UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Four enterprising Penn State students are determined to further merge meteorologists with industry by delivering critical weather information to decision makers using advanced visualization techniques.
Four students in the College of Earth and Mineral Sciences’ Department of Meteorology and Atmospheric Science, Seth Cohen, Steve Hallett, Nathan Lis and Andy Moffitt, founded Innovation Weather, LLC with the goal of providing new, innovative products and services designed to help mitigate global meteorological hazards.
The group found their motivation through Meteo 497A, a professional development class that brought guest speakers into the classroom setting where they spoke about their professional and entrepreneurial experiences.
After taking this class, the four friends were encouraged to be creative and put their skills and knowledge to the test.
“Some of the guest speakers had gotten their ideas right out of college and then built their own company,” said Lis, who serves as the company’s chief operations officer. “We all thought we would like to try to do that too. We are all friends and believed we could work together to come up with new ideas and meteorology solutions for different industries.”
Frost formation probability tools
The company launched in 2017 and over the past year, Innovation Weather has focused on developing proprietary algorithms to diminish risk in agriculture, turf grass and commodities trading. One suite of products forecasts the probability of frost formation.
The team developed algorithms that combine a variety of weather variables to determine the likelihood that frost will form in an area of interest under certain meteorological conditions. The algorithm has been rigorously tested for regions within the United States, as well as for select international locations, such as South America and Europe. The frost formation products allow for up to 60 hours of lead time before a frost event occurs. These products are available for any region of the world.
“Frost is critical to agricultural interests, specifically during critical growing periods. If we can predict the probability of frost formation, we can help prevent crop damage by allowing companies to execute mitigation procedures,” said Hallett, who serves as the company’s chief technical officer.
This application will help farmers and commodity traders across the world. The farmers will be able to better protect their crops from damage, and it will also give commodity traders an advantage, so that they can hedge risk appropriately and gain an edge in the critical markets.
Golf courses are also susceptible to frost damage, as blades of grass with frost can be damaged if stepped on. In severe frosts, this can cause the turfgrass to die. Innovation Weather can easily provide courses the information they need to inform golfers of possible frost delays.
How it works
Innovation Weather’s frost-mapping application shows the probability of frost in various areas by combining the company's proprietary algorithm with general weather-forecasting models.
The frost probability maps look similar to temperature maps that can be seen on popular weather websites.
“Every hour there is a forecast graphic for that area with a color bar. Areas depicted with the lightest colors have a low frost probability. For the yellows, the oranges, and the reds, the higher you go up that scale, the higher the probability is,” said Cohen, who serves as the company’s chief financial officer.
The application can be run at an hourly timescale, up to 60 hours in the future.
“You can view the probability of frost forming every hour, and then there’s also a cumulative nightly probability, which shows the greatest chance you have for seeing frost throughout the night,” said Lis.
Innovation Weather provides a feature that allows you to be able to use street level data visualization on Google Maps for the greatest probability of frost for the entire night. This allows farmers to easily see the location of their fields and to take precautions if their fields are in the frost zone.
Currently, they are working with a large citrus grower out of California, as well as one of the largest food conglomerates in the world.
Penn State’s fostering of student entrepreneurship
Starting a company while in college isn’t as easy as these ambitious students make it seem. The team has spent countless hours developing the applications, as well as learning how to start and operate a company with no background in business.
“I think that learning the business side has been the most challenging part. We can develop the algorithms and understand the meteorological science, but the actual running of a business is new to us,” said Moffitt, who serves as the company’s chief executive officer.
Penn State offers many resources to students who are looking to start their own businesses.
For example, Happy Valley LaunchBox is a “hub” that provides the support, resources and facilities needed to help entrepreneurs build a successful startup company with a viable plan for growth. Students can also receive legal services in a small law-firm setting through the Penn State Law Entrepreneurship Assistance Clinic. Law students provide legal services to the clinic’s clients in much the same manner as practicing lawyers. These services are provided at no cost to Penn State students.
Along with taking advantage of Penn State’s resources, these entrepreneurs had to learn other aspects of business as well.
“Learning how to communicate with people in a business-to-business setting is definitely a new experience,” said Lis.
Penn State President Eric Barron is a champion for student entrepreneurship. Innovation Weather experienced that first-hand as Barron arranged for the team to meet with Russell Redding, Pennsylvania Secretary of Agriculture. Barron also invited the team to present their products at the President’s football tailgate last November.
Innovation Weather is working on other products as well to assist with meteorological hazards.
“We want to create different algorithms, different forecasts that aren’t being provided, that not only are unique, but are also useful,” said Cohen. “That’s the goal: to be creative, work together and to do things that other people aren’t doing right now.”