Pitching King Tides to the Business Community

Posted by on Apr 22, 2014 in Project Updates | Comments Off on Pitching King Tides to the Business Community

How do you sell education, engagement and adaptation to investors? That was my task as a finalist in the Triton Network (TriNet) Entrepreneurial Challenge. The annual business competition at UCSD aims to promote innovative technological approaches to dealing with environmental problems. As a Master’s student at Scripps Institution of Oceanography studying coastal resilience, I entered the competition with the idea of a King Tides app that would strengthen the connection between the citizen scientists who document the tides and the researchers working on flood models and maps for the future under sea level rise. The idea made it to the final round of the social venture category, which featured business ideas with a societal benefit. We were given just two minutes to present an “elevator pitch,” on our ideas. For those who have never watched “Shark Tank,” an “elevator pitch” is just what it sounds like: imagine you step into an elevator with your dream boss, an investor, Bill & Melinda Gates (you get the idea) and you have only the time it takes to get to the next stop to get them interested enough to want to hear more. 120 seconds was all I had to convey not only the power of the King Tides Initiative to an auditorium full of venture capitalists, MBA students and members of the San Diego business community, but to explain what King Tides are, how citizen science works and why communicating the potential impacts of sea level rise is so important right now. So here’s what it came down to:

The King Tides Citizen Science App helps predict and alert coastal communities about sea level rise by using information provided by the people who live there. Climate change is contributing to rising sea levels, which could increase by as much as six feet in some areas over the next 50-100 years and while that sounds far off, the time to start planning is now.  Before moving to California, I lived and worked in New York City. Hurricane Sandy showed us just how vulnerable the city is to rising sea levels, but It shouldn’t take a disaster to start preparing for sea level rise. The King Tides Initiative uses photographs taken by people living in coastal communities during the highest high tides, or “King Tides,” to give us a glimpse of what the future could look like under rising sea levels.  Add high tides and storms on top of that and you get more frequent and worse flooding hazards. There are researchers who are working on mapping future flood hazards, but they need better information. This app can use the information from these pictures, taken by people right in their own neighborhoods, to create more accurate maps that will better predict which areas are at risk. This can connect citizens to the scientists and give them a louder voice in the decisions that will shape their future.

The experience taught me that the key to communicating is putting yourself in the shoes of your audience. The business community has different interests than say, local city planners and the people who live in neighborhoods that are vulnerable to flooding from rising sea levels. Investors want to see a return on their time and money and this initiative offers that, even if it cannot be calculated in dollars and cents. The idea didn’t win the competition, but it did help us reach new people.  And that’s where the real value of the King Tides Initiative comes from: the people who participate. By documenting the King Tides every year, we are building a visual record of the changes that are taking place in our coastal communities. We are also contributing to the science by providing crucial, on-the-ground observations that researchers need to build better flood maps. Perhaps most importantly, we are adding our voices to the conversation about the future of our communities.