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Exclusive: WindBorne raises $6M for weather balloons

A WindBorne Global Sounding Balloon over Svalbard, Norway. Courtesy: WindBorne Systems

WindBorne Systems has raised a $6 million seed round to deploy more of its long-endurance smart weather balloons.

Why it matters: Accurate and real-time weather data is crucial for sectors like energy and for extreme weather event predictions, but the current data methods are lacking.

Details: The startup's seed round was led by Footwork, an early-stage venture firm with a 2-year-old $175 million fund.

  • Khosla Ventures, Pear VC, Ubiquity Ventures, Harvest Ventures, Humba Ventures, Jetstream, and Convective Capital participated in the round.

How it works: Governments and organizations commonly use low-cost balloons to collect weather data (and for other data-collection purposes, hi ChinaπŸ‘€πŸ‘‹πŸ»). But those balloons typically float uncontrolled in the atmosphere for a couple of hours before they pop.

  • WindBorne has developed a weather balloon that can be controlled remotely using the lifting gas (hydrogen), enabling the balloon to move up and down in the atmosphere and potentially last for a month β€” or eventually even years β€” in flight.
  • Despite being much smarter than a regular weather balloon, the startup's balloons cost the same as the standard ones.
  • The balloons' various weather sensors collect temperature, wind pressure and direction data and deliver that info back to the ground using a satellite connection. They use a solar panel for power.

Of note: WindBorne is currently launching two balloons per day to deliver data to customers including the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

  • WindBorne plans to use the funding to hire and expand its team and increase the number of balloons it's launching.
  • The vision is to have a constellation of WindBorne balloons in the atmosphere, enabling detailed weather predictions.
  • Footwork partner Nikhil Trivedi says WindBorne was cash flow-positive last year and has generated millions of dollars in annual revenue.

Thought bubble: The World Meteorological Organization says that 85% of the globe lacks weather data, particularly in the atmosphere over the middle of the oceans.

  • Weather data is becoming even more important as the climate changes and humanity needs to adapt to more frequent and more intense extreme weather events.
  • If WindBorne is able to one day scale up to managing thousands or tens of thousands of balloons in the atmosphere, it'll have a new series of challenges to deal with, like how to convince a balloon-skittish public that these balloons are our friends.
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