04 May Madison-based TrafficCast makes national inroads as data provider
Madison, Wis. — The next time you use the Web or a cell phone to check for traffic and travel times, you might be getting the data from a company in Madison.
TrafficCast, a company that provides traffic data to a range of other map and travel services, is expanding well beyond its Madison headquarters in order to meet with the demand from its contracts with Yahoo and major cellular providers.
The company monitors real-time traffic information, weather forecasts, construction, event schedules, and accident reports for interstate highways and expressways throughout the United States. Then it combines them all into traffic predictions and sends the data to applications running on computers, PDAs, cell phones or other devices.
TrafficCast doesn’t make the applications. Instead, it pushes the data out to a variety of companies who provide suggested-route maps, travel-time estimates and similar services.
“TrafficCast is positioned as the data clearing house,” said Connie Li, the chief operations officer.
In a recently announced deal with Yahoo, TrafficCast will be the company providing Yahoo’s new online traffic service with predictive data. That service is now online at Yahoo’s Web site and has begun with major cities – Milwaukee traffic data is available, for instance, while Madison and Green Bay aren’t online yet.
Other companies, such as Clear Channel Communications, AT&T, Verizon, and US Cellular will receive the data from TrafficCast after it has been processed by third-party companies who provide applications.
TrafficCast also has several partnerships with companies that provide it with the information needed to create accurate traffic forecasts. One is Weather Central Inc., a Madison-based firm that works with TrafficCast to deliver weather and traffic forecasts in many forms, such as news broadcasts or live online updates.
“Traffic and weather are like twin sisters,” said Victor Marsh, vice president of technology for Weather Central. “They’re always together.”
“There is, at least in the broadcast stage and other places, a strong desire to communicate both of those things together for people to use to plan their lives, to plan what they’re going to be doing, how to get there, and what it’s going to be like when they do,” he said.
From funding to sale
A minority-owned business with fewer than 100 employees, TrafficCast has received state Technology Venture Fund and Minority Business Development loans, each for $100,000.
The Technology Venture Fund program provides low-interest loans to small, high-tech Wisconsin companies, for at most half of the eligible product costs. The interest rate is fixed at 2 percent, with terms of five to 15 years.
Minority Business Deveopment loans have similar terms and below-market interest rates, and they are also not meant to be the only source of funding.
The company will use both loans to expand its facilities and buy equipment.
“I think mainly, the state government likes to support high-tech companies, and we are fully into that category,” Li said. “Also, we traveled with Governor Doyle to China last spring and made personal connections with him [and] the Department of Commerce.”
“We were doing some work in China in Shanghai,” she added. “This technology is similar [to] that which we developed in China.”
TrafficCast began in 1999 as a spin-off company of Madison’s TranSmart Technologies, Inc. While it still does engineering consulting work in conjunction with TranSmart, TrafficCast has expanded to focus heavily on information technology.
“The market was not very picked up at that time, five years ago,” Li said. “We just kept hunting around here, kept developing the technology, and we see a really great market potential right now.”
TrafficCast has expanded to employ about 35 employees in conjunction with TranSmart Technologies. The company serves about 128 cities nationwide, and – due to the contracts with Yahoo and Clear Channel – it is looking to expand. TrafficCast is planning to add about 50 employees from the Madison area to its staff. The company will need software developers and staff for its traffic operation center to keep up with demand.
“We will, in the future and with more staff, extend our service into more cities, and also enhance the current data stream,” Li said. “We’ll be able to add more and more information into our system.”