This Data-Centric Startup Wants to Reimburse You for Travel Plans Ruined by Climate Change

Keerthi Vedantam

Keerthi Vedantam is a bioscience reporter at dot.LA. She cut her teeth covering everything from cloud computing to 5G in San Francisco and Seattle. Before she covered tech, Keerthi reported on tribal lands and congressional policy in Washington, D.C. Connect with her on Twitter, Clubhouse (@keerthivedantam) or Signal at 408-470-0776.

This Data-Centric Startup Wants to Reimburse You for Travel Plans Ruined by Climate Change

A new kind of travel insurance for climate change announced a $4 million raise.

When climate scientist Nick Cavanaugh lived in Seattle, he was blessed with a geography that gave way to beautiful running trails, arduous hikes, and snow-powdered hills that lended itself to snowboarding and skiing. Weekend outdoor activities were only a stone’s throw away, but were also so heavily dependent on the weather.

After getting his PhD at UC San Diego’s Scripps Institute of Oceanography and getting a postdoc on climate science research and variability, Cavanaugh would go on to research how changes in weather could make sizable impacts in everything from agriculture to housing before founding Sensible Weather in 2019.

The heart of the company is a platform that collects and analyzes climate data, gathering information from satellites, ships and others who are tracking global weather patterns.

Cavanaugh foresees multiple uses for this kind of data, but for now, Sensible Weather is focusing on travel. The company is working with a handful of travel partners to offer a service that will refund travelers who have booked experiences like hand gliding or skiing, but can’t go because of a storm or some other weather event. Sensible Weather expects to unveil their partnerships next month.

As more people emerge from their COVID cocoon to travel during the spring and summer, Sensible Weather is looking to grow. It announced on Monday it raised $4 million led by Los Angeles-focused Wonder Ventures and Walkabout Ventures, with additional funding from the likes of 75 & Sunny Ventures (co-founded by dot.LA co-founder Spencer Rascoff) and Group 1001, arming the company with $10 million.

Leveraging hourly data from around the world going back several decades, the platform is able to predict on an hour-to-hour basis the weather conditions at a certain place and automatically reimburse travelers whose plans have been impacted by the change.

“We believe that in going to market with this consumer product, you would need to effectively be offering consumers a payout in real time beforehand in order for that product to be seen as really valuable,” Cavanaugh said. “We're giving consumers money when they're experiencing this moment of pain and allowing them to change their plans or to change what they were going to do, or at the very least, they'll change their attitude about what it is they were doing.”

Climate change is already having a drastic and immediate impact on the way we live, from devastating bushfires in Australiato the arctic cold wave in Texas. The tangible scenes of climate change have upped peoples’ usage of travel insurance.

“This is just the new normal in which we're facing and there are things that we can do to combat those things, other than just sort of kicking the can down the road,” Cavanaugh said.

But there are further uses for the technology. As the company continues to amass weather data from around the world, climate data can help communities develop weather-resistant housing, or build new developments on land that is less impacted by climate change. This kind of data can help farmers find arable land to grow crops on or better predict the success of certain plants. Traditional homeowners insurance may come with wildfire or flood coverage.

For now, Sensible Weather is focusing on travel. The company is working with a handful of travel partners as more people emerge from the pandemic to travel during the spring and summer.

“I think in 10 years, the insurance landscape and insurance products is going to look very different than it does today,” Cavanaugh said.

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Genies Wants To Help Creators Build ‘Avatar Ecosystems’

Christian Hetrick

Christian Hetrick is dot.LA's Entertainment Tech Reporter. He was formerly a business reporter for the Philadelphia Inquirer and reported on New Jersey politics for the Observer and the Press of Atlantic City.

Genies Wants To Help Creators Build ‘Avatar Ecosystems’

When avatar startup Genies raised $150 million in April, the company released an unusual message to the public: “Farewell.”

The Marina del Rey-based unicorn, which makes cartoon-like avatars for celebrities and aims to “build an avatar for every single person on Earth,” didn’t go under. Rather, Genies announced it would stay quiet for a while to focus on building avatar-creation products.

Genies representatives told dot.LA that the firm is now seeking more creators to try its creation tools for 3D avatars, digital fashion items and virtual experiences. On Thursday, the startup launched a three-week program called DIY Collective, which will mentor and financially support up-and-coming creatives.

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Here's What To Expect At LA Tech Week

Christian Hetrick

Christian Hetrick is dot.LA's Entertainment Tech Reporter. He was formerly a business reporter for the Philadelphia Inquirer and reported on New Jersey politics for the Observer and the Press of Atlantic City.

Here's What To Expect At LA Tech Week

LA Tech Week—a weeklong showcase of the region’s growing startup ecosystem—is coming this August.

The seven-day series of events, from Aug. 15 through Aug. 21, is a chance for the Los Angeles startup community to network, share insights and pitch themselves to investors. It comes a year after hundreds of people gathered for a similar event that allowed the L.A. tech community—often in the shadow of Silicon Valley—to flex its muscles.

From fireside chats with prominent founders to a panel on aerospace, here are some highlights from the roughly 30 events happening during LA Tech Week, including one hosted by dot.LA.

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PCH Driven: Director Jason Wise Talks Wine, Documentaries, and His New Indie Streaming Service SOMMTV

Jamie Williams
­Jamie Williams is the host of the “PCH Driven” podcast, a show about Southern California entrepreneurs, innovators and its driven leaders on their road to success. The series celebrates and reveals the wonders of the human spirit and explores the motivations behind what drives us.
Jason Wise holding wine glass
Image courtesy of Jason Wise

Jason Wise may still consider himself a little kid, but the 33-year-old filmmaker is building an IMDB page that rivals colleagues twice his age.

As the director behind SOMM, SOMM2, SOMM3, and the upcoming SOMM4, Wise has made a career producing award-winning documentary films that peer deep into the wine industry in Southern California and around the world.

On this episode of the PCH Driven podcast, he talks about life growing up in Cleveland as a horrible student, filmmaking, Los Angeles and his latest entrepreneurial endeavor: A streaming service called SOMMTV that features–what else?–documentaries about wine.

The conversation covers some serious ground, but the themes of wine and film work to anchor the discussion, and Wise dispenses bits of sage filmmaking advice.

“With a documentary you can just start filming right now,” he says. “That’s how SOMM came about. I got tossed into that world during the frustration of trying to make a different film, and I just started filming it, because no one could stop me because I was paying for it myself. That’s the thing with docs,” or “The good thing about SOMM is that you can explain it in one sentence: ‘The hardest test in the world is about wine, and you’ve never heard about it.’”

…Or at least maybe you hadn’t before he made his first film. Now with three SOMM documentaries under his belt, Wise is nearing completion of “SOMM4: Cup of Salvation,” which examines the history of wine’s relationship with religion. Wise says it’s “a wild film,” that spans multiple countries, the Vatican and even an active warzone. As he puts it, the idea is to show that “wine is about every subject,” rather than “every subject is about wine.”

For Wise, the transition to launching his own streaming service came out of his frustration with existing platforms holding too much power over the value of the content he produces.

“Do we want Netflix to tell us what our projects are worth or do we want the audience to do that?” he asks.

But unlike giants in the space, SOMMTV has adopted a gradual approach of just adding small bits of content as they develop. Without the need to license 500 or 1,000 hours of programming, Wise has been able to basically bootstrap SOMMTV and provide short form content and other more experimental offerings that typically get passed over by the Hulus and Disneys of the world.

So far, he says, the experiment is working, and now Wise is looking to raise some serious capital to keep up with the voracious appetites of his subscribers.

“Send those VCs my way,” Wise jokes.

Subscribe to PCH Driven on Apple, Stitcher, Spotify, iHeart, Google or wherever you get your podcasts.

dot.LA reporter David Shultz contributed to this report.