The Munich startup Air Up launched an innovative technology that flavors water just with air. Unique in the world, the new product has been on the market since early August with support from parties such as seed investors Frank Thelen and Ralf Dümmel. The innovation was initially researched by Lena Jüngst and Tim Jäger, and the founding team is now completed by Jannis Koppitz, Simon Nüesch and Fabian Schlang. COO Fabian Schlang answered our Seven Questions.
1. Who are you and what do you do?
Here at Air Up, we’ve developed a new beverage technology that is unique in the world and can flavor water just with air. The Air Up bottle uses a trick to do that — something known as retronasal olfaction through the mouth. With the interchangeable air pods, the bottle adds scented air to the water while you drink. When you swallow, that scent separates from the water again and travels back up the throat to the olfactory center where it is perceived as flavor. The beverage itself remains 100% natural water.
Several years from the prototype to market launch
We worked on the development of our idea for three years until the bottle, after more than 200 different designs and developments, was finally ready for market entry. The project originally began while Lena and Tom were studying product design at the design university HfG in Schwäbisch Gmünd in 2016. After Jannis, Simon and I came along as further founders from the Technical University of Munich, our office moved to the TU incubator in Garching. Thanks to various startup grants, we were able to get investors Ralf Dümmel and Frank Thelen on board last year and to start manufacturing the first round of bottles. We’re now located on Schillerstraße at the heart of Munich with our team of fourteen colleagues.
2. But that’s nothing out of the box!
The simple answer is: yes it is! We really are completely new in the world. While beverage systems do already exist that try to add flavor using scent, they’ve done so through the nose, and that doesn’t work very well. With our product, the scent is perceived through the mouth, i.e. retronasal, so our brains understand it as flavor.
3. What has been your biggest challenge so far?
One of the biggest current challenges is explaining our innovative system to people. A lot of people have no idea that we can pick up scents through our mouths, which means they have a hard time imagining how flavor can function just with scent.
Other than that, we obviously battle the same challenges as other founders. Where will the money come from for manufacturing? Where can we find good employees? Or what can you do when you simply can’t get your tax number because an entire office is on vacation?
Office in ‘Shilicon Valley’
4. Now let’s get down to the nitty-gritty: How is business going?
We are very pleased with how sales have started on QVC and Amazon. On Amazon especially, we became the best seller in our category in less than 24 hours as well as ‘Amazon’s Choice,’ which was super cool.
Our product has also been available in brick-and-mortar stores since August 5th, for example at Real across Germany. National availability is important, so we can also be found in supermarkets like Rewe or Edeka.
5. What does Munich mean to you?
Lena, Jannis and I are genuine Munich natives, but that’s not the only reason we agree that Munich is the best location for startups in Germany. Founders are not only supported by universities, but also by the industry and numerous support programs. And on Schillerstraße — or as well like to call it, ‘Shillicon Valley’ — you fortunately can still find relatively affordable office space for Munich.
6. How will your startup become the next unicorn? Or will we be seeing you at an Epic Fail Night soon?
If we didn’t believe in our idea, we would have looked for jobs with easier working hours a long time ago. But we’re obviously also realists. You can never rule out failure.
Air Up as an alternative to beer and lemonade?
7. Hiking or beer garden?
Hiking! And then a beer on the top of the mountain. That’s the best way to do it. And thanks to our Radler flavor pod (radler is a mixture of beer and lemonade), it can be sporty and alcohol-free. And instead of having to carry the extra weight, we can just keep filling up our Air Up bottles while hiking since we’ll have about 170 ounces (five liters) worth of flavor with us — in our pockets.
Note from editor: Our taste test results: The flavored water from Air Up doesn’t taste as sweet and intense as a radler. But that’s due to the very nature of it — since water can’t taste sweet without sugar. We do think, however, that sugar-free beverages are a good thing when hiking.