The Air We Breathe

Marc Tarpenning
Spero Ventures
Published in
4 min readMar 26, 2020


The November 2018 Woolsey fire seen from Topanga, California. (Image credit: Peter Buschmann / U.S. Forest Service)

When wildfires ravaged California last fall, one university administrator was carefully monitoring the campuses she oversees. In the past, she had relied on a single air monitoring station maintained by the city, which was miles away. But the massive number of fires, each one tossing more and more ash into the wind, the obvious inconsistency of the air quality from campus to campus and building to building, plus her concern for the health of staff and students, drove her to look for a solution.

She purchased a system-wide technology platform that included dozens of linked IoT (internet of things) sensors. Soon she was watching smoke particulates move across the campus, revealing areas of relatively good air quality, as well as exceptionally poor air quality. She also had nodes installed inside some buildings, which showed which facilities provided properly filtered air and which ones needed upgrading. With the data from this new system, the college is developing a map-based plan for students and faculty so they can identify clean air safe-spaces in future fire seasons.

A close-up shot of the solar-powered Clarity Node device.

The system the administrator bought was made by a company called Clarity Movement, which is on a mission to help everyone breathe cleaner air. Last week, Spero Ventures co-led a Series A investment into the company, along with our partners at Amasia Ventures. Based in Oakland, California, Clarity provides low-cost and high-resolution air quality monitoring for its customers. Marc Tarpenning from Spero and Ramanan Raghavendran from Amasia will join the company’s board.

Air quality is a local problem — but it is a local problem everywhere:

  • The World Health Organization estimates that air pollution is the world’s number one environmental health risk, responsible for seven million premature deaths each year.
  • The World Bank calculates that those premature deaths and related illnesses cost the world economy $225 billion per year in lost productivity, not counting the impact on the quality of those lives and the lives of those around them.

According to evidence from previous coronavirus outbreaks, people who have been exposed to dirty air are more at risk of dying. Scientists who analyzed the Sars coronavirus outbreak in China in 2003 found that infected people who lived in areas with more air pollution were twice as likely to die as those in less polluted places.

Air pollution creates a large market for Clarity to achieve meaningful scale. With a small team, they operate in 70 cities in 30 different countries and are expanding rapidly, with data that covers millions of people.

Planned Clarity network in Paris.

In Paris, Clarity nodes map where and when dangerous levels of air pollution form. Potentially simple changes, such as modifying traffic rules or delivery times can protect vulnerable populations, such as school kids on recess, or the elderly.

Many times, environmentally-focused products can take decades to show results, but these kinds of changes improve people’s lives immediately and help drive product adoption.

As Peter Drucker famously said, “If you can’t measure it, you can’t improve it.” Without detailed data, no action can be taken. Detailed pollution maps can result in immediate improvement for people’s health, and can also inform long term change.

As we learn more about the negative impacts on air pollution, and with Clarity technology quantifying exactly where it is and where it is coming from, cities can make informed decisions on reducing emissions to have the biggest positive impact for the people who live there.

At Spero Ventures, we invest in technology companies that make life worth living. They fall into three categories: Health and Wellness for people and our planet; Work & Purpose; and Human Connection. We believe companies that focus on these important issues will comprise the next generation of billion-dollar companies.

Clarity believes that clean air is a human right. We are proud to partner with this mission-driven company as they grow to reach a billion people with their product.