This week we were able to chat with Paige Brown and Kai Marshland, two of the founders of WindBorne. Paige and Kai have been working on WindBorne for almost four years now, a venture born out of a Stanford Space Initiative project to break the world record for the longest duration flight by a latex balloon. Read on to learn how Paige and Kai’s passion for engineering and climate change is shaping the future of WindBorne.
Neither Paige nor Kai ever imagined themselves starting a company. Growing up, both viewed themselves as scientists and engineers (Paige is currently a Junior finishing up a degree in Material Science, while Kai is a Senior graduating from the Computer Science department this year). Together, they boast a myriad of awards and recognitions: to mention only a few, both have been recognized by Intel in various competitions, Kai has been recognized by the ACM for excellence in Computer Science and Paige was just named one of 32 Global Teen Leaders by Three Dot Dash. All in all, no one can deny their technical expertise. Natural problem solvers, engineering has provided an outlet for both Paige and Kai to constantly challenge themselves. This year, however, what started as a simple science project with the Stanford Space Initiative (SSI) has driven them out of the lab and into the entrepreneurial space.
Kai joined SSI as a freshman in 2015 with Andrey Sushko, another founder of WindBorne, to launch the Valbal project. Valbal emerged from a simple question: how long can we keep a balloon in the atmosphere? Valbal’s original goal was to push this limit, and eventually circumvent the globe with a latex baloon. Paige joined Valbal in 2016 when she arrived at Stanford for her freshman year. Since its inception, Valbal went on to completely crush the world record four seperate times, achieving a 5 day TransAtlantic flight from California to Morocco this past October. This flight time gives Valbal the ability to fly over oceans to gather crucial weather data, as most weather patterns (including those involved in the formation of hurricanes) begin offshore. Valbal’s technical edge comes largely from a highly developed control algorithm spearheaded by founder John Dean (pictured above), which is able to navigate the latex balloon through violent winds in the atmospheric layer with little to no human interaction.
Their huge achievement this past October pushed the Valbal team to start thinking about their motivations behind Valbal. Paige realized they had extremely exciting technology, but lacked real impact: “We wanted to start helping the world with Valbal instead of just flying around”. The team began to think about pressing needs that Valbal could fulfill: considering everything from research applications to commercial products. Eventually, they identified the antiquated weather prediction system as the first market they could revolutionize with Valbal. Current prediction systems make predictions on past weather data instead of real time information, and current weather balloons don’t have the ability to fly over the ocean to gather the most crucial data, especially that which pertains to natural disasters like hurricanes. In January of 2019, the Valbal project officially became Windborne.
As soon as they agreed to pursue this company, the WindBorne team hit the ground running: they joined Cardinal Ventures in March, incorporated late April, were accepted to Pear Summer Ventures and just finished raising $195K in pre-seed round early May. WindBorne’s highly technical team has adapted quickly in the entrepreneurial space, which they all identified as highly uncomfortable and unknown when they began their venture. However, they have been able to leverage every on campus resource they can find: from Stanford’s Venture Studio to Cardinal Ventures and a variety of mentors, to move forward and get a good grasp on the new challenges WindBorne faces.
Today, WindBorne’s long term vison is to “have a constellation of the high altitude payloads constantly circulating the globe, collecting data in the air and on the ground to help humanity adapt to climate change.” Their biggest piece of advice to other young founders is to find a network of mentors that understand the situation you are uniquely in, and who will push you through the right answer, whatever that may be. They have found time and again that people love giving advice, and it never hurts to ask.
We are so excited about everything the WindBorne team has accomplished in just 9 weeks with Cardinal Ventures, and are eager to see what’s next! Don’t miss them at this year’s Cardinal Ventures Spring 2019 Demo Day on Thursday, May 20th. If you would like to get in contact with the team, find Paige and Kai on LinkedIn.