Meteorologists have our attention as the U.S. undergoes what may turn out to be the worst hurricane season ever.
Ria Persad is a leader in U.S. weather analysis technology, but she couldn’t find an investor for her weather tech startup in an industry dominated by white men.
Typically, weather experts have our attention when we turn to the news outlets to plan for the weekend, but with a monster storm barreling toward the U.S., we look to hourly forecasts from experts who can show us images of spaghetti plots for storms.
Behind the scenes, away from the cameras, weather analysts work to provide the data on which lives depend. Not all these weather experts work for the government, and not all of them are white men in pickup trucks.
Meet Ria Persad, math whiz, space physicist and one of the leaders behind U.S. weather analysis technology. Born in Trinidad and Tobago and raised in the U.S., Persad has an educational and personal background that deserves the spotlight in her white-male-dominated industry.
Persad is CEO and co-founder of StatWeather, a weather and climate services corporation specializing in weather prediction for the risk management industry.
Based in Tampa, FL, Statweather is a tech suite that provides users with up-to-90-day accuracy for “timing, duration, and intensity of extreme weather events long before government models”, per its website and founder. Her tech startup is helping to drive decisions for market investments, city-wide planning and energy planning and distribution.
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Dubbed a “human computer” as a child, Persad overcame paralysis after being infected with the Zika virus. She immigrated to the U.S. and later studied mathematics and physics at Harvard, Princeton, and Cambridge universities. She did her doctoral studies at Rice University and has subsequently been a consultant to the U.S. Space Program, a partner with NOAA’s National Centers for Environmental Information, and others.
As a woman of color, Persad stands out at weather industry events, where nine out of 10 people are older white males.
“You can be a dumb-as-a-doorknob older white male from a family with money and be successful,” Persad told Moguldom. “Whereas for us, we must have the IQ of Albert Einstein and come off as strong as Elon Musk to get the same level of clout … I don’t believe I would have to work as hard if I just looked different. But I’m a hard worker so this doesn’t deter me.”
Among her many honors, Persad was named one of the top seven global leaders for Lifetime Achievement and Woman of the Year in International Power-Gen and Renewable Energy by the Platts Global Energy Awards.
A pianist and model, Persad is representing Trinidad and Tobago in the Ms. World 2018 pageant.
Persad talked to Moguldom about her tech startup and what it’s like being a woman of color in the white male-dominated weather industry.
Moguldom: Your background is so vast. How did you channel it all into StatWeather?
Ria Persad: My current work of using predictive modeling comes from my background of working with NASA, Lockheed Martin, Enron, and others. Enron recruited me and other space physicists after the space exploration budgets were cut to work on financial trading to develop models. They wanted people with specific scientific backgrounds to develop financial tools. I left before all the things happened at Enron, but I remained working in the financial industry. I saw how we could take all the knowledge I obtained to create solutions for those in the business world. The private sector needs these types of tools to make very important decisions.
Moguldom: What does StatWeather offer that the local news cannot?
Ria Persad: We developed artificial intelligent systems that continuously learn and take in new variables from the atmosphere and project into the future, one month (up to two years) in North America. You can see what patterns are evolving with our statistical analysis that gives an output to the percentage of chance a certain weather condition will occur.
Moguldom: What makes your service different than going to Weather.com?
Ria Persad: Weather.com will just give you high and low temperatures and averages. Our subscription can provide you with information about a three-day heatwave that will occur within 90 days and the range of those temperatures. We use statistical model testing. We have temperature data since 1895 and can run lean six sigma methods and other scientific rigor to come up with an accuracy in the forecast. Computer modeling is free of human bias, unlike the information provided by meteorologists that are using their subjective opinion of information provided by the government. When you have our service you get an unbiased, computer-based, statistical model review of the data to determine the percentage of possible accuracy with the forecast.
Moguldom: How does your company help the business sector?
Ria Persad: Our clients can take the information we provide them and can prepare for safety and continuity in service perspective. StatWeather can tell organizations when to start collecting renewable energy and storing natural gas. Multi-billion-dollar events can be seen in advance from hurricanes to drought. For the energy sectors, this is huge. The weather drives the energy economy. When it is super cold or hot, we know we need to consume more energy. Power companies can plan demand better with our solution. If companies have the right amount of energy in advance of blackouts, continuity of service can continue with ease. If not, you get blackouts that last hours or days. Knowing this type of data helps investment teams make financial decisions.
Moguldom: Why focus on private sector and not the public?
Ria Persad: We did market research and found out the commodities industry needed to know about the weather. We found investment bankers were dependent on this type of information. I was able to tap into the connections I made from working with Enron and others. This helped us to become a profitable company more quickly. We hope to venture more into the outlets that provide weather forecasting, but it hasn’t happened yet.
Moguldom: Who is your biggest competitor?
Ria Persad: The government. They have their own supercomputer model which does not analyze the forecast in the same manner.
Moguldom: How well received is your technology in the industry?
Ria Persad: We were ranked as the No. 1 data provider in the world in 2015. We beat Bloomberg, Thomson Reuters and other multi-billion-dollar companies out for our data.
Moguldom: How well are you received in the industry?
Ria Persad: It has been really hard work. A lot of opposition, especially being a woman of color starting this venture with no large bank account or backers. People question us because we don’t have a Peter Thiel or other known man behind us. They see a black male or Hispanic woman on our technical team and they question us. They don’t see big names behind this life-changing technology. We are just who we are and we’re doing it better than what people would perceive our group can accomplish. We must prove ourselves 10 times over to show we are legit — the real deal.
Moguldom: How did stereotyping affect your launch?
Ria Persad:Not having big names behind this technological advancement in the industry made it harder (to get) angel investors. We were leading the way in this industry and no one else could do it. We tried to obtain investors, but just never did. We had to bootstrap our way to selling our product to large financial institutions and others. Thankfully over time we just ended up building up our customer base. Now people are taking us more seriously.
Moguldom: Women already have a challenge. As a woman of color in a white male-dominated industry, do you feel this has affected you as well?
Ria Persad: Nine out of 10 people at (weather industry) events are older white males. To be completely candid with you, you can be a dumb-as-a-doorknob older white male from a family with money and be successful. Whereas for us, we must have the IQ of Albert Einstein and come off as strong as Elon Musk to get the same level of clout. You must be that much better and stand out. You have to be to a point where they can’t pick holes in what you’re saying before they believe you. But if you want to get ahead, you must work so much harder. I don’t believe I would have to work as hard if I just looked different. But I’m a hard worker so this doesn’t deter me.
Moguldom: Where do you see StatWeather in 10 years?
Ria Persad: I see StatWeather predicting for Mongolia. Telling them they whether they will have a drought or not in two years and need to store up resources. I see us on the United Nations stage helping governments around the world using our system to save lives and helping economies around the world. (I see) a very strong humanitarian use for our services.