From recreational sailors to global commercial shipping companies, Fjord Weather Systems wants to make the world’s waterways safer. The Wilton company is developing a Waze-like network for capturing and sharing of real-time weather data. Founder Drew Lambert talks about his vision and the impact of winning an EIA grant from CTNext.
How did the idea for Fjord Weather Systems come about?
I am an avid sailor and wanted to have access to better real-time weather data from locations where I like to sail. At first, the idea was to set up a stationary weather center that could send real-time weather data from a specific location. Weather.com can give you a sense of what the weather is doing in a certain area, but I wanted to have access to actual wind data to know if it was worthwhile to get out the boat. I was looking for a device to buy, something I could mount to a tree to get a remote alert when the wind was right. It turned out that no one makes those devices. So about five years ago, my partner John Knag and I put our heads together and came up with the Fjord device, which is a mobile sensor that can be strapped to a boat to capture all kinds of shareable weather data.
How has the product changed through the development process?
As we began working on it, we realized that the real value would come from leveraging the mobile nature of the sensors, which send data from remote locations through a satellite or cellular network. The buoys on the waters today are typically 15–20 miles apart, situated in coastal areas, and they are not offshore in any meaningful capacity. We’ve developed what is essentially a black box that can capture and share every imaginable piece of weather information, including temperature, barometric pressure, relative humidity, correct wind speed and direction. So when a ship with one of our sensors goes out on the ocean, it will be able to send real-time weather data from a location where no real-time weather data currently exists. We want to become the Waze of weather. We want every vessel to take part in the network.
Where do things currently stand in your product and business development process?
We have a number of patents pending, both national and international. We are actively speaking with companies around the world we think would benefit greatly from this technology. There are 100,000 tanker ships in the global shipping fleet. Believe it or not, tanker ships still sink on a fairly regular basis. We would like to have one of our sensors on every tanker ship, as the data shared could be used to improve forecasting, routing and safety. Sometimes even just 10–15 minutes of warning time can be huge when it comes to steering course away from a storm. A little bit of warning can potentially save lives and millions in property loss.
Why did you decide to pursue an EIA grant?
At the beginning, we were looking for every little bit of capital that we could get to push this idea forward. We knew it was a good idea, but starting a business, even just getting an idea off the ground, costs a lot of money when you add up the costs of building a prototype, hiring IP attorneys, developing software and getting a website, logo and business cards. Anything you can’t do yourself you have to outsource. Most investors are risk adverse and are not going to invest unless they see something tangible. The EIA was the perfect time and place for us to get some capital, and the grant has allowed us to do some things we couldn’t finance on our own.
How did you apply the funds won at EIA?
We used the EIA funding to develop the technological aspect of our device. We built a working prototype that we have been able to bring to meetings and which we have used as a jumping-off point to raise a round of capital from friends, family and seed investors. Beyond the money, EIA provided the opportunity to practice pitching the idea and the business proposition in a live setting. If you are going to raise capital, you have to be comfortable pitching to investors. Presenting at EIA helped prepare me to pitch to angel investors and in many ways was almost as valuable as the money itself.
What’s next for Fjord?
We’ve developed our prototype, sorted out our IP and now are looking for a licensing partner, someone who wants to take our technology and put the capital and resources behind it to get it on the market. We’ve identified a number of target companies that are big enough and have a global reach and resources to launch this thing. We want the IMO (International Maritime Organization) to mandate that our devices be standard on all ships to add a level of safety to the shipping industry. There are so many potential beneficiaries of this technology – ship owners, shipping companies, insurance companies. We think what we are offering is long overdue.