, Singapore

23-year-old designs aircraft seat on actual 3D scanning data of human body

Economy class will never be the same again.

A 2014 survey shows that nearly 90% of passengers want a more comfortable seat and 45% said they would pay extra. However, the gap between economy and business makes it an unreasonable upgrade that not many can afford. This is what AirGo team want to revolutionize.

23-year old Alireza Yaghoubi with friends Mikko Alanko and Ali Jahanshahi, founded in mid-2013 AirGo Design based on an award-winning concept that is all about a better travel experience for the other 99%.

Alireza argues that the airline industry in the past few decades has spent billions of dollars on improving the business and first class seats, but that he says is too much emphasis on too few customers which leads to a lack of scalability in the industry. “This approach is the main reason behind the low profitability of airlines. On average, airlines have a projected net profit margin of 2.6% internationally ($5.94 per passenger) for 2014 and in more competitive markets like the US, only a profit of 0.1% or 21 cents per passenger. While more airlines go bankrupt year by year due to lack of profitability, air travelers are not happy either.”

In the 2011 American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI), airlines ranked last among 47 different industries and surveys continue to be mostly negative to date. At AirGo, the founders believe that 60 years of using the same technology in aircraft interiors is the main cause of profitability problems among airliners and they aimed at changing that in 2016 with their new seat. “Overall, the airline industry and in fact, the travel industry, in general, have not changed for more half a century now and this inevitable change is impending. The industry today lacks identity.”

AirGo thinks it is time for a major change in the travel industry and this change, whatever it is, can be a cradle for a new era in which ICT services become a major part of our travel experience.

“Services and products are not associated with brands and experiences. Since the providers have nothing to compete on other than a lower price, the profit margin has been constantly dropping. To keep up with the expenses, the airlines in turn had to limit the quality of air travel for the 99% of passengers. In a way, what we have today is a lot like the telecom industry before the arrival of the new generation of smart phones, especially Apple's iPhone. The 1%, that is those who used smart phones before 2007 were businessmen and government officials. Now everybody has one. Travel industry has so much room to grow and AirGo as a platform can be central to that new ecosystem,” said Alireza.

According to Alireza, AirGo as a platform, is a good example to start achieve any association with international presence. AirGo, he claims can push the smaller companies and give them the same type of exposure. “We all have heard about the recent news that Apple and Google are moving into cars with their platforms and most certainly, the next big thing would be the long-haul transportation, e.g. airplanes, trains, etc. This is especially important for Singapore considering that one of its major strengths is in the field of ICT. Unfortunately, right now except for a few smaller brands, Singapore is not associated with any international presence in the same way for example that we all know iPhone as a Californian brand even though it is made in China. Singapore can achieve that same status through platform development programs. This has to be a strong initiative which can pull smaller companies under one umbrella and create a collaborative environment for them to be a part of something much bigger.”

What is AirGo?

AirGo, eventually meant to serve as a platform for a variety of other services both via the in-flight entertainment system and also airline-specific features to make the competition more dynamic and vibrant.

“AirGo is reimagining the seat design and technology. We believe that it is possible to have a memorable travel experience, something that is a good part of your journey, because now most people prefer to sleep through it, not that they can because the seats are very uncomfortable, said Alireza.

Now that many seat manufacturers are working on new designs which are lighter and slimmer in order to save on fuel consumption and put more people on the same flight. What AirGo do is make the seats lighter by using state of the art composite materials and design technologies, and not by slimming down the same old seats. 

According to Alireza, their new seats will be about 50% lighter as compared to the average economy seats today, but there will not be a compromise when it comes to comfort. They make the seats lighter by using state of the art composite materials and design technologies, not by slimming down the same old seats.

“AirGo is the only aircraft seat which is designed based on actual 3D scanning data of human body and therefore is ergonomically superior. A new cushion technology developed with our partners in the US and Italy dynamically conforms to the contour of your body. It is also treated with superamphiphobic materials which make it self-cleaning. At the same time, it is several times more durable than typical cushions. So it always looks new, fresh and clean. The new cushion technology also dampens shock waves during accidents and also the vibration caused by turbulences,” said Alireza.

The founders

AirGo was founded by three people, Alireza Yaghoubi, Mikko Alanko and Ali Jahanshahi.

The youngest is Alireza Yaghoubi who is now 23. Alireza finished his undergraduate studies last year as the Frederic Barnes Waldron student of mechanical engineering. A year before that in 2012, he won the James Dyson Award for designing AirGo. Alireza is also an internationally recognized materials scientist and his contributions in the fields of nanotechnology and biomedical engineering have appeared on the front cover of leading academic journals including those of Royal Society. Since his undergraduate years, Alireza has served as a senior scientist at University of Malaya where he leads several international research collaborations with France, Taiwan and USA.

Mikko Alanko, led the Business Development for Scalado, Qvantel and muvee in Asia prior to AirGo. Mikko was responsible for negotiating and closing global software licensing and distribution deals with multinational companies such as Nokia, Sony, Samsung, Qualcomm and Motorola. Before that, he used to serve as an e-Commerce Product Manager at Saunalahti, a Finnish mobile phone operator. Mikko holds an MBA in International Business from the Asian Institute of Technology (AIT) and a BA in Marketing & Communications from Tampere Polytechnic University.

Ali Jahanshahi, holds a PhD in chemistry from Oxford university. He has also worked as a market analyst for GfK and an adviser at Axernutri (Sweden) for technology transfer and joint ventures in bio-fuel and hybrid powertrains.

AirGo board of directors include, Henri Holm who has nearly 20 years of international experience in consumer products, marketing, manufacturing, distribution, retail and brand management. For more than a decade, he served as a CFO, head of Business Operations and Finance Director at Nokia where he successfully led the company's mobile phone and Internet communication market in Asia, Middle East and Africa. In 2011, Henri joined Rovio Entertainment as Senior Vice President. He managed Asia-wide operations by delivering the continued success that the Angry Birds franchise enjoys today.

Jere Tala, with more than 20 years of experience, Jere is an airline and travel industry veteran. He has held various executive positions in the industry with some of the world’s leading airlines such as Qatar Airways and Finnair. As part of his job, Jere has worked and interacted with a wide range of stakeholders from travelers to the aircraft manufacturers. He was also a director of sales at BCD Travel, the world's leading travel management company. Jere has been also awarded the travel consultant diploma by the International Air Transport Association (IATA).

And finally, Maziar Jahanshahi who founded Scalado in 2000, a world-leader in the mobile imaging industry with innovative platform-independent imaging solutions on over 1 billion devices. Maziar was the CLO at Scalado until 2012 when it was acquired by Nokia.

The success story

Before becoming the first undergraduate in the world to have published in one of the prestigious scientific journals published by Nature, Alireza has its own success story. After finishing and winning his research projects, he travel back to his home country and visit the family. A long journey of more than 8 hours in the economy cabin was uncomfortable enough to remind Alireza of his forgotten dreams. Unlike other passengers, Alireza did not sleep that night. He instead took the same old sketches and kept working on different elements of his design while he was going through an experience which was both horrible and amazing at the same time. When Alireza arrived at his hometown, although his short vacation had already started, he refused to stop working until late hours of night and sometimes even until dawn.

After a few weeks of intense work, the preliminary design was almost finished, but Alireza was still thinking of a way to share his ideas with many other out there who were looking forward to a big change in the travel industry.

A friend suggested that he should consider taking part in The James Dyson Award, but Alireza had already participated before in the international design competition and his entry was never selected even at the national level. It was the last days of August right before the deadline that Alireza finally decided to anyhow enter the competition with his new concept called AirGo.

Alireza’s design never made into the world’s top 20, but what it won was far more valuable. AirGo won the heart of millions of people out there who had been waiting for decades for someone to finally design a new seat for the other 99%.

The funding

According to Alireza, since April 2013, the company has been internally financed, but as of June 2014 with the commencement of the prototyping project, it is considering a Series A funding.

“Our first year budget was about 1 million dollars from internal funding and we are looking at about 2 million dollars for our Series A. We are closely working with our partners around the world as well as here in Singapore on developing new technologies to make the seats lighter, more comfortable and more durable,” said Alireza.

According to Alireza, their plan is to launch their first product with exclusive partners on certain routes in 2016. At the same time, they are bringing state-of-the-art technologies to Singapore and developing them into an ecosystem that all Singaporean startups can benefit from. They are in talks with CAAS (Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore) and so far the feedback has been very positive, but they are hoping to receive more support from the government because Singapore lacks the technological infrastructure for aerospace and it is difficult for a company to single-handedly bring everything in.

“Expectations from private companies have to be realistic, meaning that government-funded innovation programs should not put all the risks on startups and their investors for creating such an environment. Creating a new industry in a country like Singapore will work only if the risks and benefits are shared reasonably between the stakeholders,” Alireza added.  



Name of the Company: AirGo Design
Founders: Alireza Yaghoubi, Mikko Alanko and Ali Jahanshahi
Website: https://www.airgodesign.com/
Total Funding at hand: USD1m
Source of Funding: Internal funding
Target Funding: USD2m - Series A Funding
Start of Operation: 2013

For startups wanting to be featured, send your message to Lee Anne Babierra at [email protected]

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