Brisbane startup FloodMapp has raised $1.3 million, as it looks to take its flood-prediction tech to the rest of Australia, and into hurricane-prone areas of the US.
The funding comes from several VC firms, including Allectus Capital, Transition Level Investments, Jelix Ventures and Mercurian, as well as from a number of individual investors.
Founded by Juliette Murphy and Ryan Prosser, FloodMapp combines big data analytics and machine learning techniques with traditional hydrology and hydraulic modelling approaches.
The tech measures river height and rainfall data in real-time, and uses underlying elevation and topography to predict how and where water will flow over the land, Murphy tells StartupSmart.
“There’s a lot of mathematics, and a lot of machine learning in the back end.”
This allows the team to “predict a map of the inundated areas” and share that data with third parties. For example, insurance companies can warn policyholders that a flood is coming, allowing them to move to safety, and remove valuable items such as vehicles, in order to minimise losses.
“We’re able to get location-specific information of the areas that will be flooded, which helps people really act on that information,” Murphy says.
Formerly a professional water resource engineer, Murphy has experience in flood modelling and hydrology, working with utilities companies and the local government.
However, it was experiencing “two pretty catastrophic flood events” that spurred her to channel her expertise into a startup.
In Brisbane in 2011, one of her close friends was badly affected by flooding, she explains.
“The flood engulfed her whole home, over the peak of her roof, and she had no idea it was about to happen,” Murphy says.
“That really impacted me at the time, and inspired me to improve the warning systems and the type of information that was available before a flood event.”
Two years later, she was living in Calgary in Canada, when a flood of a similar magnitude struck.
Again, she had several friends who were evacuated from their homes.
“It was exactly the same story, and the same learnings that came out of that flood,” she says.
“That really inspired me to start FloodMapp.”
Securing this seed funding is “huge news” for FloodMapp, Murphy says.
“It was a big milestone for us, and it’s really meaningful to help us make this global, scalable solution a reality.”
The funding is pegged for expanding the technical team, and bringing on board “some expertise in terms of business development and sales”.
It means the startup will be able to expand from its pilot areas in Queensland to offer a larger-scale solution across Australia and the US.
“It really allows us to essentially commercialise our product and start to really grow the company,” Murphy explains.
The team will start with expanding throughout Queensland and New South Wales, she says, as well as Texas, Florida and other east coast states in the US.
“They’re so hard hit by hurricanes and flooding over there,” she explains.
In 2021, the business will likely be looking at expansion into Europe and Southeast Asia too.
“We definitely see this as a globally scalable solution,” Murphy says.
“There are so many places in the world that are affected by catastrophic flooding.”
FloodMapp comes at a time when flooding events are becoming increasingly frequent, and more severe, Murphy says.
The damage they’re causing is also increasing, for two reasons.
First, she explains, the oceans and air are warming, meaning there is more moisture held in the air.
“That’s why we’re seeing more frequent and more severe hurricanes and cyclones, which often bring severe flooding.”
However, we are also seeing a boom in population, often in coastal areas that are particularly susceptible to weather events.
“It means when these events hit, the damages and loss of life become really scary,” Murphy says.
In the future, the founder hopes FloodMapp can play a part in reducing the effect weather events have on these at-risk communities.
“That’s my dream and the whole reason I started this company,” she says.
“Every year, people are driving into flooded waters in their cars, and people are drowning. On a global scale, it’s thousands of people a year.”
But, also, if people lose everything they own, “that can be devastating from a mental health perspective”, she adds.
“Improving safety is really at the core of what we do and an important part of my vision.”
The ultimate goal to work with governments so FloodMapp can be used as an early-warning tool to prevent loss of life, Murphy says. Although, she is aware she’s in the early stages of that journey.
“We are starting to form those relationships now, and we know that it will take time to get there, but that’s definitely our ultimate vision.”
Having reached the milestone of securing seed funding, Murphy says she has “learnt so much” along the way.
However, she highlights one mistake she made to serve as a warning to others walking the same path.
“Early on, when this was just a prototype and a passion project for me, I built a mobile app,” she says.
Her thinking at the time was that an app would be a good way to disseminate flood risk information.
But, she was halfway through an accelerator program and working on her app, when a mentor suggested she validate the solution with her target customers to find out whether people would actually pay for it.
“Everyone we spoke to said ‘no, we wouldn’t use a mobile app’,” Murphy recalls.
“We soon understood we had invested too much time and effort into going down this one solution, but we hadn’t talked to customers enough.”
It’s all about “validation, validation, validation”, she advises.
“Find your customers and ask if this is a solution they want and if it’s something they will pay for … If you don’t have that, then you don’t have a business,” she adds.
“It seems obvious … but we just didn’t realise for so long. We spent a lot of time walking in the wrong direction. But I think we’re on track now.”