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GSI Works: Providing flooding solutions to those who need it most

Having worked in the stormwater industry for the last twenty years, Stacie Johnson saw the opportunity to change the way we handle rainwater and jumped on it.

In February, she started GSI Works, an organization looking to give home and business owners simple and affordable steps to protect themselves and their neighbors from sudden flooding and drainage problems.

The number of heavy downpours in Iowa is growing. While Iowa is still getting the same average amount of water per year, 36 inches, it is coming in more intense bursts. This increase in intense rainstorms comes with an increase in flash flooding as well.

Solving two problems at once

GSI Works takes two community issues, urban flooding and people with employment barriers, and marries the two problems, taking advantage of the opportunities that those two things present.

“There’s two arms to GSI Works,” said Johnson, founder GSI Works. “One arm is the training arm and that’s going to be working through social service agencies. Turning to the experts and saying who do you have that would be interested in this type of work.”

GSI Works engineers prosperity in urban core neighborhoods by investing in green infrastructure and connecting those with employment barriers to people with the greatest likelihood of experiencing localized flash flooding.

“The other part is Train Your Rain and that’s the social enterprise aspect,” said Johnson.  “That part consists of products, a process and services. And we’ll use those services as the training ground for those getting trained. So it’s a big circle.”

Train Your Rain is an element of GSI Works that takes a treatment approach to preventing flooding. It is a proven approach that captures rain close to where it lands and also ensures a safe escape for all water that remains during more intense storms.

By looking at the rooftops, driveways, and lawns and landscapes of households on a case by case basis, GSI Works is able to provide custom solutions to different households based on their unique needs.

2018 plans?

GSI Works is the pilot program for the Social Good Accelerator, a sub-cohort within the Iowa Startup Accelerator that focuses specifically on local nonprofit organizations.

“Every day has been different,” said Johnson. “What I’ve found interesting though is the credibility that the program gave me. I keep meeting people that I wouldn’t have met if I hadn’t been accepted into the accelerator program.”

By the end of 2018 Johnson hopes to have the training program up and running along with a fully developed website in place.

“By early next year, I’d like have a proof of concept, have all the kinks worked out of the training program, and slowly start expand into to new EPA regions,” said Johnson. “We’ll take the Train Your Rain concept nation wide, but do it slowly.”

Currently, GSI Works operates solely in EPA Region 7 which includes Iowa, Nebraska, Kansas and Missouri.

GSI Works: Providing flooding solutions to those who need it most | Clay & Milk
A central Iowa ag-tech accelerator has secured more backers and finally has a name. The Greater Des Moines Partnership first announced the accelerator last year, naming four initial investors. On Monday, the Partnership said the program will be called the "Iowa AgriTech Accelerator" and named three new investors. The new investors include Grinnell Mutual, Kent Corp. and Sukup Manufacturing, all Iowa companies. They join investors Deere & Co., Peoples Co., Farmers Mutual Hail Insurance Co. and DuPont Pioneer. Each investor has agreed to put up $100,000 for the first year of the accelerator. Startups entering the program will receive $40,000 in seed funding in exchange for 6 percent equity. Tej Dhawan, an angel investor and local startup mentor, is serving as interim director until the AgriTech Accelerator names a permanent leader. Dhawan held a similar role with the GIA before Brian Hemesath was named as managing director. As interim director, Dhawan said his main job includes hiring the accelerator's executive director, establishing a business structure and initial recruiting for the first cohort. The accelerator will place few filters, such as location and product, on the applicant pool, Dhawan said. "When you’re seeking innovation, innovation can come from every corner of the world so why restrict ourselves," he said. One area the the AgriTech Accelerator won't recruit from is biotech. For its first cohort, the AgriTech Accelerator will work out of the GIA's space in Des Moines' East Village, Dhawan said. A future, permanent home is still to be decided. The accelerator's program will host startups from mid-July through mid-October, ending with an event connected to the annual World Food Prize. The GIA, which the AgriTech Accelerator is based on, also ends with presentations at an industry event. The accelerator has also started lining up a mentor pool. The Iowa Corn Growers Association, Iowa Soybean Association and the Iowa Pork Producers Association have agreed to provide mentors, as has Iowa State University. While the AgriTech Accelerator is loosely based off of the GIA, it will differ in its business structure, Dhawan said. The GIA runs through a for-profit model for both operations and its investment fund. The AgriTech Accelerator will have a nonprofit model for its operations and a for-profit setup for its fund. Dhawan said the nonprofit model is being used so the accelerator can better work with other nonprofit partners, such as trade associations. "These are all organizations that are nonprofits and can be amazing stakeholders without ever having to be investors in the accelerator," he said. "It becomes easier to work with trade associations in their nonprofit role when we are also a nonprofit." When it's up and running, the AgriTech Accelerator would be one of a handful of ag-focused startup development programs in Iowa. Others include the Ag Startup Engine out of Iowa State University and the Rural Ventures Alliance from Iowa MicroLoan. Matthew Patane is the managing editor and co-founder of Clay & Milk. Send him an email at
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