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By  Angela Brayton 28 February 2024 4 min read

Key points

  • A new Indigenous biotech startup harnesses the power of electricity to optimise growth in plants and fungi.
  • The founders gained advice and support to realise their idea by participating in our ON and Kick-Start programs.
  • Appearing at Adelaide innovation festival _SOUTHSTART, the founders will share their journey in a special fireside chat.

Darryl Lyons is a proud Maiawali man with deep farming roots, and Mic Black is an inventor and technologist. Together, they created the Indigenous biotech startup Rainstick. The company harnesses electricity to grow crop yield, reduce pesticide use, and strengthen our food systems. In doing so, they bring together traditional knowledge with modern science to create an innovation in sustainable agriculture. 

Now, the founders have joined the line up at _SOUTHSTART 2024, a festival celebrating innovation held in Adelaide. They will share their journey in a session called Infusing Traditional Wisdom with Deep Tech: A Founder Fireside, sponsored by CSIRO.

Making it rain with traditional knowledge

Rainstick's story begins in January 2022, when Mic rang Darryl up to talk about electro-culture. Darryl considered Mic a "genius inventor" and had always wanted to work with him. And he was even more interested in electro-culture. It is a process that mirrors lightning's effects and supercharges plant growth with nitrogen-rich energy.

As luck would have it, Darryl’s mob, the Maiawali People of central west Queensland, are known as Rainmakers. Traditionally they used ‘chuggera’ – a lightning stick – to direct thunderstorm activity in ceremony.

"Maiawali people are in the Australian First Nation’s grain belt, and that’s where our native grains thrived. As traditional Rainmakers, we did rainmaking ceremonies to influence the systems to create electrical activity,” Darryl said.

“There's a bit of broken history in that due to colonisation and handing down of knowledge. But we still do have some significant inherited knowledge about the world around us, that could tackle big current-day problems."

They saw an opportunity for founders that could make a huge difference for Australia. Darryl and Mic started to explore other research and scientific evidence from around the globe.

One significant body of research came from Japan. The evidence showed it was possible to make mushrooms grow by exposing them to a lightning-like current.

Rainstick uses electrical currents to improve the growth of edible mushrooms. The larger mushroom was grown using the technology, while the smaller one is the untreated control.

But according to Darryl, the process was labour intensive, expensive, and not scalable. So, in 2022, the two founders applied for ON Accelerate, to help them find a way forward.

“We pitched the mushrooms at Bootcamp, got into the top 10 and moved into the full 14-week program,” Darryl said.

ON Accelerate is for entrepreneurial researchers who are ready to translate their ideas into real-world impact as a startup. The program gives researchers access to a network of experts and investors. It’s a space to test and validate their idea as a commercial venture, and gain experience to raise funds and build a company.

“Instead of sitting in our own corner, trying to work it out ourselves, we embraced advice, feedback and our ON Accelerate program mentors to open doors and ideas for us,” Darryl said.

“The advice we got was second to none. They weren’t telling us what to do, but they helped expand our thinking with other inputs to help us make decisions on the best step forward."  

Kick-starting Rainstick

Challenging and embracing scepticism has been a big part of Rainstick forging a new path forward. It’s why these founders chose to continue their work with our Kick-Start program.

CSIRO Kick-Start facilitates and matches funding up to $50,000 per project. The goal is to enable Australian start-ups and small-to-medium enterprises (SMEs) to undertake R&D projects with our researchers. The program specifically caters to start-ups (under three years old) and small-to-medium enterprises (SMEs) with an annual turnover below $1.5 million, that are addressing a key industry need.

“We worked hard to not get defensive about what we didn’t know. Instead went to find the right people to help us learn more,” Darryl said.

This led them to Kick-Start who helped them create a project with our Agriculture and Food research scientists. Together they explored how to tailor bioelectric influences. 

“From this, we now have a growing body of work that’s engaging other universities and other researchers from around the country. 

"They’re seeing the results and going hey – there is something there,” he said.

A climate-friendly global solution

A promising innovation in sustainable agriculture, Rainstick's variable electrical field technology is being used to trigger plant growth from seeds. The technology also deters harmful moulds without pesticides.

“As we go forward trying to solve issues surrounding climate and biodiversity, I’m so passionate about creating a global solution. I think there's just a tremendous opportunity that comes from exploring traditional and living knowledge systems,” Darryl said.

“We shouldn’t work in isolation, especially to solve global problems. Traditional knowledge can help put Australia at the forefront.”

Hear more about Darryl and Mic’s founder journey and their path to sustainable farming practices on the 6 March 2024 at _SOUTHSTART in Adelaide.

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