ClimaCell Bags $15M to Predict Weather from Wireless Network Signals

Local meteorologists might avoid being the butt of so many jokes, if the latest crop of weather technology startups have their way.

A number of young companies are trying to improve the methods for tracking and predicting the weather. Some are tackling the problem from space, like Spire Global, whose network of small satellites gather data for short-term weather forecasting models, among other uses. Spire announced earlier this month it raised $70 million in a Series C funding round. Other ventures capture weather data from Earth’s surface, like Madison, WI-based Understory, which installs solar-powered sensor devices on top of buildings. The company, which has raised at least $9.7 million from investors, has set up networks of sensors in five metropolitan areas thus far.

Now comes ClimaCell, a Boston-based weather tech startup that today announced a $15 million Series A funding round led by Canaan Partners (more on the investors below). What makes ClimaCell interesting is the company isn’t deploying any of its own sensors or other hardware. Instead, it uses software to measure the ways in which weather impacts wireless communication networks.

The basic principle is that weather and atmospheric conditions affect wireless signals traveling through the air between cellular towers and mobile phones and other devices. ClimaCell CEO and co-founder Shimon Elkabetz says his company has devised a way to glean weather insights from those signal effects.

“We reverse engineer, let’s call it, what happens to the signal,” Elkabetz says in an interview. The company says it uses several methods to access the signal data, including through partnerships with the wireless networks’ owners. Elkabetz declined to share more details.

ClimaCell combines that network information with data from traditional sensors, such as satellites and radar, to provide minute-by-minute weather observations, as well as make local weather forecasts for up to six hours into the future and at street-level precision, the company claims. Currently, most weather forecasts for the next half hour, say, are based on calculations performed 90 minutes ago, Elkabetz says.

“There is a big gap when it comes to real-time, short-term predictions, which we’re trying to solve now,” he says. The company intends to move into longer-term weather forecasting at some point, he adds.

ClimaCell’s products include an interactive, Web-based weather map and an application programming interface (API) that enables other companies and organizations to incorporate ClimaCell’s weather data into their own apps and other software products. Elkabetz says the startup has “tens” of customers, including airlines, broadcast media companies, financial services firms, and construction businesses.

And now, more investors are buying into ClimaCell’s vision. The company’s latest funding round came from Canaan Partners, Fontinalis Partners, and earlier backer Square Peg Capital, according to a press release e-mailed to Xconomy. Elkabetz says ClimaCell has raised $20 million to date from investors. Its other backers include Project 11 Ventures and The Graduate Syndicate, a small fund affiliated with Flybridge Capital Partners that invests in startups co-founded by Harvard grads.

L to R: Goffer, Elkabetz, Zlotnik

Elkabetz founded the company two years ago with fellow Israeli military veterans Rei Goffer and Itai Zlotnik, all three of whom were pursuing graduate degrees at Boston-area universities at the time. Earlier this year, Elkabetz earned an MBA from Harvard, Zlotnik got an MBA from MIT, and Goffer got an MBA from MIT and a master of public administration degree from Harvard.

“We started the company in our first week” of graduate school, Elkabetz says. “By the time we graduated, the company had already raised $5 million.”

ClimaCell says it will pour the latest investment into international expansion. One of the company’s early target markets outside the U.S. was India, where it envisions its technology helping farmers monitor and predict rainfall, and provide earlier warnings about flash floods, for example. (Indian businessman Ratan Tata was an early ClimaCell investor.)

The new funding will also go toward hiring. Elkabetz says ClimaCell will likely grow from 25 employees to 40 or 50 people in the next few months.

ClimaCell has filed for patents on some of the technology it has developed, Elkabetz says. The new investment will fund additional product development, although he was mum on specifics.

“The wireless and communication networks are just the beginning,” Elkabetz says. “It’s only one way to collect data.”

Jeff Engel is a senior editor at Xconomy. Email: jengel@xconomy.com Follow @JeffEngelXcon

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