Alex Kubicek was quite pleased with the drizzle pattering on the floor-to-ceiling windows of Madison Public Library's downtown branch Wednesday.
"We're really excited it's raining so terribly today," said the CEO and co-founder of the startup Understory, a weather data analysis company based in Madison, at his presentation for the latest 1millioncups. "We're getting good data."
Collecting data on rainfall — along with hail fall, wind chill, solar activity, humidity, dew point, and barometric pressure — is Understory's specialty. Using stainless steel sensors that the company has deployed on top of buildings and on cell towers in cities like Dallas and Kansas City, the company gathers large volumes of on-the-ground weather data, which it uses to provide sophisticated analysis and real-time modeling.
The kind of data Understory collects is significant, said Kubicek, who studied atmospheric sciences at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Historically, he said, information on weather patterns that aren't 50,000 feet above terra firma has been less than robust.
"The U.S. has some of the best weather data in the world, but it's using radar and satellites," he said. "They do an incredible job of mapping it out, but they don't see what's happening on the ground — where people and businesses are."
To date, the company has primarily been targeting the insurance market. Before, insurance companies typically would rely on claims data to understand the impact of any given storm. Through Understory, however, companies can get real-time meteorological reports, and can send alerts to customers about the likelihood of property damage.
Kubicek said that beyond insurance markets, Understory has been looking at working with companies like Monsanto to improve agriculture. He also noted that any universities that let the company to set up sensors on campus infrastructure has free access to the data for academic purposes.
"We're improving weather data not just for enterprise, but for everyone," said Kubicek.
1millioncups events — the entrepreneurship-oriented presentations that the library hosts weekly — often feature young ventures that are still trying to find funding and attract buzz. Understory, however, is a bit of an exception.
The four-year-old company is part of a cohort of up-and-coming tech firms in the Madison area. It was an early graduate of the gener8tor startup acceleration program, and since raised $7.5 million in a major round of financing. It currently occupies office space in the AT&T Building on 316 W. Washington Ave., a growing hub for entrepreneurial activity. And thanks to its sophisticated tech, it has contracts with many of the country's major insurance firms.
Understory's sensor network is live in four cities currently, and Madison is set to join the pack in short order: Kubicek said that network should go live within months. Once it does, residents will be able to access the company's weather reports for free.