after the second half of 2020.
What are your estimated expenses for 2020?
We prefer not disclosing this amount as it would be public. Please let us know if you need it to process the application further.
Why are you applying for The Elevate Prize?
We want to change the narrative that a climate tech start-up is not a profitable venture, as this is one of the biggest reasons that the best brains in this world are not working on climate change. The Elevate Prize will allow us to send this message to the world, will help us, and will hopefully drive more interest in the area of climate action.
Additionally, the Elevate Prize Foundation network will allow us access to mentors who will be crucial for us as we are trying to build technology in a fairly nascent global market with yet-evolving technology, business models and use-cases.
Access to Elevate Prize Foundation network will also allow for knowledge transfer, which will help us when we expand to different geographies and products. Additionally,the equity-free grant offered by Solve would help us allocate capital resources in design, development, marketing and dissemination of better data products and platforms.
In which of the following areas do you most need partners or support?
Please explain in more detail here.
Our project at BSA is a complex engineering undertaking, and though we have a stellar team, we still need abundant help to solve our technical challenges. We are in a fairly nascent global market with yet-evolving business models and use-cases, where guidance from the Elevate Prize Foundation network can be instrumental to our growth. Efficient management of our huge data corpus and improvising data processes while using our financial resources effectively is essential for us to deliver more value to the end-users.
Environmental issues have, over the years, transformed into a mundane category at various levels of Indian public, governmental, or private engagement. As Elevate Prize focuses on sharing the stories of changemakers, we believe that the Elevate Prize would make Blue Sky Analytics a brand and also change the narrative around conventional environmentalism. The equity-free grant offered by Elevate Prize would help us with our challenge of patient capital.
What organizations would you like to partner with, and how would you like to partner with them?
- Public institutions are the most significant stakeholders in the environmental ecosystem. We must build deep partnerships with various environmental ministries, regulatory agencies like National Green Tribunal and Courts in India, and monitoring agencies like state and central pollution control boards
- Various municipal corporations and leaders in local or state government who frame important environmental policies or undertake major projects
- Google, Xiaomi, Moody's, Blackrock, Reuters and Bloomberg for optimal and maximum data dissemination; Amazon Web Services and TimeScale DB for product development and data management
- Partnerships with leading print, digital, and broadcasting media agencies to enable the highest data and visualization dissemination
- Blue Sky sources satellite data from NASA, the European Space Agency and knowledge and data collaborations with them would be highly significant. We would also like to partner with the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) to leverage the potential of remote sensing data. Further, we would like to build partnerships with private data providers like Digital Globe and Planet for select high-resolution raw imagery.
- API integrations with respiratory healthcare companies like GSK, Novartis, and Cipla to integrate air quality data in deep analytics to improve supply chain and digital marketing strategies
- API integration with the life and health insurance industry to integrate air quality as a pricing factor to catalyze free-market based environmental awareness
- Engagement with think tanks, advocacy groups, and civil society organizations like the UN, World Resources institute and Gates Foundation to spread awareness about air pollution, emissions, and its impact on human health and environment
- Abhilasha Purwar Founder and CEO, Blue Sky Analytics