By Scott Meacham
Copyright ©2018, The Oklahoma Publishing Co.
Whether the weather fascinates, frustrates, or frightens, weather is big business for Oklahoma.
In Norman alone, there are more than 1,100 people working in the weather industry. About 100 of those (nearly half are degreed meteorologists) are employed by Weather Decision Technologies (WDT), a firm that provides organizations with weather decision support on a global scale.
A confluence of geography and meteorological conditions makes Oklahoma the perfect place to study weather. A confluence of a different sort led Mike Eilts, WDT co-founder and CEO, on a path to start up an Oklahoma business that made the Inc. 5000 eight times and is growing about 25 percent a year.
Eilts has always loved the weather, from his Boy Scout weather badge, to his degrees from OU, to his early career developing software for NEXRAD radar systems at the National Severe Storms Laboratory in Norman.
In 1998, when Oklahoma passed legislation allowing research institutions to form partnerships with private industry, Eilts and four associates wrote a business plan for licensing two technologies that scientists at OU had developed.
“It took a couple of tries and about 15 months,” Eilts said. “We started WDT in 2000 with almost a million dollars, raised from friends and family plus a $350,000 OCAST grant. We met i2E in 2001, and they helped us raise another $1 million.”
WDT used those funds to continue to grow the business to $7 million and sold WDT for a 4X multiple for the i2E investors. Through a set of circumstances, Eilts and the other founders of WDT had the opportunity to take back control of the company.
“At one point we sold information to 14 of the 15 largest weather companies in the world who put our data into their mobile apps and on websites which they sell to their customers,” said Eilts, “but at some point, you run out of the weather companies, so we had to come up with a plan to grow beyond those initial customers.”
WDT has morphed into a service organization that sells weather information directly to corporations across multiple industries that operate on land and sea.
Among these customers are organizations that host or are part of more than 6,000 outdoor events each year, including the camera people at ESPN, Beyoncé’s concert promoters, and officials with Live Nation.
With 47 ships and 300 ports of call, Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines uses WDT to learn all they can about the winds and waves, temperatures and storms so they can operate safely and efficiently all over the globe.
And then there are the senior executives in the oil and gas industry who look to WDT for the information to help them make billion-dollar decisions regarding offshore equipment and even more important decisions about risks to human life.
With an estimated economic impact of $350 million added to Norman and the State of Oklahoma over the past 18 years, WDT shows what entrepreneurs and scientists can create in this state when we put our experience and resources together to create a confluence of innovation.
Scott Meacham is president and CEO of i2E Inc., a nonprofit corporation that mentors many of the state’s technology-based startup companies. i2E receives state support from the Oklahoma Center for the Advancement of Science and Technology and is an integral part of Oklahoma’s Innovation Model. Contact Meacham at [email protected].