What if you could forecast sickness? What if you could find out what illnesses were going around just as easily as you could find out the weather? Well that’s what Baltimore startup SickWeather is all about.
The concept is a great idea, and while the two co-founders behind SickWeather are smart guys, it’s not like they have some magical powers that allow them to forecast what areas are going to get sick and when. What they have done though, is taken huge amounts of data available via public API’s and turned them into a startup that can tell you what’s going around near you.
It all started when co-founder Graham Dodge was sick with a stomach virus. It was a wicked bad virus and he wanted to see if anyone in his circle of friends was experiencing similar symptoms. Perhaps he wanted to track down the source of the stomach virus, or more importantly, get in contact with someone with the same symptoms and find out how much longer he would be under the weather. Whatever the reason, the idea immediately seemed scalable. With that, SickWeather was born.
Social networks have gigantic heaps of data available via public API. Through proprietary algorithms, SickWeather combs through those mountains of data for status’ like “Just got back from the doctor”, “Can’t get this flu to go away”. When the status on a social network is accompanied by a location marker, it will be plotted on the map. As they continue to work on the data, the team behind SickWeather could even plot out how long people have been sick.
They regurgitate all this data in much easier to read graphics that will ultimately provide valuable information to end users. Is that hacking cough coming from an allergy to a cat, or are you coming down with something?
We got a chance to talk with Dodge about SickWeather. Check out the interview below.
What is Sickweather?
Sickweather, the world’s first real-time sickness tracking service, is like the Doppler radar for sickness. It allows you prepare for the chance of sickness as easily as you can prepare for the chance of rain.
In layman’s terms, how does it work? (In other words how would you explain it to your grandmother)
Sickweather’s patent pending process searches social networks like Twitter and Facebook for posts relating to illness, like “OMG I have the flu”. When the location is available it then plots those reports on a map, to create “weather maps” of illness in real time.
Who are the founders and what are their backgrounds?
Myself, Michael Belt and James Sajor. We are old high school buddies who have reconnected to create Sickweather. My background is in web development, television production and marketing for companies ranging from MTV to GlaxoSmithKline. Michael is a software developer with over 12 years of experience for clients including NIH and Johns Hopkins. James’s background is in operations and managing sponsorships in the automotive industry.
Where are you based?
Sickweather is based in Baltimore, Maryland.
What’s the startup scene/culture like where you’re based?
Very active. Lots of peer resources and group activities, although there are not enough investors, and many of us have to seek funding in nearby DC or Virginia.
How did you come up with the idea for Sick Weather?
I was sick with the stomach virus one summer, and I wanted to know if any one else in my circle of friends was experiencing the same symptoms, so I went on Facebook and searched through my news feed. Finally, I found a friend in DC who had recently reported the same symptoms. That’s when I realized that this search could be done on a much larger scale using available public APIs.
How did you come up with the name?
It helped that it was a dot-com name that hadn’t been taken yet, but we chose it because we wanted a name that had some sensationalism built into it and would perk people’s interest. We had some other choices with “health” in the name, but we wanted to stand out from the white noise of healthcare companies that used “health” or “wellness” in their branding. Sickweather hit all the right notes for us, so we snagged it!
What problem does Sick Weather solve?
Currently there is no real time information on what illnesses are going around in your area. CDC takes about 2 weeks to review and post reports from doctors and hospitals. We believe that by informing people of what illnesses are going around in real time, they will make better choices, like washing hands when stomach flu is going around in their area, which can ultimately lower healthcare costs.
What’s your secret sauce?
We have a patent pending process for filtering out false positives like “I have Bieber Fever”. In the past year we have distilled over 20MM tweets and updates down to nearly 8MM qualified reports with 90% accuracy.
Are you bootstrapped or funded?
Bootstrapped, but looking for funding.
What’s one challenge you’ve overcome in the startup process?
There are still so many challenges in front of us that I can’t say we have entirely overcome any quite yet, but if I had to pick one, it would be getting to be first to market with our idea.
Who are some of your mentors and business role models?
Steve Case, Steve Jobs, Mark Zuckerberg, to name a few obvious ones, but we have also had the pleasure to meet with other brilliant minds like Linda Boland Abraham of comScore and Dr. Joe Smith of West Health Institute.
What’s next for Sick Weather?
Our mobile app is in development with new features like proximity alerts, so you can be notified on your mobile device when you are in an area where others have recently reported being sick.