June 26, 2018
The People Behind ProGrowTech: Dave Spillman brings passionate environmentalism to the lighting industry
Dave Spillman considers himself obsessed with efficiency. After years as a cannabis professional, Spillman realized how much energy the cannabis industry — and indoor agriculture in general — consumes. As a self-proclaimed “tree-hugger,” he knew something had to change: the industry desperately needed to become more efficient. Spillman helped found ProGrowTech at the confluence of environmentalism, passion and an entrepreneurial mindset.
A personal matter
Spillman cites Dr. Evan Mills, a California-based climate scientist, as one of his greatest influences. At a conference that the two attended, Mills discussed his research surrounding fossil fuels and the indoor cannabis grow — growing cannabis is, traditionally, very energy intensive. According to Mills’ research, indoor cultivation results in the same emissions as three million cars.
Mills then did calculations specific to Spillman’s grow facility.
“He showed me how many pounds of coal we were responsible for burning,” says Spillman. “He also calculated [the carbon footprint equivalent of] half a gallon of gasoline every morning to just make pre-rolls.”
These staggering numbers were shocking. At that point, Spillman became interested in LED lights and how they can mitigate the grow facility’s energy use. He began experimenting with LED lights on his own crops: how could he and his team reduce electricity and water usage, while simultaneously supporting a healthy harvest?
Experimenting with LEDs
Spillman began monitoring how plants responded to different wavelengths of light—working toward greening his grow. He noticed plants were short and squat when only exposed to cool light, while warm lights encouraged elongation. He began recording the sun’s natural spectrum during different seasons and times of day, noting plants’ natural circadian rhythm: what parts of the spectrum encourage root growth, leaf development or flowering. Spillman realized that with LEDs and the right controls, he could better emulate the natural light the sun creates through different seasons and times of day.
“I thought, what if we can control the spectra, knowing how this spectrum works,” Spillman says. “If I could use this to my advantage, I could be more efficient in my operations.”
That’s when Spillman teamed up with Andrew Myers and Joe Visintainer, who both expressed interest in pursuing more sustainable avenues in the cannabis industry. With time and experimentation, the three founded ProGrowTech. They continued to work together to develop an effective, efficient, LED light that was ideal for true grow facilities, not just the hobbyist. Their philosophy, and in turn PGT’s, is to offer a light source that closely resembles natural sunlight, but puts the cultivator in control. With the advancement of indoor agriculture, crops are protected from extreme weather, pests and other variables, yet still benefit from a full spectrum light source.
Today, Spillman works as the head of research and development for the company, considering himself the “educator-in-chief.”
“What I do for most of the time is work with customers who are nervous about new technology,” Spillman says. “I teach them how to use it, the theories behind it, and also design their spaces to where they are more efficient.”
Spillman’s environmentally conscious mindset doesn’t apply to cannabis alone. He sees the cannabis community as part of a booming, inventive market—the perfect place to introduce new technology. LED lights, though, can be used for other crops beyond cannabis. Industrial agriculture is one of the greatest contributors to greenhouse gas emissions. Furthermore, with climate change making fertile land more scarce and weather more intense, reliable solutions are now more important than ever. As a father, a solution felt even more pressing.
“I want to secure our food source,” Spillman says. “Our food supply is going to narrow … We need to be very prescriptive and intentional, [considering] all my theories of rooting and predictability.”
ProGrowTech currently provides lighting for lettuce and microgreens, and hopes to expand into other edible crops as well.
What began as a passion project has blossomed into a company that Spillman is thrilled to be an integral part of. Even as the company grows, he ensures his initial goal—to provide an environmentally conscious, useful grow light—remains at PGT’s core.