Where Are They Now? Follow Up with Trifecta Ecosystems Founder Spencer Curry
Innovation Destination Hartford met with Trifecta Ecosystems Co-Founder and CEO Spencer Curry in October 2015, when the startup was called FRESH Farm Aquaponics (read the interview: Startup Focuses on Food, Education and Community).
Since its launch in 2012, the social impact startup has undergone a name change and continues to engage with communities throughout Connecticut to achieve its mission to create the City that Feeds Itself. IDH Website Curator Nan Price and Spencer recently chatted about the startup’s evolution.
NAN PRICE: Let’s start with the brand. When and why did FRESH Farm Aquaponics become Trifecta Ecosystems?
SPENCER CURRY: We changed the name from FRESH Farm Aquaponics to Trifecta Ecosystems about a year ago. We chose “trifecta” because we believe the aquaponic trifecta represents fish, plants, and microbes. Our former name pigeonholed us into just being a farm or just being aquaponics. Also, it wasn’t in line with overall intention: To create urban food ecosystems.
Regarding brand, in October we made our first hire. We brought on Anne St. Hilaire, who is our Director of Brand and Marketing.
NP: Congratulations on making that hire. Any other major milestones?
SC: Thanks! Over the past five years we’ve built systems for three intellectual and developmental disability agencies.
We also started a partnership with the Capitol Region Education Council (CREC). Developing partners in the educational space is mutually beneficial. For us, it helps drives awareness about what we do. For the schools, it creates an innovative and experiential STEM learning tool.
With our CREC partnership, we’ve installed eight systems in six schools this month and have developed curriculum and professional development materials to teach about building the City that Feeds Itself.
NP: Your startup has done an excellent job getting involved with Connecticut’s startup resources.
In 2015 we also received an Entrepreneur Innovation Award from CTNext and we were awarded the Most Promising Energy, Environmental & Green Technology Company at the Connecticut Technology Council’s Innovation Summit.
I want to note that while we’ve won a significant amount of grants over the years, that’s only a portion of our funding, which we use for research and development. Our primary growth mechanism has always been through revenue generation.
NP: Along with the name change, you also changed locations.
SC: That’s right. We closed our system in Glastonbury to move to a more urban agriculture in Meriden. We want to produce where things are being consumed.
NP: Do you have plans to open additional locations?
SC: We do. Meriden is by no means our last location. Trifecta Ecosystems has plans to build out in 11 Connecticut cities in the next three to five years. We target cities of 100,000 or less, where we can have a greater impact more quickly.
There will be urban food initiatives in the future. We’re trying to accelerate the inevitable.
NP: Can you share your target locations?
SC: Our hope is for the next build outs to take place in Hartford and New Haven. We’re looking to build a food corridor that spans throughout the state.
Connecticut has powerful economic development potential. We see Connecticut as a national leader in controlled environment agriculture, which includes indoor farming and greenhouses.
Our mission builds on Connecticut’s strengths: agriculture, advanced manufacturing expertise, and excellent education systems—which is a key component. There’s also a plethora of underutilized industrial space, ripe for cultivation.
NP: Let’s go back to your mission and talk about how you’re developing tie-ins.
SC: There are two distinct pieces of our mission: farming education and creating and selling aquaponic systems to clients. The farms create hubs with local clientele.
NP: Who is your clientele?
SC: We call our clientele “hidden farmers.” Hidden farmers have proven benefits from growing for non-commercial purposes. These are organizations focused on education, therapeutic farming, soft-skill building, and industry-specific hard-skill building.
NP: What’s next for Trifecta Ecosystems?
SC: We’re currently in a three-phase plan. Phase one involves looking for these types of partnerships where we can sell our system to these hidden farmers—those that aren’t looking for commercial profit. They are buying an educational service, a therapeutic service, a skill training service.
In phase two, we will build commercially viable systems we can sell to the commercial market—existing farmers, entrepreneurs, and startups—looking for a return on investment.
In phase three, we address the market of growers looking for passive income generation with automated farms, similar to the solar panel market. Aquaponics systems can go in houses and offset food consumption, thereby creating passive income.
NP: What do you think is next for the entrepreneurial ecosystem in Connecticut?
SC: Right now, I see there is a hunger for cooperation in Connecticut. And the state is trying to support the innovation and entrepreneurial scene with initiatives like CTNext’s Innovation Places initiative.
For me personally, I really enjoy being a small fish in a small pond. It gives me access to people and plenty of networking opportunities.
When we were launching the startup, it took some perseverance, but I was able to quickly make inroads. I don’t think you get that from larger cities. And the people in the entrepreneurial community here are awesome! Everyone I’ve connected with is friendly and cooperative.