Bring the Rain
How one company wants to increase green spaces across the U.S., save water and money
Story by Lori Kozlowski
You always hear about inventors and famous entrepreneurs starting out in a garage, tinkering around until they’re onto something big.
The story behind startup Rain Systems isn’t much different.
It all starts with sleeplessness: Jim Sibert was a major insomniac.
“After a while, I figured I might as well do something productive with my time at night,” he said.
It was during the wee hours that he became interested in cross-link polymers, known as hydrogel. What are they? How are they used? Who uses them? Cross-link polymers are a tiny element that looks a little like rock salt, but can expand and become gelatinous when mixed with water, becoming hydrogel.
“People had been trying for decades to figure out how to inject the hydrogel into existing turf without damaging it,” said Elaine Sibert, Jim’s spouse, co-founder, and the CEO of Rain Systems.
“I started to experiment with how to get them into turf,” Jim said.
Recalling his upbringing in Texas, Jim saw snakes burrowing under rocks, and how he could use a garden hose to draw them out. He eventually came up with a way to inject these water-saving products into grass without harming the lawn.
The discovery led to their company called Rain Systems, which uses their Precision Injection Machines to install hydrogel into irrigated, managed turf. Once installed, hydrogel reduces water requirements by 50%. Their service ultimately reduces large-scale landscape water usage and they aim to work with playing fields, golf courses, university campuses, parks, and resorts.
Rain Systems has two patents for their technology: One for the injection process and the second for the ability to measure the amount of hydrogel going into each injection point. Jim then developed the working prototype of the technology with the help of NASA fabricators, Navy submarine valve engineers and an Artificial Intelligence software engineer.
In April 2016, the pair moved to Los Angeles full time when they became a Portfolio Company at the Los Angeles Cleantech Incubator (LACI), at which point they truly began the journey of starting their company, Rain Systems.
The Science: How It Works
Rain Systems’ proprietary technology, the Precision Injection Machine (PIM), is the only method on the market today that uses water injection to install hydrogel into existing turf without removing or causing any damage to the turf.
Hydrogel were developed to increase the water retention capacity of soil and have been used in agriculture and landscaping for many years. They are EPA-tested, 100% biodegradable, and non-toxic. Rain Systems provides a service that introduces these water-saving products to the managed turf industry.
Serial Entrepreneurs Who Go Green
Jim and Elaine were already entrepreneurs before inventing and patenting their technology and establishing a company in the environmental science field.
Elaine had a film production company, which she started when she was in her 20s. She graduated from the University of Texas at Arlington, where she had studied Finance – and soon thereafter got into the film business, forming her own company, which makes commercials and promos for major networks and brands.
Jim had previously owned bars and restaurants, and moved into real estate investments.
But there was something more that they felt they could do.
“I wanted to do something indelible,” he said. “A legacy to conserve water for generations to come.”
“We both feel strongly that climate change and water shortages around the world are real threats. We want to be part of protecting our environment and saving natural resources,” said Elaine.
At present, the company has completed two case studies, at California State University Northridge and with City of Los Angeles Department of Recreation and Parks. Both were completed with a 50% reduction in irrigation while maintaining healthy green grass. They also have ongoing pilots at Soule Park Golf Course and Los Angeles Unified School District. Rain Systems recently received a grant from the Innovative Conservation Program with the Metropolitan Water District to implement an expanded pilot with City of Los Angeles Department of Recreation and Parks in Summer 2018.
The Greener Grass Future
When you talk with the Siberts, it’s clear that they see grass as more than just greenery. It’s more than plant life. To them, it’s a way that we allow people to live richer, healthier lives.
“People don’t understand how important grass can be and how it can play a role in the lives of people, especially in children’s lives,” Jim said. “It boils down to a quality of life issue.”
Recreation, playing outside, even simply being in green spaces to take in nature and relax – these are all important qualities to the co-founders.
“Green spaces help communities by providing outdoor playing spaces for children and adults as well as gathering places in urban environments,” said Elaine. “There’s also scientific evidence that clearly shows that green lawns are good for the environment – they bring substantial urban heat dissipation, generate oxygen, improve air quality, provide soil erosion control, and absorb carbon dioxide gasses.”
They are already well on their way to making America and the world just a little greener.
Elaine said, “Our goal is to create water conservation for communities and businesses across the country and hopefully in other parts of the world. Our technology will help conserve billions of gallons of water.”
You can learn more about Rain Systems at https://rainsystems.com