Nick Bedbury didn’t suspect when he lived in West Seattle that the air pollution in his neighborhood could be worse than in midtown Manhattan.
Then he began working on Upstream Research, a startup with an office in Bend that aspires to show anyone who’s curious just how their local environment could be affecting their health.
“I was completely shocked,” Bedbury said of the air toxics scores Upstream was pulling from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
Upstream recently launched its first product, Upstream Reports, which is a database that generates reports for local areas, county level and smaller, on carcinogen airborne releases, air toxicity, cancer and asthma rates, among other environmental quality and health measures. The report tells consumers how their location ranks against other locales on each measure. Deschutes County, for example, ranks well on many environmental measures, but it’s in the top 15th percentile for asthma, and asthma is more prevalent here than in 84 percent of U.S. counties.
All of Upstream’s data is from public sources, but those sources are difficult to search, and there’s no one compiling it into a user-friendly report. “A lot of what we do is vacuum it up and put it all in one place,” said Bedbury, co-founder and CEO.
Bedbury, who splits his time between Bend and Bainbridge Island, Washington, believes that’s a big step that could’ve made a difference in a case like southeast Portland’s glass-factory pollution, traced early this year to Bullseye Glass. There were clues in the EPA air-toxics data, Bedbury said, but that didn’t make its way to the public. “If it was out there and available, more people would’ve asked about it.”
Bedbury hopes parents, concerned citizens and house hunters will use Upstream Reports to compare locations and start asking questions.
Upstream’s goal is to build a user base large enough to attract business partners, such as makers of water test kits, environmental-advocacy or legal groups that want to interact with those users.
At the same time, Upstream is marketing a different version of its database and analytics tools to health care and public policy organizations, which could use it to complement their ongoing research, Bedbury said.
Lisa Arkin, executive director of Beyond Toxics, an Oregon environmental health advocacy group based in Eugene, downloaded an Upstream Report and was impressed by the speed and visual presentation, she said. “Their comparisons of that particular location to the average, I think that’s super-valuable,” she said.
Upstream has some heavy hitters among its advisors, who include S.J. Camarata, a Bend resident who is a director at the geographic information system software giant Esri. Other co-founders and executives include Bedbury’s father, Scott Bedbury, a marketing consultant who led Nike’s “Just Do It” ad campaign, and John Ballantine, a serial entrepreneur who lives in Bend.
Upstream, which has been in the works since early 2015, raised $1.53 million in seed funding from investors in Bend and the Seattle area in May, Bedbury said.
There are a lot of tech companies being built on huge stores of environmental or health data, but no one in the business world is trying to make it available at the consumer level, he said. Upstream’s work is more like the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s annual county health rankings in that regard, he said.
“Our success rests on being relevant for people,” he said. “Get them in the door and get them engaged with the data.”
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