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Marina firm’s hydroponic system drawing attention

Posted on April 17, by in News. Comments Off

Major ag, investor interest By KATE MOSER Herald Staff Writer Posted: 04/19/2012 03:32:28 PM PDT Updated: 04/20/2012 09:03:20 AM PDT Crops grown in Solsustech’s growing system float on a raft,...

By KATE MOSER , Herald Staff Writer POSTED: 04/19/12, 12:01 AM PDT

Deborah Walliser isn’t entirely sure how she and her nascent company ended up on Sand Hill Road.

In fact, when one of the venture capital giants of Silicon Valley, Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, asked to meet with her last month, she sent out a note to colleagues asking who Kleiner Perkins was.

“I got an email back in all caps,” she said recently, having a laugh at herself in her office at the Marina Technology Cluster.

While Walliser, a botanist by training, may not be up on who’s who in Silicon Valley — including the name of the firm that backed companies like Google and Facebook — she senses that she’s on the verge of something big.

Her company, Solsustech, has a patent on a system for growing produce in a hydroponic greenhouse. She can grow a head of lettuce on a gallon of water, one—fifth of what it takes in a field. And she can harvest every 28 days.

“I basically want to change the way that we use water in the ag industry,” she said. “I think we can be more efficient.”

Walliser, 36, got her start as a botany student in North Carolina studying hydroponic systems from Kennedy Space Center used in Shuttle missions. She later moved to Arizona and built some of the state’s first floating lettuce systems, contending with extreme temperatures and salty water.

A finalist last year in the Monterey Bay Regional Business Plan competition, Walliser is competing again this year. She’s sponsored by Project 17, an effort to nurture ag—tech businesses.

“Things are moving very rapidly with Solsustech,” said Susan Barich, director of Project 17 and the Marina Technology Center, in an email.

Walliser believes her growing system could solve some of the problems converging on agriculture — both with the environment and the bottom line.

She’s not blind to the challenges that people inside and outside the agriculture world see in her way: “I’ve had people say, ’It won’t work,’” she said.

There’s a big capital cost up front. A showcase facility would cost around $600,000 to build. But Walliser is hoping to get five or so local growers on board.

Chuck Erickson of CECO Innovation in Saratoga, who has helped Walliser hone her business strategy, said he was initially skeptical. But Walliser’s evidence won him over, he said, and he’s seen other people, including big growers, start to change their minds.

“You watch these guys going from very confident naysayers to ’We better take a closer look at this,’” he said.

In addition to venture capital firms, McDonald’s, Subway, Earthbound Farm and Taylor Farms are among the corporations and growers that have expressed interest in Solsustech. Walliser has also gotten calls from the U.S. Department of Defense. And she sold her first franchise in Senegal while on an Obama administration—led trade mission there.

Fielding interest from different quarters is kind of like playing a poker game, she said: “We’ve got the biggest players on Earth at the table now.“

Kate Moser can be reached at 646-4487 or

About Got Produce?®:
Got Produce?® is a California-based company providing patented hydroponic greenhouse solutions to developing countries and communities worldwide. The disruptive agriculture solution boasts production levels far above traditional farming (when compared using the same square footage) while using only a fraction of the water. Got Produce?® was incorporated in 2011 and is run by hydroponic expert Deborah Walliser. For more information, please contact info(at)GotProduce(dot)us or visit

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