Shimon Elkabetz is a co-founder and CEO of Tomorrow.io, a weather forecast and analytics platform that gives companies practical advice based on upcoming weather events. Elkabetz was a pilot in the Israel Air Force, and holds an MBA from Harvard. During his studies, he created and received funding for Tomorrow.io. His company offers service to organizations such as Uber, Delta, NASA and the NFL. Later this year, the company plans on launching its first proprietary satellite into orbit.
Where did your interest in the weather begin?
“I served about 11 years in the air force, as a pilot. During my service I had all kinds of weather-related challenges... and I became very passionate about the issue. When you fly, weather is by far the number-one variable; whether you can take off, whether you can land, whether the route is going to be dangerous, fuel consumption. You constantly try to evaluate what the impact will be.”
And so you started Tomorrow.io. In a nutshell, what’s the company’s mission statement?
“Tomorrow.io helps companies and countries manage their weather and climate-related challenges. Our software gives [companies] extremely accurate weather and environmental data in real time, and we give business insights and recommendations [based on the forecasted weather].”
Accuracy is notoriously difficult to pin down when it comes to the weather. What makes your forecasts more accurate than anyone else’s?
“We do not just repackage government forecasts. That’s what everyone does; AccuWeather, The Weather Company, Dark Sky. All of them repackage government forecasts for you. We create a weather forecast in-house. In that context, we look at ourselves as the SpaceX of weather. Until today, such an important domain of technology was dominated by governmental agencies: sensing, modeling... We, for the first time in history, do it all as a private company. We launch our own satellites to cover Earth with our own radars, we run our own models on our own computers and the forecast is our output.”
Why is producing your own forecast better than using the primary weather source that everyone’s using?
“Basically, there are two or three agencies that run the most respected global models. The problem is that most of the world relies on either the US model or the European models that aren’t built to [forecast weather in other regions]. The government runs models and predicts weather with one goal in mind: public safety. Who’s running these models? Is Israel? Heck, no. Israel uses the global European model. Is this model built for the Israeli domain? No. The moment you decide to run your own model, you can fine-tune the resolution, you can configure the time horizon, you can choose how many times a day you run it. Just by owning it and controlling it, you can get better results.”
In order to do that you’ve got to be able to launch your own satellites. What’s that process like? Is it easy to get permission to launch something into orbit?
“The new space economy really enables many companies to go to space, and many business ideas to be implemented via space, and you can do it in a cost-effective way, today more than ever. You have off-the-shelf services. You can launch with SpaceX, you can downlink information from space with AWS. It’s not that easy, everything together is a quite complex operation. You really need to be deliberate, you need to have experts who understand the risk factors, the trade-offs. Each component is easier than before, but it’s still a very risky business.
“The space sector is getting more and more attention. I think what we’re going to see in the next few years is something amazing, and I think we’re pioneering it. The first generation of space companies were ‘space first’ companies, meaning someone smart had some technical idea, created an amazing sensor. They launched it, and along the way started thinking how to monetize it. The amazing technology was looking for a problem to solve. What we’re going to see now is software companies, with existing business models, going to space because they identify a way to improve their solutions through space. And that’s pretty amazing.”
As something of a weathered expert in the field of forecasting, have you noticed any effects related to the changing climate?
“Climate change is here. The impact of climate change is the fact that weather events are becoming more volatile, and this trend is only expected to accelerate. Winters will be colder, and summers will be hotter. What you’re seeing is a dire reality: We’re having more hurricanes, typhoons, cyclones, wildfires. Here in Israel, we’ve had many flood events in recent years, and that’s something you didn’t see in the past.
“What do you do about it? Climate change really creates a phenomenal business opportunity. Technologies around climate mitigation and climate adaptation are going to be very very popular, and very much needed. Climate mitigation is everything that’s going to get us to net zero, and climate adaptation is everything that’s going to help us adapt to this new reality.
“I think the government is missing the mark in planning around the climate. We put too much concrete in [the center of the country]; we’re not leaving enough green areas, which means we’re going to see more floods in the cities. We’re going to see hotter days. You can actually see that when you plant trees in cities, you cool the neighborhood, you cool the entire area. That’s smart planning. You can actually see that in wealthy areas the temperature, on average, is 10 to 15 degrees Fahrenheit lower than in poor areas because you don’t have trees in those areas. People [in those poorer areas] die from stroke, heart attacks, all kinds of health conditions that are a result of [poor planning].
“I don’t think people understand the challenges we’re facing, and how expensive it’s going to be. Like any problem in life, if you wait it’s going to be bigger and more expensive to solve. You can build and build, but without the right mindset and the right awareness, you’re going to have to rebuild.”