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AOL founder gives FreshAir a fresh start with $100k investment

Oct 05, 2015   |   by Dave Solomon   |   NH Union Leader

In a world where smokers are finding more creative ways to circumvent smoking bans in places like hotel rooms, developers of smoker-sensing technology think they’ve struck on the next big thing.

Steve Case, venture capitalist and founder of AOL, agrees. He and a panel of judges awarded $100,000 in venture capital to the founders of a New Hampshire-based high-tech start-up called FreshAir. The “award” is actually an investment in the company that will net Case some equity in the business.

FreshAir team
The FreshAir team includes Drew Matter Th'15, Kwame Ohene-Adu ’14 Th’14 and Anani Sawadogo '14 Th'14.

“It’s a company that can really put New Hampshire on the map,” he said at the culmination of a pitch contest that saw seven start-ups promote their value proposition. “If they innovate successfully, they can build a great company, create a lot of jobs and change the world, because they are dealing with something that is really important to us in terms of health — basically making sure we and our kids are in safe environments.”

Case and his Rise of the Rest crew were in town as part of a nationwide roadtrip designed to bring attention to the fact that potential innovative hotspots like Manchester are too often overlooked by investors.

“Rise of the Rest is really an idea and to some extent a movement to try and promote entrepreneurship all across the country,” said Case. “Seventy percent of the venture capital in this country goes to Massachusetts, California and New York. The other 47 states fought over the other 30 percent. Opportunity is limited to a few places and we’re trying to level the playing field.”...

...FreshAir won the pitch competition among the seven contenders because of the potential for the product to succeed, but the judges were also impressed with the diversity of the eight-member startup team, with old and young, Asian, black and white talent all represented.

“It’s a great idea with incredible potential,” Case said. “It’s also a diverse team, reflective of our world out there, which is a great thing.”

The company, formally known as FreshAir Sensor, has developed technology that enables the operators of places like hotels, apartments or dormitories to install sensors in places where smokers might try to feed their habit. So far sensors have been developed that can pick up tobacco or marijuana smoke, and efforts are under way to develop sensors to detect dangerous chemicals in the air as well.

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