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Rachio irrigation controller wins CTA startup competition

Rachio's Iro conquers sprinkler fear



ecord-breaking rain this week didn’t bother Chris Klein. In fact, he’s probably loving it.

Klein is one of the founders of Rachio, a Denver startup company that makes an Internet-connected sprinkler control system that you can manipulate with your smartphone from anywhere. So if it suddenly starts pouring — say, for four days straight — you can turn off your lawn sprinklers with the tap of a finger.

If you’ve ever fiddled with the dials on a typical automated sprinkler system (and were tempted to take a sledge hammer to it), you’re going to love the “Iro.”

Apparently, a lot of other folks agreed. Rachio won first prize in a startup showdown sponsored by the Colorado Technology Association last week. A panel of judges, with the help of hundreds of onlookers who voted with a mobile phone app, picked the three most promising ideas among 10 startup company contestants.

rachio-diagram1Rachio walked away from the competition with a $15,000 check. Nanoly Bioscience, a group developing a way to preserve vaccines without refrigeration, won second place. Brandfolder, offering a centralized database for logos and brand information, came in third. Nanoly and Brandfolder took home $2,500 each.

Rachio expects to begin shipping the Iro next spring. The company is currently taking pre-orders on the firm’s website. An 8-zone unit sells for $199 and a 16-zone unit costs $249.

The Iro uses your currently installed piping system and sprinkler heads, but replaces the current control panel in your garage (or wherever) with a sleek software-driven box that doesn't have a single knob. The new controller is connected to the Internet via WiFi and receives commands from Rachio’s software that automatically adjust your watering schedule based on weather.

The system is controlled with an app on your smartphone, but the real work is done by data it receives from the Internet. Pulling information such as weather conditions, the “smart controller” can tell your sprinklers whether or not to run according to the originally set schedule. Those capabilities, the company says, can save water — and the money you pay for it.

When the Iro is initially installed, Rachio will connect with it and create an optimized watering schedule based on your location, taking into account regional characteristics and possible restrictions. According to the company, the system has auto-scheduling, weather intelligence and analytics built in, so the controller “runs itself.” Users, however, can take control of the system at any time with the smartphone app.

Rachio will also update your watering schedule as it learns about your weather and yard characteristics. Soils vary by region and require different watering patterns, company officials say. The system can also generate personalized water reports, allowing users to track water usage.

Chris Klein

Chris Klein

Matt Reisman

Matt Reisman

Franz Garsombke

Franz Garsombke

The company was founded in October 2012 by Klein, along with Matt Reisman and Franz Garsombke. Klein handles product development, while Garsombke leads the technology for the company and Reisman manages business development.

Klein, who served as the pitchman at the startup faceoff, said the current sprinkler system controllers “just aren’t cutting it. They are insanely confusing and they’re expensive.”

That’s apparently a pretty convincing argument: just two weeks before the CTA startup showdown victory, Rachio won another $50,000 in the Colorado Innovation Network’s “Glorious Failure” challenge.