The rain in Spain may fall mainly on the plain, but what about the rain in the Thames Valley? Farmers, insurers and others need to know, and a start-up company from Reading University's Centre for Global Atmospheric Modelling hopes to provide the answer.
Weather Informatics has won the Natural Environment Research Council's Environmental Science Business Plan Competition.
The company, which sells long-term seasonal forecasting to business, expects to be making a multimillion-pound profit within five years. It won £12,500 after a play-off between five finalists at the Department of Trade and Industry.
Although the money would go some way to funding equipment and business travel, the company was still seeking further funding from government schemes or venture capital, said Alan O'Neill, the founder of Weather Informatics.
Professor O'Neill said there were no plans to separate Weather Informatics from the university because the company would gain competitive advantage by staying at the cutting edge, returning profits to the university to foster more research.
Paul Bradstock, director of Oxfordshire BiotechNet, was one of the judges. He praised Weather Informatics for its "formidable business plan". He said:
"An idea with such great potential is bound to attract competitors, so the team will have to make sure they move quickly to stay ahead of the game."
Thirty companies entered the competition, which aimed to help environmental science spinoffs develop their businesses. The runners-up came from Huddersfield, Napier, Nottingham and Oxford universities.
The competition was so successful that three more research councils will join next year, boosting the prize money to £25,000. The NERC and the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council, the Economics and Social Sciences Research Council and the Particle Physics and Astronomy Research Council are inviting entries for the 2001-02 competition, closing date May 21.
The Department for Trade and Industry, the Gatsby Charitable Foundation and Umist Innovations are among other supporters of the competition.
The first round will give up to 150 companies the chance to attend an expenses-paid two-day commercialisation workshop. Those that get through to the next round will receive advice and support from UK experts on technology commercialisation.
The Biotechnology and Biological Science Research Council runs a joint business plan competition with the Medical Research Council.