As you read this, I hope you are enjoying a bright sunny day or thinking of taking a day off from work to enjoy the light shower that goes pitter-patter on your window. Whether you like it or not, talking about the weather is a great ice-breaker. However, the way the conversation shapes up further is as unpredictable as the weather itself. But with science and technology in our pockets, even the unpredictability of weather can be curtailed to a great extent.
Realizing a Childhood Dream
As a kid, we have the imagination and freedom to choose any profession we want. But as we grow up, we analyze our interests in a better way. Donald Berchoff discovered his passion for meteorology in the 2nd grade. He considers himself fortunate enough to have spent the last 35 years applying his love of meteorology, science and critical thinking to address important national security, societal and economic challenges.
After college, he was commissioned in the Air Force. There he honed his meteorology skills, recognized the possibilities of technology to fuse weather data with mission analytics and mastered weather’s impacts on aircraft sensor systems and other military operations. He reminisces, “The military challenged me to embrace and become comfortable with uncertainty, leading and empowering airmen in difficult environments and becoming a strategist and planner of complex systems.”
His growth continued in the National Weather Service. He recognized that innovative weather science and technology were ‘trapped’ in universities, labs and small businesses to the detriment of society and businesses.
In 2001, his weather team was nominated for the Air Force Chief of Staff Excellence award for implementing a weather risk management framework. In one year, the weather decision system increased aviation mission effectiveness and efficiency by 15 percent, saving $200 million. This is the framework that Don’s startup, TruWeather Solutions is implementing to reduce weather’s costs in the weather-sensitive Unmanned Autonomous Systems (UAS) industry.
An Untapped Potential
The Weather Industry in the 20th century was developed and led primarily by governments and government agencies. With science and technology advancing so quickly, governments do not have the resources nor agility to keep up with the changes to serve local micro-climate business and emergency management needs adequately.
The private weather industry is outpacing government agencies in computer processing, weather observations and more granular weather predictions. The Weather Services Industry, currently, is a $3 billion industry serving many verticals and businesses. Still, the cost of weather-related losses and disasters exceeds $634B a year caused by a lack of weather data precision and inadequate techniques for fusing weather data in business decision systems.
There are addressable gaps in the science, observations, modeling and business analytics in the Weather Industry. As a start-up, Donald led TruWeather Solutions, is inclined towards addressing these gap areas.
All Weather Solutions
TruWeather Solutions, after its launch in 2015, was contracted by the Government of Thailand to deliver a world-class Weather Research and Forecast (WRF) modeling system to increase the accuracy, precision, and latency of weather forecasts. It built a team of experts to complete the project in less than 6 months.
The company began focusing on Unmanned Autonomous System (UAS) weather applications in 2018. Don shares, “A Federal Aviation Administration MIT Lincoln Lab study determined current aviation weather products are insufficient to support the UAS industry. Working in the NY State Test Range with UAS stakeholders for the past two years, we honed our understanding of UAS weather pain points and developed TruFlite™, Software-as-a-Service micro weather, and analytics service.”
TruFlite™ acquires and aggregates terabytes of weather data in real-time and produces a custom weather solution for each mission profile, in time and space, to optimize mission safety, success and profitability.
Facing Rough Weather
Being an industry veteran, Don believes that the government must provide for citizen safety and security. He argues, “Conflicting information disseminated to the public in the middle of a weather emergency does cost lives. It is a challenging problem—where is the line and how do the government and private sector avoid stepping on each other, while not stifling innovation? The private sector is the engine to drive weather innovation into the market. Accelerating Science and Technology transition from our Nation’s labs, universities and small businesses provide better choices and outcomes for people and businesses that enhance our economic competitiveness globally.”
As a resource-constrained start-up, trying to strengthen its foothold, TruWeather was driven to build partnerships with innovative private sector companies, the best of the best, to integrate with its business analytics platform. Don adds, “The challenge of realizing a big vision with limited resources meant developing an agile, powerful platform that takes advantage of our strengths in understanding the aviation and logistics industries while allowing quick on-ramping of the best science and technology from a global consortium of partners.”
Life @ TruWeather
As a leader at his firm and a respected name in the domain, Don understands the impact he can have over others. And the influencer that he is today, is the result of the influences he has had as a young man.
He recalls, “With most people, the experiences as a young person influence how I lead or influence others. For me, there was family illness and financial hurdles to attending college and pursuing my dream career. Fortunately, the State of NY recognized my promise and selected me to attend SUNY at Oneonta with less than stellar high school grades and provided a full scholarship to cover tuition, housing, and meals. When I speak publicly, I generally mention there were years I paid more in taxes than my entire college bill. The assistance gave me a lifeline and a ladder. I experienced the importance of providing young folks the tools and opportunities needed to succeed from any walk of life.”
For his extended family at TruWeather, he has three simple tenets:
• become comfortable being uncomfortable;
• always assume best intentions until proven otherwise;
• and every day is a training day…for him and everyone else.
He feels that business success comes easier with empowering people, holding them accountable and providing a safe environment for them to learn from mistakes. The same feeling echoes in his advice to the young entrepreneurs. He advices them to, “Focus on your core competency. Everything takes longer than you plan. Collaboration makes you stronger, so nurture your business relationships. Trust and challenge your people and set the example by staying true to the core values of the company.”
Predicting the Future
Now that TruFlite™ is in the market, TruWeather will focus on revenue growth, expanding business analytic capabilities and scaling globally. In 2020, it will build out a UAS Air Weather Operations Center in Syracuse and grow its Science and Technology Center in the University of Albany’s Emerging Technology and Entrepreneurship Complex. The company will nurture its partnerships with innovative sensing solutions and machine learning models to advance the application of weather science. Eventually, the company will expand into other under-served industry verticals.
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