In our regular series, we interview members at Sussex Innovation about their business, why they joined and their plans for growth. Today Catalyst team member, Jago chats with Dave Richtor from Weatherflare.
Tell me a bit about Weatherflare.
I suffer from something called palindromic arthritis. Which is a rare form of arthritis that comes and goes in different joints in different parts of the body. I’ve had it all my life and I’ve always felt that it’s affected by the weather. Also, I had a nan that could miraculously predict the weather because of the pain in her creaky knee!
There’s a solution here, I think, if we use mobile apps. We’ve got all the API weather data and then if we add in the human input of people’s experiences then we can predict how the weather is affecting people with flare conditions, like myself. People with arthritis, COPD, PoTS, Ehlers-Danos syndrome, anxiety, SAD etcetera. It’s more a case of answering how these conditions are affected by weather conditions. And then also to tie in a load of tips for people to manage that condition. So, for example, I could have low pressure, high winds speeds, and that would cause one of my knees to swell up, so how should I treat myself? Is a cold compress better than painkillers?
I just wanted to find out more about the links between weather and flare conditions. Coincidentally while I was doing my initial research, the University of Manchester released a report called “Cloudy With a Chance of Pain” (which is a great name!) that studied 10,000 people in the UK over a period of just two years. This found that certain conditions: high wind speed; high pressure; high humidity, did affect people with musculoskeletal conditions. So, if it does have that affect on people with those conditions; what will we find if we study the effects of different weather on different conditions all around the world?
What has been the biggest challenge for you so far?
It’s boring to say finance, but funding Weatherflare was definitely a challenge. Also, I wasn’t able to get help from the government’s coronavirus business support or furlough scheme because I hadn’t started trading yet. The challenge has been funding it myself, from personal savings. I’m totally self-funded up to this point, and for the next step I’m going to be crowd funding. It’s also been a challenge for me as someone with a long-term health condition to raise funds.
What has been your biggest success so far?
Just getting the prototype of the app out there; people are enjoying it and I’m getting good feedback. We’re beta testing at the minute; none of the bells and whistles, just showing the weather that might affect people. We use a simple traffic light system: Red for a bad day; amber, on an okay day; and green for a good day. We hope to integrate things, like, if I had a meeting with you today, for example, and the weather conditions are a red for me, the app would be able to rearrange the meeting for a green day when it’s sunny and everything’s better. Little things like that. The positive thing about me just having this crazy idea in my head is that I can help other people manage their own conditions. If it just makes 1% of difference to someone’s day, then I’ve achieved what I set out to do.
How has your business had to change with coronavirus?
Everything has gone online, which has not been too bad for me with a long-term illness. But personally, I feel I’m better in meetings face-to-face. Sometimes in person, with a cup of coffee, meetings go in different directions. I know some people like going from A to B, but I like to go off on little tangents, different ideas come out, and I think I find out more about that person. Or maybe it’s just my aversion to Zoom!
On the positive side, there’s a lot more freelancers around, looking for projects. And hopefully governments will be putting health at the forefront. Also I’ve noticed a better work-life balance since working remotely. With my condition, 9-5s don’t really work for me, so I just do as much as I can and rest around that. I don’t think people are ever as productive with a 9-5 slog. You’re just waiting to get out the door. I’d rather people to do 2 hours of good work in their own time. People have done work for me quicker, of higher quality and enjoyed themselves more. Hopefully this will be a change that sticks around.
Why did you decide to join Sussex Innovation?
Well, I went to the Hothouse event in March and I did really like it, meeting the people, stuff like that. But really, I’m just here to use and abuse you! The biggest priority for me is the data. I just had the idea, I’m not an expert. I’ve spoken to Peter from Sussex Innovation about getting involved with DISCUS, another one of your members. They’re used to handling big data, and could draw out some cause and effect, really get some brain power behind it. Also, there's Sussex Innovation's link to the university, like the chance to work with Sussex University's medical school. Not to mention the help I've got presenting to the public; Anne-Fay's been helping me with that. It's the chance to get into that expertise with Sussex Innovation, I trust you to just point me in the right direction! Again, I'm an ideas man, but now I need to be a businessman as well. It's tying it all together, that's what I'm here for. I feel they have a genuine interest in Weatherflare as a good project.