Dallas Inventor Gives Gardening a Technology Makeover With Mini Smart Terrarium

On the surface level, the patented OrchidBox allows people to garden anywhere, but inventor Nathan Hollis also wants to use the tech as an education tool to raise awareness about plant conservation.


A Dallas startup is bringing gardening beyond a backyard endeavor with a miniature terrarium that can support growing plants in the workplace to the living room and anywhere in between.

Outfitted with water sensors and sun-syncing lights, the 4-inch by 4-inch OrchidBox is described by the company as the “world’s first mini smart terrarium.” Using the technology, it can keep multiple plants alive for long periods of time.

“It’s the perfect indoor mini-garden space that you can put anywhere,” said Nathan Hollis, OrchidBox founder and inventor. “And, given the combination of the lights and the water sensing technology, you’re basically guaranteed to never kill a plant again.”

“We’re really trying to change the future of conservation.”

Nathan Hollis

The deeper goal of patented OrchidBox goes beyond the actual product, though.

Hollis designed it with the intent to encourage conservation by displacing plants into people’s homes and to educate people about the diversity of orchids and other plant species.

“We’re really trying to change the future of conservation,” Hollis said. “Anybody will be able to grow plants virtually anywhere and we’re hoping that’s going to increase awareness of endangered plants and also increase the number of plants that are out there by providing more space for them to live.”


Hollis grew up caring for carnivorous plants as a hobby horticulturist and has long been interested in building things including large terrariums costing hundreds of dollars. He’s developed software since he was a kid and has held technology roles with ALM First Financial Advisors, Ambit Energy, SharpEcho, and others. 


[Photo courtesy of OrchidBox]

In 2015, he channeled those passions for plants, software, and tinkering into the first OrchidBox prototype.

“I realized I wanted something simple that I could put on my desk and grow plants with peace-of-mind,” Hollis said. “I wanted to cut out all the fans, all the pumps, and all the complexity that goes with the bigger devices and just distill it down into something small that I can put anywhere.”

Over the past few years, through trial and error, Hollis has perfected the OrchidBox design into the personal garden he dreamed about.

“There’s not a perfect recipe for every plant, but this comes pretty close,” Hollis said. “It’s just a really good combination. It’s within that ‘Goldilocks zone’ where most plants will be perfectly fine inside of it.”

“It’s got a brain built in and it connects to Wi-Fi, so if it detects that the water is low then it also dims the light.”

Nathan Hollis

The water sensors and sun-mimicking lights are able to monitor the plant’s needs by using optical properties, as opposed to electrical. Both components also are connected to the OrchidBox app, which allows users to control the lights and alerts them when the plants need to be watered.

“It’s got a brain built in and it connects to Wi-Fi, so if it detects that the water is low then it also dims the light,” Hollis said. “One of the coolest things about it is it syncs with the sun so in the morning it turns on, in the evening it fades off.”

It took Hollis three years to perfect the combination of the two components. Earlier this year, Hollis began to file the patents and formed a team to help launch the product.

“It was hard, we got a lot of rejection from people who didn’t even want to touch us because we’re a startup,” Hollis said. “Finally, we found some really amazing people who are really passionate about what we’re doing.”


The product has been backed by two investors up to this point, one being a prominent Dallas real estate investor. The money OrchidBox has received from the investors went into creating a brand, hiring a marketing firm, and starting the app production.

OrchidBox is working to build momentum in the community and gain emails from early adopters. The team will launch a crowdfunding campaign at the end of July to raise $150,000 to help cover production costs. The plan is to ship the product out by the end of the year. 

“We’re almost ready to go, we’re working with professional design firms, and we just got some quotes back today from manufacturers all over the world,” Hollis said recently. “As soon as we get the funds we’ll be ready to hit the ground running.”


OrchidBox team [Photo courtesy of OrchidBox]

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