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Trella Technologies Founder Aja Atwood on Solving Food Insecurity

Introduction

Food insecurity existed before the COVID-19 pandemic. However, blows to the economy and supply chain issues are aggravating the problem in many countries, and some fear that the war in Ukraine will raise food prices further. Innovations in food production may help combat this crisis.

Trella Technologies’s patented technology, TrellaGro LST, is a stackable indoor farming solution that teaches tall plants to grow in small spaces. TrellaGro LST is made of recyclable materials and has low energy consumption, and it comes with an app that allows users to monitor plant growth and indoor climate. We reached out to co-founder and CEO Aja Atwood to learn about the origin of the company and future product developments.

Note: This interview was conducted over phone and email. It has been lightly edited for clarity and length.

Zee Zhong

In your own words, how would you describe the company?

Aja Atwood

At Trella, we create energy-efficient and globally scalable solutions to problems unique to the indoor farming industry. To ensure the industry’s longevity for future generations, we’re diversifying the types of plants that can be grown indoors with sustainable, automated plant-training robotics.

Zee Zhong

What inspired you to take the leap and start this company?

Aja Atwood

I have an extensive background as a natural catastrophe risk engineer. I’ve seen the devastation caused by natural disasters such as floods, hurricanes, wildfires, etc. As we are witnessing, due to climate change and other global catastrophes such as war, agriculture has been compromised, and the risk of food and plant medicine insecurity has significantly increased. The need for year-round and consistent production has led to an increase in indoor farming techniques. However, due to height limitations, current indoor vertical farming techniques are limited to producing microgreens and shorter plants. But we must be able to grow what we want, where we want in order to meet the needs of all communities, regardless of geography and economy.

Zee Zhong

Who is on your team and how did you come together?

Aja Atwood

Trella was born from my own struggle to grow tall plants in a small basement. So I began a deep dive into researching the problem. Through this, I discovered the idea of training plants to grow horizontally. Also apparent was that the existing methods were all manual and labor-intensive. I reached out to my friend and fellow inventor, Andres “Dre” Chamorro III, and together, along with a dynamic and diverse team of individuals, we prototyped, built, and built again our patented plant-training solution.

Zee Zhong

How is Trella transforming the indoor farming industry?

Aja Atwood

A recent New York Times article mentioned the following regarding the vertical farming industry:

“…some scientists have doubts about the industry’s ability to scale and diversify given the limitations of current technology. Tomatoes take 60 percent more electricity to grow than lettuce, and strawberries take twice that amount.” 

With our tech, you can grow tall fruit-bearing plants in vertical space, plus reduce light power consumption substantially. We saw this coming back in 2016 and got to work. We now have a patented solution.

Zee Zhong

What is the future product roadmap?

Aja Atwood

We’re looking forward to the further development of a feature we call AutoSync LED™. TrellaGro LST creates a controlled and even canopy, so you can further reduce light usage during the veg phase by keeping the lights closer to the canopy and “dimming down” LED lights. Trella’s AutoSync LED™ feature will also sync grow lights to come on as the plant grows horizontally and only when your plant truly needs it, substantially cutting down LED power consumption and operating costs.

Zee Zhong

What does the competitive landscape look like, and how do you differentiate?

Aja Atwood

We are the only patented and automated horizontal plant training solution that allows for the growth of tall plants in a tight, stacked space. Currently, vertical farmers handle this limitation in one of two ways: train the plants by hand using extensive pruning and trellising techniques (requires time and skill) or grow shorter plant varieties (which limits their product offering).

Zee Zhong

How do you intend to use the money you raise this round to scale the business?

Aja Atwood

Now that we’ve identified a lucrative sales strategy and funnel, it’s time to scale it. We need to leverage and increase our sales and marketing capacity as well as our production capacity in order to service our customers and our research and development partners in a timely manner.

Zee Zhong

What do you want potential investors to know about you and/or your company?

Aja Atwood

A lot of people look at our technology and see that it’s obviously great for the cannabis and hemp industry. It is indeed. But from day one, we always knew that there would be a more pressing need for our technology to be used for food production in order to combat global food shortages. And now, the world truly sees the need as well. This is bigger than cannabis, and it’s only the beginning for Trella.

Zee Zhong

As you think about the business 5-10 years down the road, what do you see exit opportunities looking like? Have you set any future goals for the company?

Aja Atwood

Since we’re solving a global problem, we’re in need of global distribution. We’re positioning ourselves for a merger or acquisition by a larger agtech company with global distribution capabilities.

Zee Zhong

As a minority and female founder, what difficulties have you encountered working on your company? What advice would you give to minority and women founders?

Aja Atwood

We can’t change the way people think or what they do. We only have control over ourselves. I’ve also had the opportunity to travel the world and learn about our history from a global perspective. I don’t accept the word “minority.” On a global level, we are not a minority. Furthermore, once you realize that the Nile River of ancient Egypt runs from the south to north, and that civilization developed in that same direction, it can become empowering to the point that you no longer concern yourself with the opinions of others.

We look forward to seeing where Aja and her team take the company. Trella Technologies is currently raising on Wefunder.

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