Water works: Minnesota startup's smart sprinkler slashes wasted water

Good afternoon, readers! This will be the last Centered post for the week, as we observe the July 4th holiday tomorrow. I hope you have a safe and enjoyable holiday.

Today I’m bringing you the story of an Edina, Minnesota, startup that this year released a perfected version of its smart sprinkler system. For the first time, Irrigreen is doing widespread advertising for its systems, which reduce the amount of water used in landscaping by about 50%. More on Irrigreen, after today’s tech headlines.

💰 FUNDING:

  • Chicago-based company The Mom Project (previously featured in Centered) raised $25 million in Series B funding, reports Built in Chicago. The job search platform helps moms re-enter the workforce — including in tech jobs — after taking time off to raise children.

  • Four Midwest facilities are among the 10 Energy Frontier Research Centers that will split a collective $100 million from the Department of Energy to accelerate energy innovation. Ames Laboratory, Northwestern University, Ohio State University, and University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign will receive project funding.

💧 HYDROGEN: The U.S. Department of Energy, in collaboration with the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, released a request for proposals for research and development projects to advance its H2@Scale initiative, which explores the potential of wide-scale hydrogen use for resiliency within power generation and transmission. Proposals are due July 31.

🚜 AGRICULTURE: Lineage Ag, a startup based in Indianapolis, is working on regenerative farming solutions, reports Inside INdiana Business. The concept enables the soil to absorb excess carbon instead of releasing it into waterways, which improves both the soil and the overall ecosystem and produces healthier agricultural products.

🤝 PARTNERSHIP: Chicago startup Hazel Technologies, which develops solutions to extend the shelf life of produce and reduce food waste, announced a partnership with PureFresh Sales, a fruit grower and marketer.

Now, back to Irrigreen. The business launched its beta version with customers about three years ago, and this year “Irrigreen II” went live. CEO Shane Dyer told me that this advancement could be compared to the release of the Apple II computer decades ago. “You know of the Apple II computer, but did you really ever hear of the Apple I?” he joked.

PROBLEM: Landscaping sprinkler systems are inefficient and imprecise, and they therefore waste large amounts of water. Wet pavement where a sprinkler over-sprayed is the most visible example of water wastage. “40-60% of the water is wasted and never helps a plant: Either it evaporates or didn’t hit the plants,” Dyer said. “Imagine filling a car with gas and the rest is dripping on the outside of the car and the ground. That's how irrigation is today.”

TECHNOLOGY: Irrigreen’s patent-pending smart nozzle is programmed via smartphone and precisely distributes water in a design custom-programmed for each customer’s yard. The smart system factors in weather cues. For example, it will not release water when it’s raining, and it might release more water in high temperatures. The user sets up schedules and the technology optimizes them by lengthening or shortening the watering time based on conditions.

IMPACT: Irrigreen’s systems use up to 50% less water than existing ones, which creates cost and environmental benefits. “I think people do it for the water savings, but they also do it because they want to be good stewards of the environment. Nobody wants to be drought shamed,” Dyer said. The systems also are easier, less labor intensive and less resource intensive to install. They use fewer sprinkler heads and up to 85% less petroleum-based underground piping. Dyer says Irrigreen is different from existing smart sprinkler controllers because of its unique sprinkler head. “Even if you have a funny shaped yard, it will exactly water that shape,” he said.

THE BACKSTORY: Dyer’s partner, Gary Klinefelter, devised the technology based on his work as an engineer for the commercial inkjet printing industry. “He knew how to spray ink in precise places. The patent-pending [Irrigreen] invention is almost like printing water. You spray the water exactly where you want it, and not where you don't,” Dyer said.

FUN FACT: The pandemic has created an unexpected boost for business. “One of the things COVID has done is put emphasis on the green spaces around our houses,” Dyer said. The pandemic also has challenged Irrigreen to ensure its product is economical because people don’t have the same spending ability as before.

WHAT’S NEXT: One of Irrigreen’s goals is to make the traditional mechanical sprinkler head obsolete in the next decade. “It’s great to be recognized as a company that could completely disrupt and reinvent how irrigation is done,” Dyer said. He believes Irrigreen’s products will become even more relevant as public attention to climate and sustainability continues to grow. “There’s no substitute for water. I think there will be a real reckoning for using resources responsibly,” Dyer said.

Let me know about other startups and organizations advancing tech in the Midwest. Send news tips, press releases, and feedback to katie@centered.tech or connect on LinkedIn and Twitter @centereddottech.


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