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InvestMaryland Challenge: Q&A with Sickweather

Check back for Q&A profiles on all the competition finalists.

Find MD BIZ News’ profile on Sickweather from March 2012. 

The first-ever InvestMaryland Challenge is down to its final round with just 33 companies competing for more than $300,000 in grants and business services. The final winners will be announced during the Governor’s Cup Awards Ceremony on April 15.

One of the companies, selected out of more than 250 applicants, is Baltimore-based Sickweather, founded in 2012. To find out a little more about this innovative company, we spoke with co-founder and CEO Graham Dodge.

Q. What does Sickweather do, and how would you explain it to the average person?

A. We’re like a Doppler radar for sickness. We’re able to track illness with real-time data that we gather from social networks. We then generate these weather maps related to illness. We can show you now for the first time ever where the flu is going around, where pink eye is going around, or other various viruses.

Q. How accurate is your product, and are people actually using it?

A. People are using it. We had about 11,000 visitors in the past two weeks. In terms of accuracy, we’ve already been featured in the Wall Street Journal for our early prediction of the early flu season this year. Back in October, we put out a Tweet saying that flu was coming early this year, and sure enough, six weeks later, the Centers for Disease Control made the exact same announcement about the flu coming early. The previous year, we were forecasting whooping cough in the small town of Algonquin, Illinois. Two weeks later, the media in that area reported an outbreak of whooping cough. So, two weeks before anyone knew about it, Sickweather was predicting that forecast. We’ve also compared our own data with data from the CDC and we are right in line with their same correlations for the flu and other illnesses.

Q. How is your company moving the industry forward?

A. It’s sort of its own industry, it’s defining a new marketplace where there really isn’t one, where we’re using big data to track illness. We’re currently in the process of defining what that industry and marketplace looks like. That’s one of our biggest challenges as a startup, is that we’re not entering a new industry per se, where there’s clear monetization and clear opportunities, so we need to not only build the company, but also the marketplace at the same time. That’s been the biggest challenge for us, but I think we’re moving closer. We’ve started to bring in some beta advertisers, which include Cold-EEZE and FluNada, and these beta advertisers are helping us to understand what our audience wants to see. If they’re searching for the flu, we can serve up advertising related to the flu. Using brands to establish our audience level is really helpful. By virtue of our beta advertising program, we can really define what this marketplace is going to look like.

Q. If Sickweather were to win prize money in the contest, how would it use the money to further its goals?

A. We would be able to start hiring more people. For us, the most important thing is being able to tap into local resources and talents, engaging those resources to help build a better product. What we have available online is our first blush, so to speak, of what we’ve been working on. I think we’ve identified areas for improvement and refinement. There are specific skill sets that we need to achieve those product goals. The most valuable part of this contest is the funding opportunities for more resources and more local talent.

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