From INSIDE BUSINESS By SANDRA J. PENNECKE
The five winners of the 2020 RISE Coastal Community Resilience Challenges are ready to put their ideas into action — right here in Hampton Roads — to help coastal communities adapt to sea level rise and flooding.
RISE’s mission is to accelerate innovation and business growth that involve ways to improve the resiliency of coastal communities.
The winning small businesses are: Natrx; Re: Public; Storm Sensor; Virginia PACE Authority; and Weather Check.
Each will receive up to $250,000 — as grants to set up in Hampton Roads and revenue-based loans for product scalability and advancement. Katerina Oskarsson, RISE’s chief strategy officer, said they are in contract negotiations with all the teams so the breakdowns are not yet final.
“Our approach is to provide grants to teams to set up their projects (sensors, equipment, etc.), conduct customer/partner discovery, and other initial steps a company may need to take in Hampton Roads,” Oskarsson said. “The loans are used to support the development and sale of product or services that will generate revenues.”
The nonprofit also will provide resources from its resilience innovation hub and test bed as the businesses develop, test and scale their solutions.
RISE helps the businesses move from design to market by identifying resilience problems, sourcing solutions, facilitating deployment and validation, building enterprise readiness and providing catalytic funding.
Executive director Paul Robinson said in a news release that as the entrepreneurs succeed, so does RISE.
The teams will pilot their methods in Hampton Roads in a “living laboratory” environment with the goal of building viable businesses in other communities, he said. Products and services can be demonstrated locally and applied globally.
Oskarsson said RISE helps to accelerate the businesses’ development and the communities’ ability to tackle the threats of climate change while jobs are created and the local economy is strengthened.
The program is primarily funded through the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s National Disaster Resilience Competition grant, with matching funds from the state.
Founded in 2018 in Raleigh, North Carolina, the small business does field work in Louisiana, Hawaii and Florida, designing and building structures that protect waterfront areas as construction is done there.
Co-founder Leonard Nelson said they are excited to expand into Hampton Roads.
“Our goal is to provide new tools for meeting the challenge that can be used by planners, architects, landowners and engineers to rapidly imagine, design, print and install new types of modules that harness the power of Mother Nature to meet our challenges,” Nelson said.
Nelson said Natrx cuts material use by up to 70%, saves customers time and tooling costs, and facilitates long-term growth of biomass as part of its structures.
“We believe our digital production platform and habitat-informed design can change how we build and live,” he said.
With the help of RISE, Natrx will advance and launch its mobile manufacturing units.
“The program will enable us to cut transportation costs … and reduce the number of steps required to serve our clients on the waterfront and thus accelerate our business model,” Nelson said.
“Flooding is perhaps the most pervasive risk faced by communities all over the country,” said Stephen Cauffman, Re: Public’s chief executive officer.
Launched in February, the fledgling business provides a web-based map for storing, analyzing and communicating information about a community.
Cauffman said the vision for Re: Public is for it to become the go-to platform for recording and sharing data about the community and support decisions for any purpose.
“Re: Public is designed with accessibility in mind; users do not require special training to use the product,” he said.
Cauffman said RISE’s selection will allow them to complete key steps on its product plan, refine and finalize the product for launch.
“With the RISE funding, the team will complete integration of features that allow a user to capture notes for flood and non-flood purposes, and develop a project workflow to evaluate flood risks and mitigation options,” he said.
Storm Sensor is a small startup that creates smart urban watersheds through its real-time flow sensor networks, which can be deployed throughout a city’s storm sewer system.
Steven Cai, vice president customer experience, said the hardware sensor is placed in the storm system to monitor storm water, flooding and tidal and coastal issues.
The Seattle, Washington-based company was founded by Erin Rothman in 2015.
Rothman believes the first step to building resilient communities is to have data about what needs to be done.
“Storm Sensor’s goal is to make flood and stormwater data affordable and actionable for every city,” Rothman said.
Cai said RISE’s backing will allow the company to develop new, data-driven insights and algorithms on stormwater and tidal management for coastal communities facing sea level rise.
With Storm Sensor’s capital-raising efforts interrupted due to the coronavirus pandemic, RISE’s funding will enable the company to keep developing.
The Virginia PACE Authority
The Virginia PACE Authority manages the C-PACE program, a financing tool that unlocks private capital for flood mitigation and resilience improvements to commercial, industrial, nonprofit and multifamily properties.
Started in March 2019, VPA is based in Williamsburg’s Entrepreneurship HUB.
Abby Johnson, VPA’s executive director, said selection as a RISE winner will enable the nonprofit to fulfill its mission of helping business and property owners upgrade or develop resilient buildings.
“The magnitude of the problem is the fundamental lack of funding available to mitigate or adapt existing buildings for flood resiliency projects, particularly those projects valued under $500,000,” Johnson said. “Through our work in Virginia and the mid-Atlantic region, VPA has seen the value of creating a marketplace where property owners and developers have access to affordable financing to make critical resiliency improvements, the contractors qualified to do the work, and the local and regional lenders who can offer C-PACER as one of their financial products.”
Based in San Francisco, California, and Louisville, Kentucky, all 11 employees of WeatherCheck work remotely.
The 3-year-old company offers a severe weather monitoring application that warns insurance companies and insured customers that hail and wind damage might occur, and when it has occurred.
The application allows for property owners to receive tailored alerts 24 hours before and after events.
WeatherCheck’s vision is to track and alert for all weather perils by address, including hail, wind, flood, storm surges, fires and blizzards.
With RISE’s help, WeatherCheck will expand its products, build a product for areas subject to flooding, and pilot an all-peril, address-specific alert system.
“This selection propels our implementation of new risks forward faster, ultimately expediting the resiliency of millions of households in Hampton Roads and abroad,” Demetrius Gray, chief executive officer, said.
Sandra J. Pennecke, 757-222-5356, firstname.lastname@example.org