Case-study: How I won € 75.000 to fight Air Pollution as a student

Cube houses, Rotterdam (The Netherlands)

Summary (timeline)

The title might look as clickbait, but it’s actually the truth. We won the amount of € 75.000 ($ 84k) in a innovation competition within the Dutch Ministry of Health in 2014. This amount was spent on app development, research and to remunerate some of our invested time in the process.

I did this project together with Margot de Heide, Ingelotte de Bont and Joost Wesseling (RIVM). This all came together after we got national media attention for our schoolproject ‘Qfit’ which was basically the core of the final idea. The app we made combined air pollution data, GPS location and the input of users (mostly people with lung disorders from Longfonds) to create and analyze datasets which could lead to better medication of lung disease and local air pollution.

Q stands for the world-famous Qube-houses located in Rotterdam from the Dutch architect Piet Blom.

Awards & Media attention

So we’ve won the RIVM Innovation Award, but we we’re also chosen as one of the best at the Rotterdam University ‘ExposedNow’ exhibition in the year 2014. Where we collaborated with DCMR Rotterdam-Rijnmond, the city of Rotterdam, and Creating010 (Rotterdam University) and got press coverage from Metro (biggest newspaper in The Netherlands), Profielen Magazine (University publication) and ANP (Dutch National Press Agency).


Qfit: from school project to national media item

The Qfit project was done during the Honours Programme from my Bachelor Programme in Communications at Rotterdam University (Hogeschool Rotterdam). The device was a ‘digital smelling device’ that had the ambitious goal of restraining air pollution in Rotterdam, The Netherlands. Originally they called it ‘The Sniffing Nose’ (I'm not joking) and it was a biking light concept. The actual air-sensor wasn’t ready at the time, so we were asked for a complete rebranding and (business) strategy.

We were completely stuck in the process and at one moment I had the famous ‘eureka!’ and came up with the idea of a portable air- and healthtracker like a Fitbit within the Quantified Self-movement. I backed this up with Gartner Hypecycle data and within weeks of brainstorming and realizing with the team (Margot de Heide, Ingelotte de Bont and Yoshua Botterhuis) we had something great to work on.

The design is inspired by those famous Cube Houses in Rotterdam

Yep, we only had prediction when the sensor could be ready and what the dimensions would be (2 by 2 centimeters). So we actually had the freedom as marketers to create a concept product to figure out if their was any demand for such a device. So we came up with the name ‘Qfit’. Q stands for the world-famous Qube-houses located in Rotterdam from the Dutch architect Piet Blom (top picture).

We also made a prototype in the laser cutting facility Stadslab 010. I never used a laser cutter before, but we just went in with an idea and the kind people over there helped us creating it. Now laser cutting comes pretty natural to me (learning, learning, learning!). As a final touch I took a hair elastic from my girlfriend and attached to the bike of Ingelotte and made a picture and a conceptvideo with Yoshua on his Vespa scooter (check it out). The design is inspired by those famous Cube Houses in Rotterdam.

So yes, this little wooden box is empty and not filled with any technology. Still we managed to market it that good that national media outlets picked it up and wrote about it. This is the part where I came in.

Qfit Air Tracker concept, photo by Nick Kiran

Next to the device we also made a concept / impression app that would give you points if you used a more environmentally friendly way of transportation (like riding a bike), it could also give you routing information on how to get to your destination as clean as possible, or provide you with healthy running tracks. For example we figured out that running beneath only trees isn’t necessary the best thing, where they stop emission gasses from going up, letting you inhale these during your run.

App design by Margot de Heide, initial concepts by me and the rest of the team

The points you received were redeemable at different hotspots in Rotterdam, so the system was also a marketing platform and a tool for local business owners to improve their revenue. The goal was to make the device as cheap as possible for the highest adoption rate possible and to serve as a great example of city marketing together with the city of Rotterdam.

Metro newspaper, full page coverage (I’m right on the picture)

One of the biggest and coolest achievements for me personally was that I convinced the Dutch newspaper Metro (the best read newspaper in The Netherlands) to write about the project, see image next to this textblock. Also the Dutch press agency ANP picked it up and the University Magazine — Profielen.

Quote from the article: “Rotterdam is coping with a lot of air pollution. But we don’t know much about this pollution on streetlevel. With this device, thousands of civilians can gather (probe) data through their bike for example, so we can analyze the air quality everywhere in the city. That is our dream.”

We delivered this project back to the technical students at the Rotterdam University, which could make it a reality. Only even up to this day (2 years later) nobody picked it up, where we had massive succes. We even pitched this to the innovation team at DCMR Rotterdam Rijnmond (environmental department Rotterdam-area). We didn’t want to give up, and right on that moment Joost Wesseling from the Dutch National Institute for Public Health and the Environment (RIVM) approached us for help.

Of course we said yes.


Ik heb Last App: When the Dutch National Institute for Public Health and the Environment picked it up and we won their annual innovation award

We we’re asked to adjust our concept a little bit to present it at the annual innovation competition at the Dutch National Institute for Public Health and the Environment.

Dutch minister Edith Schippers complemented us on the concept

We (Margot de Heide, Ingelotte de Bont and myself) made a video to demonstrate the functionality of a potential application (check it out) and eventually won the award and prize of €75.000 ($84k) to make the application a reality. Our dream was coming true.

Ik Heb Last App — Development: LabelA, Design: Margot de Heide (and others), Concept / copywriting: Nick Kiran (and others)

The price was great, but was just a start. After months of development, research and hard work the application is now available in the App Store for Apple iOS. The app combines the data about air pollution from the RIVM, the GPS-location of the user and their user profile (anonymously) to create solutions for people who suffer from poor air polution due to lung diseases and abnormalities.

Snippet of the MoSCoW method I’ve used

The ultimate goal for this application is to recognize potential correlation between air pollution, air toxics and people with lung diseases. This app is created in collaboration with Utrecht University, Longfonds (the Dutch lung disease foundation) and Milieudefensie (Friends of the Earth International).

Together with Margot and Ingelotte I’ve helped creating the app and used the MoSCoW-method (prioritization system: must haves, should haves, could haves and would haves) to determine the core functionality. I also did all the copy (text) and created the official website for the application. At the yearly convention of the Ministry of Health, Welfare and Sport, the actual Dutch minister Edith Schippers complemented us on the concept. The video that was presented at the yearly convention can be viewed on YouTube (in Dutch), it was made by an external party.

The next step could be working together with a party like Apple to use their healthkit metrics for gathering more and more data. That would be great.


Did you like this case study? You could drop me a line through my personal website NickKiran.com. Please keep in mind this project was done in 2014 during my studies.