How a local disaster led to a global innovation - Choose Brisbane

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How a local disaster led to a global innovation

Juliette Murphy is the CEO and co-founder of FloodMapp, the Brisbane start-up that recently raised $1.3 million in its first investment round.

I never set out to start a business.

When I started developing FloodMapp, it was a passion project. It was something I felt like I had to do.

This has always been my area of expertise. I was a water resources engineer for about 10 years, specialising in flooding and hydrology. But the impetus for FloodMapp came in 2011, when I saw the catastrophic impact of flooding firsthand in Brisbane. I saw my friend’s home engulfed by floodwaters, and she had no idea it was going to happen.

Two years later, I moved to Calgary and it happened again — a flood of a similar magnitude to Brisbane’s, with 75,000 people evacuated. I took five of my friends into my apartment because they had nowhere to go. It took everyone without warning.

After the flood

In Australia alone, floods do about $9 billion every year in damages, and about $7 billion of those damages are incurred in Queensland. Aside from the economic costs, of course, floods take thousands of lives around the world every year. And with climate change leading to more frequent and severe flooding, the problem is going to get worse.

Of course, some of these losses are just not preventable. But some of them are. After the floods in Brisbane and Calgary, I found myself wishing there was more I could have done to help my friends. In fact, I knew there was more that could be done, because I knew that incredible models for flood mapping existed, but they weren’t being shared with the public in a digestible format.

In Australia, the Bureau of Meteorology does an incredible job at forecasting the weather and forecasting river heights. When a flood is about to approach — like, for example, the flooding caused by Cyclone Debbie in the Logan-Albert catchment in Queensland — people receive a warning saying there will be major flooding in the area, and the peak will reach 13.9 metres, which was the height recorded in 1991.

Now, that information may be completely accurate — but it means nothing to the general public. If you’re not a hydraulic engineer, you can’t translate what that information means in terms of flood inundation to your house or your assets. So even though people are getting warnings, they don’t have actionable insights about whether they should move their car or their assets or their livestock.

That’s where FloodMapp comes in. Essentially, FloodMapp analyses rainfall and river height data in real-time, as well as elevation and topography models, to create a live and interactive map of the expected flood inundation that makes it easy for people and businesses to see if their property and assets will be affected.

Putting Brisbane on the Mapp

I created the first FloodMapp prototype as a hobby. I taught myself how to code in Java and XML and built it as a mobile app. But I’m not a software engineer, and I knew there were a lot of gaps in my tech skills, so I partnered with a developer named Ryan Prosser, who would become my CTO and co-founder. He took my prototype and built it out, and as we realised the potential for this solution, we soon began building a team of talented software engineers, data scientists and flood engineers.

Our team is based at River City Labs, the coworking space within The Precinct in Fortitude Valley. Brisbane has been an amazing place to start and build the company — it’s much more affordable than Sydney, which made it possible to leave my full-time job and commit completely to this start-up, and the sense of community at River City Labs is incredible. There are so many great mentors and support networks and meetup groups that you can tap into to grow your network and skill set. We also received support from Brisbane Marketing’s Global Entrepreneur Program.

We recently raised our seed investment round, and we were thrilled to secure $1.3 million in funding from venture funds like Steve Baxter’s Transition Level Investments, Allectus Capital and Jelix Ventures, and two individual investors, Daniel Johnson and Peter Cross, who have a wealth of experience in the insurance industry. We already had a relationship with Transition Level Investments because they’re a big part of the start-up community here in Fortitude Valley, but for the most part, it was just a matter of travelling and meeting with investors to find the ones who aligned most closely with our vision and were the right fit to invest in an early-stage start-up like ours.

Raising that seed money was a huge, huge win for us. We still have challenges ahead, of course, but the funding round was one of the biggest hurdles we’ve tackled as a team, and it’s been a real game-changer for us.

Now that we’ve secured that funding, we’re concentrating on rolling out FloodMapp in Queensland, New South Wales and the United States, starting with eastern states like Texas, Florida, Louisiana and the Carolinas that are particularly susceptible to Atlantic hurricanes and flooding.

Our ultimate goal is to become the most trusted provider of predictive flood data across the globe. I started developing FloodMapp because I wanted to reduce the impacts of flooding and make people safer — and we’re well on our way to being able to do that all around the world.

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