Turning Science into Real-World Solutions
Getting science out of the lab and into the hands of those who need it the most is a daunting challenge. Ruben Hallali, cofounder and CEO of HD Rain, was up for it: he turned his cofounder’s thesis into an impactful startup, providing rain measurements and forecasts at high resolution, based on an innovative technology. As average temperates rises, and as acute hazards such as heat waves and floods grow in severity and frequency, entire populations are at risk. It is now more than ever the time to bridge the gap between academia and startups.
Hi Ruben, could you tell us a bit about yourself?
I'm co-founder and CEO of HD Rain. After an engineering degree, a PhD in meteorology and having worked for 5 years at Météo-France, I decided to become an entrepreneur. The original idea of HD Rain came from my friend François Mercier's thesis, and we were joined by Dumminda Ratnayake a little later in Toulouse during a networking event. After 6 months of prototyping, the first version of our "RainBox" (our custom sensor) was fully operational. In 2018, the real adventure began as we all started working full-time on the project.
In your opinion, is it primordial to have a solid background in weather forecasting to launch a startup such as HD Rain?
Meteorology is above all a complex science that mixes both fluid mechanics and mathematics. HD Rain's technology is the result of the extensive scientific research François conducted during his PhD, without this laboratory work the startup would not exist today. However, I think that having this in-depth knowledge of weather forecasting is not enough. It’s crucial to willingly take on the challenges and risks that come with starting a new company that’s solely based on your own ideas and vision. We had to change our way of thinking as researchers to embrace an entrepreneurial mindset.
For someone with a strong scientific background, how were you able to bridge the gap from thesis to business idea?
It wasn’t simple to do. We had to move from a purely scientific approach to a business approach. During the first year of the company's existence, our pitch focused too much on our technology and not enough on its business application. We had to learn to be more verbal about the problem we were addressing and our solution, as well as showcase what could be the ROI for our clients. In hindsight, I’m now able to fully realize the extent of the work that had to be done in order to go from research results to saleable product. HD Rain's "Product Market Fit" was built by taking into account the needs of our first customers, that were far from what we had envisioned at the end of both of our PhDs!
What is HD Rain about?
HD Rain provides very high resolution weather measurements and forecasts based on innovative data sources for weather-sensitive areas and economic activities, which can be deployed worldwide. In developed countries, we bring high resolution, fast deploying system and improve radar coverage. In developing countries, we bring affordable & easy to deploy solution with a robust & maintainable system.
Since 2018 HD Rain has deployed systems in Toulouse, in Brazil, in the Pyrenees. This year, we are deploying a risk management improvement solution for Allianz en France in the south-west of France, around the Mediterranean bassin, a region that is particularly prone to climatic risks, especially in the fall during heavy rainfalls and floods.
On an international scale, we are currently installing 150 sensors in Abidjan, Ivory Coast, in partnership with Météo-France International, for the national weather agency, SODEXAM.
What does your project in Ivory Coast encompass?
This is the first project of this magnitude that we take on. In partnership with Météo-France International (MFI), the deployed system will cover the entire Abidjan region. This highly urbanized zone is subject to major flash flood risks, in particular during rain season. HD Rain products enable observation and prediction of intense rainfalls and then MFI and SOSEXAM use this data to alert and protect locals and infrastructures. Of course, in order to deploy such a large number of sensors, we are strongly backed up by the beneficiary as well as the French Tech network. Lifiled, a company based in France and Ivory Coast, will take care of the deployment of some sensors. To find spaces for the sensors, we offered TVs to locals in return for the installment of HD Rain sensors on their roof.
Which weather forecasting technology do you use?
We developed a low-cost sensor which opportunistically measures rainfall by analyzing its influence on waves coming from TV-satellites. It allows measuring and anticipating rainfall up to 2 hours in advance on the covered area, deployed as a network and coupled with dedicated algorithms. We produce weather maps minute-by-minute with a 500 meters accuracy.
Why was it important for you to join an incubator? And why did you chose the Incubateur HEC Paris?
In the current context, it was important for us to be accompanied and to benefit from expertise on all topics far removed from our initial training. We chose the Incubateur HEC Paris since we met many entrepreneurs who had joined the program, all of whom advised us to apply. As first HD Rain business developer, it was crucial for me to get advice from mentor and experts.
What has the incubator brought to you thus far?
Since July we are following quite an intense program. Regular meeting with the Incubateur HEC Paris team enable us to measure our progression since arrival precisely. It’s an ideal environment to test a wide range of hypotheses quickly. So far, the assets of the Incubateur HEC Paris from which we benefitted from the most were privileged access to to the HEC network and office hours with mentors with various backgrounds and different fields of expertise. In fact, the ecosystem and its dynamic facilitate contact between currently incubated startups and startups from previous batches, great sources of knowledge and advice.
What are your next steps?
Before the end of the year, we will have set up our first round of stakeholders. This was delayed due to the complicated circumstances of the last 6 months. Our main goal is to finalize this first round of funding. Our upcoming challenge is now the deployment of our networks in France and abroad. With a completely autonomous hardware, and a fundamentally rethought and improved algorithmic data processing string, we are ready to cater to our clients’ needs where flood risks are the highest.
What are your thoughts on the future of weather services?
At a time of abrupt climate changes which already impact our daily lives, I think it’s critical to think about strategies to implement to expand and improve science and technology in this sector. Since the last 40 years, this field has constantly been evolving, notably thanks to an exponential increase in computing capacities. In the 70s, weather forecasting would not go beyond the next 24 hours. Today we are able to predict a whole week of climate events. However, there remains a wide gap between developed countries which massively invested in weather forecasting infrastructures through their national agencies and developing countries. Currently these countries who are less-equipped with infrastructure and warning methods are also the ones to suffer the most from extreme phenomena caused by climate change.
Yet, according to the World Bank, each dollar invested in prevention technologies and weather forecasting allows nations to save $100 in rescue actions and repairs. I think these disparities will progressively disappear: past technologies are giving way to innovative and opportunistic observation capacities, at lower costs of investment and infrastructure. These innovations concern the whole weather sector value chain from observation and computing to forecast.