Singrow, an agri-tech start-up, specialises in developing indoor vertical farming technologies as well as novel crops and cultivation methods to produce temperate and exotic crops within the tropical climate of South-East Asia. Their cultivation techniques are all 100% organic, pesticide-free and rely on non-GMO crops. Presently, their core products include their patented Crystal strawberries, locally grown Japanese Komatsu spinach, Dutch cherry tomatoes, and Persian saffron.
CEO and co-founder Bao Shengjie is a plant scientist by training and has spent over a decade in the field before pursuing this venture. Co-founder Xu Tao is currently pursuing his PhD and is in his final year of completion. Singrow was established in 2019 and currently operates the only indoor vertical farm in the downtown area of Singapore.
The journey to founding Singrow started in Ningbo, Zhejiang, China, where a young Shengjie’s passion for fresh strawberries sparked his interest in farming the fruit. Upon moving to Singapore, he identified that the strawberries sold in the supermarkets here were far dissimilar in taste and appearance to those in his hometown. This led him to explore the various ways he could apply his knowledge in plant physiology and molecular biology to the urban farming industry.
“Growing strawberries had already been a hobby of mine since 2016. I obtained seeds of two natural mutants of a red strawberry species that produce whitish fruits. At that time, the white garden strawberry was just introduced to the market and commanded a huge premium. I then wondered if I could use these good mutant materials to generate my own white strawberry variety. I brought the seeds to Singapore and started the crossbreeding process in the lab I was working at as a post-doc.”
- Bao Shengjie, CEO & Co-Founder, Singrow
It took three years to complete six-generations of crossbreeding and selection to finalise the current Crystal strawberry. Following this, Shengjie, together with Xu Tao, started to design and optimise indoor farming technology. They built the first iteration of their proprietary strawberry hydroponic system in the lab and tested several different hydroponic techniques. Compared to other conventional hydroponic techniques and setups, their most recent design, which is in its 3rd iteration, was much better at giving the plant the support it needs to produce fruit superior in terms of both quality and quantity.
With their foundation set, their next step was to reach out to regions that typically lacked the environmental conditions to grow temperate high value crops. Hence, by localising production in such regions through their cultivation technology, they could effectively price their crops at a lower value as compared to the high prices of imported counterparts. All this while maintaining the same premium taste and quality.
It’s often overcoming challenges that pave the way to a successful entrepreneurial journey and Singrow was no stranger to them. Urban farming, being a highly capital-intensive venture, compounded with the selective growth conditions that the strawberries require to grow optimally, proved to be a daunting challenge for the team. But the individual competencies of the founders coupled with their training in plant sciences played a large role in evaluating various ideas.
NUS Enterprise supported Singrow at various stages along their entrepreneurship journey, which helped equip them with skills to resolve such challenges. The Singrow team received solid training through the NUS Graduate Research Innovation Programme (GRIP). They were part of the second cohort of GRIP with incubation at NUS Enterprise@Singapore Science Park and subsequently NUS also participated in their seed equity round.
Presently, Singrow is working on optimising their hydroponics platform for scaling upwards on an industrial scale. Additionally, they are working with local start-ups, including NUS Overseas College start-up Augmentus, to improve their farming operations by automating processes that are traditionally labour-intensive. They are also aggressively pursuing their goal of developing new technology that can make urban farming more resource efficient and lower the cost barrier to make hydroponics more accessible.
So how do they plan to revolutionise their innovation in the future? As Singapore continues to put more emphasis on food security, more groups will start bringing in varying technologies into the field of agriculture. The unexpected rise of machine learning and computer vision to aid in farming processes is in itself a revolutionary concept. Singrow, having steered in the same direction, is already exploring automating their farm operations fully through the use of computer vision and robotics.
Here are some of Singrow’s key milestones –
- Completed their seed-round in September 2020.
- Completed their pilot indoor vertical farm in November 2020.
- Developed their first franchisee in Batam, Indonesia, in January 2021.
- Completed their e-commerce app in February 2021, to go direct to customers.
Moving forward, their primary focus for early 2021 is to get their pilot plant optimised and put it into full production capacity. Once that is done, they will begin shipping their produce to local F&B businesses. Additionally, they are also exploring the possibility of selling excess capacity across their own e-commerce mobile application. The application also allows users to track their food carbon footprint.
In terms of business expansion, they are already in the midst of planning the construction of a new facility in Batam, Indonesia, to increase their production capabilities as well as tap into the Indonesian market. Additionally, they are working with an overseas partner to set up a mushroom cultivation facility in Singapore. They will also be developing a franchise model and hope to market their produce under the Singrow brand by mid-2021. Furthermore, they estimate to start funding for their next round in Q3 2021.
Singrow is currently incubated at NUS Enterprise @Singapore Science Park.
To find out more about Singrow, visit http://www.singrow.net/ or their LinkedIn page at https://www.linkedin.com/company/singrow/?originalSubdomain=sg.