I met with ELEVATE NE member Aja Atwood at her house on the Cape on a sunny, crisp day. Her house faces a beautiful view of a pond and forest. But Aja, used to the gorgeous scenery, was more excited to talk about cannabis and her agritech enterprise, Trella Technologies, LLC. We got to it.
When is the first time you became aware of cannabis?
“Reefer” was what my parents called it. I saw it like beer or alcohol—just a way they relaxed. In high school, I was an athlete/nerd and didn’t really get into any recreational substances. It was during my freshmen year of college that I encountered the double standard. My friends were getting wasted on alcohol but still felt insulted when someone offered them pot. I realized for the first time there was a negative stigma. I wound up hanging with a different set of people who were more open-minded and had a different perspective on cannabis.
Why did you enter the cannabis industry?
I started to learn more about the history of the industry and reefer madness, and how it got to be such a supposedly bad substance when it’s actually a blessing. The guilt of using cannabis left me. I also started to see this industry was an economic opportunity for many people to do something they loved.
I worked in another startup briefly where we were producing a grow container that would automatically grow a plant from seed to harvest. In that job, I learned a lot about how to grow. That opened my eyes to how much needed to happen before you smoked a joint. I tried to grow in my basement lab but I only have about 7 feet of height to work with. I wanted to grow some atypical plants that grow tall, bushy and kind of nutty.
I wondered if there was a way to train a plant not to grow tall. I started looking into ways to tie plants down so they don’t get out of control. Ideally, it would happen automatically, so that’s where we began. My partner [Andres “Dre” Chamorro III] and I tried different things, just using what we had.
How does Trella work?
If you look at large industrial vertical farms where they’re growing lettuce, greens, herbs, they’re always short and stacked. In the same way, many cannabis growers prefer to grow indica strains because those strains typically grow short, as opposed to Sativas which typically grow taller. You don’t want the plants to get too close to your lights because you will burn and overheat your plants. You have to think about that vertical space and how tall your plant can grow. If you only have 3 feet, then you have to stick to strains that grow shorter, or you hand-train them to grow left and right. If you want to grow taller plants, you have to tie them down. Trella does that, but automatically, without having to manually tie anything. It can work for multiple plant types, including hemp and tomatoes, among others.
What makes Trella so special?
You save an incredible amount of space. You can grow a wider variety of plants and get an impressive yield from one plant. It also saves energy. Indoor farming has a heavy carbon footprint, but our design will save growers money by optimizing their existing lights, and reducing their energy costs. That’s huge. I’m 100% in support of reducing our carbon footprint.
Will Trella be affordable?
We tried to make it as cost efficient as possible but not everybody will be able to afford it. That’s a frustrating piece for us. So, to get this into the hands of people who don’t have a lot of resources, we’re doing a campaign where with every “X”-amount of units that we sell, we will gift one to a caregiver or some qualified person or entity through an application process. We call it our “SXG1” initiative and will start during our first year of revenue. The number of gifted units will vary based on our performance and sales.
Remember that Trella is a supplement to enhance your system. You still have to figure out your own costs of soil, drainage, ventilation, and nutrients. With Trella we estimate that you can make your money back in two grow cycles. That’s not even taking into account the savings on light energy – one of Trella’s biggest benefits.
When will the public finally see it?
Today! We created a video to show our device to the public on 4/20/18.
We’re going to do our first round of fundraising through a crowdfunding campaign and angel investors. You can expect to see more about our crowdfunding campaign in mid-May and follow Trella’s journey on Instagram.
About the author: Christine Giraud, a writer in Boston, has become fascinated with the cannabis industry, as well as the culture, politics and history around it.