Student startup Innovation Weather sold to WeatherOptics

David Kubarek
October 23, 2019

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Nathan Lis and Andrew Moffitt always knew they had an interest in the science of weather. It took a class at Penn State to convince them they could be entrepreneurs in the field.

In 2017, the duo helped start Innovation Weather, a company that specializes in forecasting frost, crop heat stress, and other hazardous weather conditions,and recently sold the company to WeatherOptics

Moffitt, who works as an on-air meteorologist in Eugene, Oregon, and Lis, who is a graduate student at the University of Oklahoma, said the acquisition folds their tools into a more seasoned startup — complete with web development and business and marketing teams — to better deliver and expand their products.

“This allows Nathan and I to continue what we’re doing and have more resources to push our new ideas to market,” Moffitt said. “That’s an area where we lack experience. We’re meteorologists so having these additional resources will really help us get the products we create out there.”

Lis and Moffitt will serve as consultants for WeatherOptics, allowing them to continue to improve forecasting tools for use in farming, commodities, and other industries.

Starting a startup

In an undergraduate class at Penn State, Lis and Moffitt met alums who used their meteorology and atmospheric science degrees to begin careers that took a variety of paths. That inspired them to think of how they could do the same.

They researched ways that weather could benefit a societal need and quickly found there wasn’t anything available for frost or crop heat stress forecasting. The data visualization products, said Lis, were also stagnant and lacking.

“It was very surprising,” Lis said. “That’s when we realized that we had developed something really useful. We were creating some novel techniques that really could add value.”

They used resources such as Penn State Law’s Entrepreneur Assistance Clinic to draft the operating agreement and Happy Valley LaunchBox to get their startup off the ground. The entrepreneurs were invited to present at one of President Eric Barron's presidential tailgates in 2017. A grant from the National Science Foundation gave them the financial means to meet with and assess the needs of their clients.

“Any time we asked anyone for help, they were always willing,” Moffitt said.

Creating a company

Through market research, the team found frost forecasting to be a solution that farmers, turfgrass managers and commodities traders were unaware of. They 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. 

These forecasts, available on an hourly scale up to 60 hours out, are then incorporated into street level data visualization using Google Maps. The frost prediction maps apply color scales to the probability of frost and look similar to temperature maps that depict the weather.

“Weather data is often presented as a static map,” Lis said. “For our data visualization, we developed an interactive user interface so that you can overlay different products such as frost, heat stress, transportation, and others onto Google Maps.

Future of weather forecasting

As the amount of available weather data continues to grow, Lis and Moffitt see potential for new products. They cited examples of companies embracing the trend, including how online streaming services are noticing that weather affects the movies people watch, or how businesses note that it changes the foods people eat.

They also see potential for growth in areas related to transportation and product delivery.

“Because this amount of weather data has never been available in the past, people often overlook the opportunities where it can be useful,” Moffitt said. “This information opens up a whole new way of thinking. When you think about all the ways weather is impacting us, you can rely on that to make better, more informed decisions in so many ways.”

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Last Updated October 29, 2019