Image: Chase Ando and Valerie Song, Co-Founders at AVA Technologies.
At OKR Financial, we are lucky enough to watch (and support) hundreds of startups and SMEs as they grow and share their products / services with the world. Sometimes we see a company with so much potential that we just have to share it far and wide, which is why we are starting a regular Startup to Watch series on our blog – highlighting some of the incredible startups we have we have met and worked with in the community.
This month, we sat down with the team at AVA Technologies, a Canadian startup that is solving outdoor-access problems for plant lovers and foodies alike, to get the inside scoop on everything they have in the works.
Who are you? What does your company do and why?
I’m Valerie (Val) Song, the CEO and Co-Founder of AVA Technologies Inc. We invented AVA Byte, the world’s smartest indoor garden, for the connected and conscious Millennial looking to unlock their green thumbs. We’re foodies and plant lovers who don’t have access to outdoor growing space, so we are passionate about helping more people get growing!
Who are your key people in the company?
My co-founder Chase Ando, Chief Product Officer, Kirsten Hinlopen, Product Manager, and Jessica Jones, our Plant Science Lead.
How did you come up with this idea?
Chase and I met in 2015 while working in the food industry. Chase worked as a fine dining chef cooking farm-to-table meals, and I was working at consumer-packaged goods companies to launch new brands. We bonded over a common theme – making good food comes from using good ingredients. Inspired by the green environment around us in Vancouver, we knew there would be an innovative way to use technology as a force for good, combining it with nature to help inspire more people to understand where their food comes from and help them get growing.
How does your company solve a problem?
With the rising demand for more food, unsustainable mass production and transportation practices are continuing to scale. More people are demanding increased options to access food, year-round, from the comfort of their homes, even if they have to grow it themselves. Supporting local farmers is fantastic, but not always available or accessible year-round. Growing your own food is great if you have the time, space, and knowledge. The problem for many new gardeners is that it’s hard to keep plants alive. Imagine how many of those new gardeners are experiencing failure! Plants don’t really come with instructions. We help these gardeners experience the magic of growing and learn the science behind it.
How is your company different from competitors?
Think Tesla. Before Tesla came into the market, it wasn’t very well known that electric vehicles were a practical option. They were not known as vehicles you would be proud to own and show off. Autopilot technology was still new and emerging. Before AVA came into the market, hydroponics was something that seemed more like an engineering build for a DIY hobbyist. Solutions heavily depended on knowing a lot about pH levels, EC, and looked like they were hacked together.
With AVA, we’ve built the world’s smartest, most elegant, and versatile indoor garden. Byte is the only indoor countertop garden that runs on an AI-enabled operating system called AgOS, in addition to an HD camera, self-adjusting lighting/watering, 5 sensors, and Alexa/Google voice skills.
AgOS allows us to leapfrog any other gardening system by consistently offering the most value-added, interactive experience based on your plants’ actual, real-time growth status.
Image Caption: The AVA Byte with all the trimmings – a basil growing starter pack, pod holders & domes, free AVA Smart Garden App and more.
What are your future plans?
Our vision is to have any plant or produce be compatible with AVA’s hardware and software growing technologies. We’ve got new products that we’re about to launch this year, and soon we’ll have gardens of various sizes and price points to cater to our whole audience!
Do you have any tips for startups looking to grow?
Get growing! Send that custom intro to that person on LinkedIn you were nervous to reach out to. Don’t be shy to ask for help when you need it. Build strong connections with other founders going through the same journey as you. You’ve got this.
What is your favourite thing about being a startup?
Being able to work with and build a diverse, inclusive, and rockstar team.
What’s the unique opportunity that you identified in the market? Where do you envision the company in the next 3 – 5 years?
The smart home market has taken off in the last couple of years with the proliferation of Google Home and Amazon Alexa-enabled devices. There is a unique opportunity to tailor experiences better for consumers, and gardening is the perfect use case. In the next three to five years, we plan to work with farms, nurseries, grocery stores, and developers all around the world to implement AVA growing technologies in every kitchen, restaurant, and neighbourhood!
The Canadian government offers many support programs to develop innovation and startup ecosystems. What are the resources that you used and what works for you? Tell us about the experience!
We’re so grateful to be here in Canada! There are many great programs we have benefitted from and helped us survive through the pandemic to raise funding. Our favourites include SR&ED, Canexport, trade commissioners, the BC EBC program, and various salary grants.
We had a blast chatting with Val at AVA Technologies and can’t wait to see how the company blossoms – pardon the pun! Are you a startup with a story to tell or know of a company developing an innovative solution? Reach out to us at [email protected] for a chance to be featured.
Disclaimer: Any views or opinions are not intended to malign any religion, ethnic group, club, organization, company, or individual. All content provided on this blog is for informational purposes only.