Tech developers vie to find business solutions for cannabis industry

Lawrence Cummer
September 20, 2018
By Lawrence Cummer
Trellis founder Pranav Sood, addressing Hackerthon participants
Trellis founder Pranav Sood, addressing Hackerthon participants Photos by: Lawrence Cummer
A mix of developers, software designers, students and cannabis industry watchers gathered earlier this month in downtown Toronto to showcase their hacking skills in the first ever GrowUp Hackathon.

Over a 24-hour period, participants were tasked by sponsor Trellis to find a way to use the data stored in its seed-to-sale platform to provide added value. Sponsor LyricFind also provided access to its own platform's APIs (application program interfaces) for participants to incorporate cannabis-related music lyrics into their solutions should they get creative.

Pranav Sood, the founder of Trellis, said the hackathon served three purposes for his company: to discover ways its platform data can provide greater operator value; to promote its brand as hip and cool; and, ultimately, to find potential talent that could one day join its Toronto-based development team.

Going into the event, Sood anticipated scope and time management to be the participants' main obstacles. Extracting value from massive amounts of available data represents both a huge challenge and opportunity for the cannabis industry, which he characterizes as having a mixture of production, manufacturing, supply chain, agricultural and pharmaceutical regulation to contend with.

"I personally think that because the challenge is fairly broad and can lead them down several paths, it'll be up to the developers to narrow their scope. And they have a very limited time," he said. "I can see them overestimating the scope."

That opinion was echoed during the hackathon by Naftal Mataro, technical account specialist at LyricFind, an experienced developer on hand to support the participants.

"It's the teams that come in with an idea and a plan already in place that have the best chance of meeting their goals," he said. "The thing with development is that you might have an idea, but once you start getting into it, something is going to go wrong, and being able to mitigate those pain points is the deciding factor of whether a team is actually successful or not."

With time being of the essence, a half-dozen teams – built mostly on the spot – got to work solving Trellis and LyricFind's challenges. Judged equally on impact to industry, innovativeness, user experience and technical excellence, the winning teams were then bused to Niagara Falls, Ont., for the awards presentation and ceremony at the GrowUp Conference & Expo.

The winning team, developers Judy Duong, Shiv Gupta and Devon Day, a neuroscience student at Brock University, dubbed Weed 'Em and Reap, developed a solution for using Trellis data to better predict yields. Duong said the inspiration came to her by reaching out to Trellis customers in advance of the hackathon.

Glass House Farms of Ithaca, New York, expressed its desire for better predictive forecasting. "What was missing is the ability to forecast the future, such as yields and waste; a way to better predict how much you make and lose, risk management," Duong said.

Day said that while time management was a chief concern, the team also struggled with accessing and communicating with the data they needed. "Trellis members were a big help on this front, providing us with a data set to use in our project."

The runners-up, Team Smart Trellis, came to the hackathon with a pre-baked idea: to create a smoother, more predictive user experience by using a virtual assistant, such as Amazon's Alexa. Student and web developer Emelin Flores said she developed the idea during her flight to Toronto from her home state of New Jersey.

"The idea kind of harvested on an airplane while I was coming here," Flores said. "Essentially, we want to give the user experience more of a flow and to get rid of the hassle of being on the computer just clicking buttons if you're not computer-savvy and you just want to run your business."

Flores quickly recruited her teammates: computer programmer Arzen Edillo; embedded software engineer Guy Pavlov; and, then later, software developer Daniel Lynes.

Many attendees saw the hackathon as either an opportunity to break into a burgeoning cannabis industry or for the love of hacking. "There's lots of potential and growth in this industry, especially for technology solutions," Edillo suggested.

Others took the challenge as an opportunity to combine passions. "Cannabis and coding are my two favourite things," proclaimed web developer Jordy Kieto, as he and his team brainstormed on making the "swiss army knife of data" for cultivation and harvesting.

In addition the round trip to Niagara Falls for the GrowUp conference received by all winning teams, first place winners received: a fine art photograph printed on metal by Cali Brothers Cannabis Prints; a $100 Amazon gift card for each member and Trellis hats and T-shirts; a Pax 3 Vaporizer Complete Kit courtesy of Hotbox Shop and Lounge; and, a one-year Leaf Club membership and five hours of mentoring from Leaf Forward.

All winning teams were outfitted by LyricMerch, LyricFind's lyrics merchandizing company, with original GrowUp Hackathon T-shirts featuring the lyrics for Bob Marley's "Easy Shanking."
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