APU duo launch urban farm

Healthy ecosystem: A pond full of red tilapia in the greenhouse serves to produce nitrate-rich water to grow the plants.

AT just 19 years old, two final year students at Asia Pacific University of Technology & Innovation (APU) have established themselves as urban farm founding entrepreneurs.

Sean Lee Juan Shen and Eddie Soong Chuk Ming generate approximately 500kg of farm produce and 800kg of fish monthly, with the farm produce sold at RM30 per kg and fish at RM25 per kg.

Their urban farming journey began when they developed aquaponics on a do-it-yourself basis while pursuing a diploma programme together.

What started out as a hobby for them turned into a serious pursuit when Lee became more invested in growing farm produce with zero chemicals due to his father’s health condition that requires him to consume “absolutely clean food”.

Their vision to expand their endeavour into a bigger-scale organic farming project, coupled with their need to fulfil a 16-week internship or industrial training in their second year, saw Lee and Soong – a BA (Hons) in Business Management student specialising in e-business and a BSc (Hons) in Information Technology student specialising in cloud computing studies, respectively – signing up to be participants at APU’s Sandbox Incubation Centre, or better known as ASBX.

A start-up incubator, ASBX is specially designed to impart undergraduates of different study programmes with entrepreneurial skills.

Venture building: (From left) Haslina, Prof Vinesh and Lee at E-Farm.Venture building: (From left) Haslina, Prof Vinesh and Lee at E-Farm.

Its key mission is to help founders build and scale their ventures, with mentorship from APU academicians and industry experts, with the aim of enabling students to develop their own startups as an alternative to job employment.

By participating in the ASBX programme, undergraduates will be able to acquire relevant content, mentorship support and exposure at the practical level, ultimately developing skills that are required for establishing and running a company.

They will also build inspiration from various research and readings on entrepreneurship, which will be used as a reflection identifying insights and generating the design criteria to their ideas.

This will then evolve into prototyping and testing measures, which lead to the final phase of venture building by pitching their fully developed ideas.

Lee and Soong attributed their success to the fundamentals addressed during their ASBX participation.

Recalling their 16 weeks at ASBX, the duo – mentored by APU chief innovation officer Prof Vinesh Thiruchelvam and Faculty of Business & Management lecturer Haslina Hashim – said the experience allowed them to analyse their business ideas and strategise using effectuation, design thinking and venture building concepts.

They also acquired a range of technical and non-technical knowledge which spurred them on, they said in a press release dated Oct 18.

Citing regular dialogues with Haslina as an example, the duo said they developed effective personal and communication skills to better manage people, their project, time and business, which then led to improved writing, analytical and critical thinking skills.

Having recently visited the urban farm named E-Farm located in Cheras, Selangor, Prof Vinesh and Haslina commended the students’ achievement and ability to generate the yields. Prof Vinesh said he was not only mesmerised by the overall ecosystem in place, but also impressed with his students’ success.

“They have taken their idea and identified multiple solutions to address common concerns regarding organic food or fish production, selling the agriculture products through an online customer base while maintaining a healthy supply chain network and business relationship between supplier, grower, seller and clients,” he said.

He added that their urban farm project is aligned with the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), especially SDG 2 (zero hunger), SDG 3 (ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all ages) and SDG 12 (responsible consumption and production).

Apart from having entrepreneurial skills, the two friends said having a similar vision and a common understanding of the betterment of society is integral to their business partnership.

Lee manages front-end business engagement focusing on organic farming physical requirements, while utilising knowledge learned from his programme modules such as e-business, creativity and innovation, digital marketing, and Integrated Business Processes with SAP ERP System.

Soong leads the technical back-end development focusing on the E-Farm web and mobile applications and online orders and transactions, with his computational skills obtained from his study programme which include JAVA programming, virtualisation, mobile and wireless technology, web development, advanced database management, and information storage and management.

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