With smart sprinkler system, Chris Klein waters a dream

Chris Klein (MBA ’08) could exhale as he walked his dog that morning. As far as the weather was concerned, 2012 had been a nightmare to date.

A parching winter had rolled into a thirsty spring; that kicked off a stifling summer in which the entire state of Colorado appeared to go up in flames.

A mid-fall shower hinted at relief, but as it drizzled in Platt Park, Klein looked around and saw that he had no reason to celebrate. Sprinklers spouted off left and right.

“I was like, ‘This has got to stop,’” Klein recalls. “We finally got rain, and now everybody’s systems are running.”

From that rain sprouted Rachio, a smart-home sprinkler controller designed to save water while saving its users money. That very same day, the Daniels College of Business grad brought the idea to a weekend startup event and walked out a winner.

Since then, Klein and his team have grown the original idea into a successful business, selling to homeowners and landscapers. Today, Klein’s company boasts three generations of intelligent irrigators. By connecting to a homeowner’s Wi-Fi, Rachio can plug into a hyperlocal weather forecast. When rain is on the way, it can turn itself off. With input from individual users, it can analyze specific landscaping needs.

Considering the drastic widespread effects of overwatering and sprinkler inefficiency — which the Environmental Protection Agency blames for 4.5 billion gallons of water wasted each day in the U.S. — Klein feels his smart products are at least a first drop in a sizable bucket.

“I like big problems,” Klein says. “And I like something that is meaningful and could possibly leave this planet in a better place than it was in when I got here.”

The company also has allowed him to fuse his longtime love for construction with the software and business skills he learned at Daniels.

“I think [DU] just broadened my view of the world and what was possible for me,” he says. “I learned a lot of really great things at DU, but part of it was also myself exploring. I think all of that helped prepare me or at least gave me the confidence to start a company.”

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