By Chris Meehan | Aug 18, 2014
Cannabis industry products
“We rethought how water chillers should be built. Now we have a very affordable, very effective water-chilled system,” Surna CEO Tom Bollich explains at the recent Colorado Cannabis Summit in Denver. “We can put in a water-chilled climate system for about for about $1,300 to $1,400 a ton installed, which is really cost-effective.”
If the name’s not familiar, Bollich was a co-founder of online gaming company Zynga, which has whittled away thousands of hours of white-collar working hours across the world.
Now Bollich and his new company Surna are looking to blaze a path with disruptive technologies in the cannabis industry. Its first major acquisition of a potentially disruptive technology was the aforementioned water-chiller technology developed by Hydro Innovations.
Hydro Innovations had relocated to Boulder from Texas last year in light of the opportunity offered by the marijuana industry in Colorado, explains Hydro Innovation Co-Founder Brandy Keen, now Surna’s vice president of sales.
“We are cannabis-centric and are one of the few companies out there that are cannabis-centric,” she says. Whereas other businesses that offer air conditioning or HVAC systems shy from being directly associated with the cannabis industry, Surna embraces it. “We can say ‘yes, use this for cannabis.’ We feel comfortable advertising that,” she asserts. “Our goal is to be the GE of cannabis.”
Many grow houses in Colorado—scores of them—are in enclosed warehouses that require power hungry, heat producing lights to accelerate the growing and harvesting seasons for marijuana plants. The heat produced by the lights warms a room like an oven—particularly in the summer—overheating the plants inside. So the warehouses need serious cooling power. “HVAC wasn’t designed to do what you need," Bollich says.
Surna’s Colorado-made water chillers are ideal, according to Keen. The systems can provide cooling and humidity control while reducing the energy load associated with most HVAC systems by between 30 percent to 50 percent, she says. They are seeing widest adoption in the U.S. and Canada (though Keen says the company recently shipped a chiller to South Africa for agricultural purposes).
The water-chillers are just one of the technologies Surna is interested in it. “If it’s a disruptive technology and it’s engineering-centric and focused on the cannabis industry, we are focused on it,” Keen says. The company will develop technology internally when appropriate, but will also acquire other technologies related to the industry, she explains.
Surna already is looking beyond the chillers. For instance, “We just filed a patent pending for a grow light reflector,” she says. “It goes in hand with our efficiency and high-end technology mandate. It’s extremely reflective of light meaning that the energy you are consuming to create light is actually reaching your plants and not being wasted,” she says.
The company has other intellectual property in the works. While Keen says the company is moving quickly from the drawing board to production she can’t give any precise timelines for introductions of new technologies.
The company plans to continue manufacturing in the U.S. and at its 20,000 square foot facility in Boulder. “We probably are unusual in how much US manufacturing we plan to do,” Keen says. She less sure however, how much will be manufactured in the state as the company grows. However, she says, “We will always do a certain amount of assembly in Colorado at a minimum.”
Challenges: “Getting everyone in the nation on board. It is a hot topic,” Keen says. Regarding Surna more closely, she says, managing the growth is a challenge. “Being able to walk the talk and deliver. Our challenge really isn’t in creating sales,” Keen says. “Our challenge is in educating our consumer base.”
Opportunities: “Within the cannabis market on the climate system, there’s no reason that if you understand it you won’t buy it,” Keen says. “We also have applications in breweries, in server farms, in any heat processing of any kind for any reason,” Keen says.
Needs: “A bigger sales team,” Keen says. “We’ve been really happy with the level of talent here. One of our needs is making the difficult choice. How do you choose between 15 strong applications.”