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An Interview With 17-Year-Old Airflowy Founder Rhiannon Black

We recently caught up with Rhiannon Black the Founder and CEO of Airflowy to learn more about the company and its plans:

Q: Rhiannon, can you explain the story behind Airflowy and why it’s important?

A: Airflowy is a smart spirometry company I founded in 2019 that aims to make it easier for children with chronic lung conditions to take a lung function test. Spirometry is a test that’s used to help diagnose and measure lung function by measuring the amount of air exhaled in a single forced breath. Millions suffer from chronic respiratory conditions like asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), and now we can add COVID-19 to that list. Asthma alone affects over 300 million people worldwide and it’s the most common chronic disease of childhood. The current outbreak of COVID has affected so many families around the world and left lasting health problems. I think what we’re seeing today is a surge in the number of tests needed to diagnose the extent of lung damage in a growing number of COVID-19 patients.

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Q: What makes Airflowy different or unique in this space?

A: Well, the first thing to note is that a spirometry test can be notoriously tricky to get an accurate result. So it’s critical to train patients on the importance of performing the test correctly to get a usable reading. Since our primary focus is on children, we’ve designed Airflowy with younger patients in mind. Starting with a wireless, pocket-sized spirometer, there’s an LED display and haptic vibration that provides live feedback if the test was successful or not. The reading is shown in real time via our mobile app designed to be kid friendly. The design elements are playful and fun, mimicking the experience of game play to keep children motivated and engaged.

Q: What made you decide to become an entrepreneur?

A: My Mom has been one of my biggest inspirations for sure, both as an entrepreneur and a woman in business. As a kid, I watched her grow a tiny business starting out with nothing into a successful venture. That was really powerful to witness firsthand. As for myself, I never set out to become an entrepreneur. It basically began as a passion project on a subject that affected me personally, and just grew organically from there. Every day in business is like playing a game, with a new series of challenges and problems that need solving. After a while, I realized I enjoyed it and was pretty good at it. These days it’s hard to see myself doing anything else. That is, unless the rap game decides to come calling, lol. But life can be crazy, so you never know. Whenever I stop to catch my breath, I look back and it’s pretty cool to see how far Airflowy has come.

Q: You’re success should be an inspiration to young people thinking of entrepreneurship. What traits would you say helped you the most?

A: These days, I’m so busy I don’t have much idle time to sit back and reflect. But I guess I’d have to say failure and naivete. The first is kind of obvious. Failing a lot is definitely one of the best teachers I’ve had in business. I love to fail. Sure it’s painful when you’re going through it, but every single time, you can learn something valuable. Being naïve has actually helped me when starting out as a struggling entrepreneur. When I don’t see the entire picture, I don’t feel overwhelmed by the enormity of the task before me. Looking back, if I had known ahead of time everything that would be required of me to be successful, I’m not sure I would have started.

Q: You touched on rap being another passion of yours. How did that come to pass?

A: Ever since I was little, I’ve been in love with rap. It started with me just scribbling rhymes in a notebook like other people might write poetry. Then, it progressed to mixing intros, hooks and verses. I enjoy dissecting song structure, flow and delivery. Plus, it’s great seeing the looks on people’s faces when they hear me with a mic in my hand. It’s not something that I expect to grow into a career or anything, but I’m going to have fun with it on the side.

Q: Where do you see Airflowy in the next 5 to 10 years?

A: Our focus on smart spirometry began as a way to measure lung health more accurately and easier for children. But since that time, the Coronavirus outbreak has swept the globe and it’s quickly become apparent that we’re seeing long term impacts to lung function in those struck with COVID-19. No sooner have we seen cases start to decrease than a newer highly contagious Delta strain has become the dominant variant. I think going forward, the market for lung health testing is only going to grow in importance. Because of the pandemic, we’re also seeing a sharp rise in telemedicine, where doctors are providing care to patients without an office visit. Airflowy allows people to measure their own lung health at any time and provide the results with healthcare providers through our app, so I’m confident that Airflowy will be in a good position to meet these changing needs.

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Q: If you had one piece of advice to a young entrepreneur just starting out, what would it be?

A: Don’t be afraid to take risks. Can you print that in bold? Stop thinking about it and just “do.” I think so much of what separates successful entrepreneurs is just taking violent action sometimes. Lots of people think about what they’d like to do. Then, they spend a lot of time planning it out. You’ll be much more successful skipping most of the careful planning and think of starting a business like trying to build an airplane while you’re already in the air. It’s going to be hectic and painful at times, especially in the early stages. Sure, there will be days when you feel like it’s more than you can handle. But if you learn from your failures and have the persistence to keep going, you’ll make it.

Q: What is the toughest decision you’ve faced in the last few months?

A: Oh, that’s easy. Being a senior in high school, all my friends are talking non-stop about college plans next year. So I’ve had to spend a lot of time deciding what I want for the future and what the next step will be. I mean, I’m still a teenager in high school, but I’m also the CEO of a growing start-up, chasing the dream. At the same time, I have a curious mind and a love of learning, so getting an education is super important to me. Ultimately, if I could find a college that supports young women with big dreams – a place where I can learn and grow both as a person and as an entrepreneur – it might be too good to pass up.

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