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Civic Hall Beta Member: Simone Rothman, FutureAir

BY Jessica McKenzie | Monday, January 19 2015

Simone Rothman in Civic Hall (Photo: Marina Villela)

This month Civic Hall, the new home for civic tech in New York City, opened its doors to beta members like Simone Rothman, the founder and CEO of FutureAir. Beta members are people working in the civic tech space who have been invited to try out Civic Hall for the month of January: to work in the space and see what it is like, and in turn provide feedback to the Civic Hall team. We caught up with Rothman to ask about her work and find out what she hopes to see and do here at Civic Hall.

We're profiling some of Civic Hall's members as they start to join and use the space; stay tuned for more. This interview has been edited for clarity.

Can you tell me a little bit about yourself and what brings you to Civic Hall?

I come from the design world so that's at the forefront of everything I do. In the background, I've always been a preservationist and that preservationist tendency came out with my environmentalist tendencies. I started my career at Knoll, in France, and it set the path to a kind of global perspective. After Knoll I worked with an architecture firm based in San Francisco where I learned to love technology; started first their Paris office and then New York. After that I worked for a Hong Kong based luxury goods company, which was my opportunity to live and work in Asia.

It was amazing except I was always yearning to do something that was more purposeful, I wanted un raison d'être, so to speak. The idea for FutureAir came about in 2009. That's when I started thinking about it and researched the whole indoor-air space. And I finally got the courage to leave a high-paying, high-powered CMO position to follow my own passion. I realized that if it was going to happen during my career it had to be in the next decade, and that it was something that we'll never need more than in the next decade.

What's really become compelling about the timing of my start up is that IoT (Internet of Things) [and] the world of connectivity is emerging at the same time that we're developing FutureAir. The timing is right to design and integrate the technology during development than so we can build a more holistic product.

There's definitely a tech geek buried inside me. I often go to the New York Tech Meetup even though they're not that specific for what I do. I'm always interested in what's new and emerging in the tech world.

What about Civic Hall really appeals to you?

There's something special about this place. We were using meeting space here before it opened but something kind of magically happened when it opened. And it's no secret, it's the people. I credit Micah [Sifry] and Andrew [Rasiej] for that because they have spent years, even before PDF (Personal Democracy Forum) gathering and organizing a community of people who are really smart, tech-savvy, and want to do good.

What are you looking forward to doing as you begin working here?

I really like the idea of the unconference [taking place at the Civic Hall Open House on Tuesday, January 20]. [I'll be sharing] my knowledge about the importance of establishing brand guidelines, which is really just another step in setting a consistent approach to the vision or purpose for any new endeavor. I think as a diverse community, we have so many opportunities to learn from each other and the unconference is an ‘unformal' way to do this

I'm currently working on the business plan for FutureAir, researching all the data I can gather on the environment and potential to improve the indoor-air space, as well as forming strategic partnerships. I'm excited about meeting more members of the community. Walking out the door the other day Andrew introduced me to someone working on developing new smart materials and textiles, which is perfectly relevant because we are exploring high tech sustainable materials for FutureAir products.

Finally, I've been working from home the last few months and must admit I underestimated the upside of coming in to work at Civic Hall. It's quiet at home but working here is inspiring and so much better on every level.