Launchbox accelerator start-up CFlood has developed a platform that allows flood data to be easily visualised by anyone.

While flood prediction models are improving rapidly, our communication of this critical information has not changed in over 70 years, says CFlood co-founder Nick O’Brien.

CFlood is building a product that can be used by both engineers and members of the public and visualised by everyone.

“If the risks are clearly understood then thousands of lives and economic losses could be saved”

“We help visualise flood prediction data so that every community can see a flood coming,” O’Brien explained. “Flood prediction data isn’t communicated effectively and utilises outdated technology that is generally only accessible to engineers and workers in the field. “Between 1995 and 2015, 2.3bn people were affected and 157,000 killed from flooding. In the next 100 years, it is estimated that seas will rise by 1 metre, affecting coastlines around the world, and $200bn worth of land.”

The company was one of 10 start-ups that took part in the accelerator. LaunchBox, in partnership with Bank of Ireland, and managed by experts in Tangent, Trinity’s Ideas Workspace at Trinity College Dublin, provides mentorship, funding, access to alumni and investors, and the ideal collaborative environment to launch new start-up ventures.

The European Environment Agency predicts a fivefold increase in flood losses by 2050, and a 17-fold increase by 2080. The Aquaduct Global Flood Analyzer found that the number of people impacted by floods around the world could triple to 54m, and the economic impact could increase more than five times to $521bn by 2030.

“Our ability to predict flooding is becoming increasingly stronger but ability to communicate flood warnings and heights is staying the same,” said O’Brien. “If the risks are clearly understood then thousands of lives and economic losses could be saved.”

Putting skills and passion to the test

CFlood’s core product is a simple and accurate tool that visualises flood data. It links the latest flood data to your exact location using navigation systems such as GNSS and RDK. “This allows people to accurately tell if flooding will encroach on their front garden or stay out on the road. If a flood is predicted 12 hours in advance warning heights can be visualised in seconds allowing people to judge the level of severity.”

O’Brien, a flood engineer by trade, became an entrepreneur because issues such as not being able to visualise flood predictions were not being solved.

“Therefore, I wanted to use my skills to affect change in the community. I’ve always enjoyed team building and have a passion for helping others. I find that the entrepreneur and start-up community gives you access to more options and accepts ideas considered ‘mad’ when solving problems than a traditional company would allow.”

O’Brien is impressed with the start-up ecosystem in Ireland but believes entrepreneurs need to have a global mindset in order to scale. “The start-up system in Ireland is incredible. Ireland is such an incredible place to start up a business. Start being the main term because if you are looking for investment or growth you will need to go abroad. Ireland is very much a test bed and difficult to make changes to the industry because the population here is so small. We also don’t have a culture of accepting failure yet, but we are getting there.”

He said that CFlood is actively raising funding and interested investors can contact him at nick@cflood.com.

Swimming against the entrepreneurial tide

Even at an early stage O’Brien says some tough lessons have been taken on board. “Hardware takes ten times longer to develop than you would anticipate. Murphy’s Law always comes into play; if it can go wrong, it will go wrong.

“I definitely think I have learned the importance of time management as well as market research. Taking Irish people for example, they will say positive things about a proposed product, but may not actually mean it. This is detrimental to a start up, so you need to look elsewhere for your customers and customer feedback. That’s where market research is a massive learning curve, and absolutely necessary for the vitality of your start-up. We definitely made mistakes at the start, but we are adapting with the skills we’ve learned.”

His advice to fellow founders is to not be deterred. “In this time of Covid-19, I would say put one foot in front of the other. Keep moving and trekking along. Verbalise your visions, look at the long-term goal, and aim high. Create those key achievable milestones that can be celebrated with your team when they are completed. There has to be a point that you mark occasions to celebrate to keep up morale and track your progress. Plan for those achievements so that you continue to drive to reach your end goal.”

Written by John Kennedy (john.kennedy3@boi.com)

Published: 25 September, 2020

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