Graham Dodge is the CEO of Sickweather. Similar to the way meteorological radars scan for indications of inclement weather conditions, Sickweather draws from social network conversation in real time to generate a live map of signs, trends, and outbreaks of illnesses in areas across the United States. As people publicly post about their and their loved ones’ symptoms, or report a sickness directly through the app, Sickweather sends location-based alerts and provides its users with regional forecasts scored by risk level. The company, which currently offers apps for the iPhone and Apple Watch, has been featured on Today, ABC, FOX, CBS, CNET, Mashable, NPR, and more.
EDWIN WARFIELD: Tell us about starting the company. You were previously at KatzAbosch, correct? How did you move from that to getting involved in this kind of technology?
GRAHAM DODGE: My background, before starting Sickweather, goes all the way back to the late 90s in the dotcom bubble era out in Southern California, where I was working for a developer that built the world’s first online map of crime data. One of my jobs was to aggregate or find data sources for that map.
Then, when the dot-com bubble burst, I parlayed my career at that point into television. I started working in production for MTV and Nickelodeon and Viacom. And then, when my wife and I had our first baby, we decided to move back to our hometown here in Maryland, where we’re both from. At that point I started to then parlay my production experience into events and trade show marketing.
While I was working with various companies here in this region, I met somebody who was working with this accounting firm called KatzAbosch. They recognized my earlier skills in web development and online marketing, and brought me on as their director of marketing. It was while I was at KatzAbosch that I was also struck with a stomach virus at one point, and wanted to know what illness was going around, or if it was food poisoning. At that time there was no available information online from the CDC or from the local public health department that would tell you what was going around in your area, let alone in real time or with the specific kind of question I had about whether it was food poisoning or a stomach virus.
I happened to be on Facebook later that same day and saw a friend of mine posting his symptoms that were the same as mine, nearby in D.C. That’s when it occurred to me based on my earlier background in data aggregation that if we could use social media as that real-time source of data to mine that and to filter it correctly then we could create something that showed you which illnesses were trending in any given area. That’s exactly what my co-founders and I ended up doing and was, you know, how I went from being an accounting firm to the CEO of a disease surveillance company.
Q. Who are your co-founders? Did they share your vision?
A. My co-founders and I go back as far back as middle school, junior high, and high school. My co-founder, Mike Belt, is a software developer with 15 years experience now. We met in high school. He was one of the first people I told this idea to and bounced it off him—if he thought what we wanted to do was technically possible. He was immediately on board with trying to build Sickweather.
I also happened to have dinner with my other co-founder, James Sajor. He was in town helping his mother go through stage IV breast cancer. She had a compromised immune system, so for him it was even more important to know what illnesses were going around, so he could avoid getting sick—so he wouldn’t get her sick and complicate her progress.
The three of us then pooled our resources together and started Sickweather. This was back in 2011.
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