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Urban E-Farm Founded by Student-Entrepreneurs of A Start-Up Incubator

October 18, 2021 | Campus News
A pond full of healthy red tilapia in the greenhouse, is the powerhouse in producing nitrate-rich water to grow the plant.

While pursuing a diploma programme after form 5, Sean Lee Juan Shen and Eddie Soong Chuk Ming became best friends on campus. They both started developing aquaponics on a DIY basis as a hobby. Motivated to grow farm produce with zero chemicals due to his dad’s health condition that needs consuming absolutely clean food, Lee was more determined to turn this hobby into a bigger scale organic farming project.

Even though both Lee and Soong study different undergraduate programmes after completing their Diploma studies, they had perfectly leveraged the common resources provided by their university in making their dreams come true.

To fulfil their 16 weeks internship or industrial training stint in Year 2, Lee and Soong participated in Asia Pacific University of Technology & Innovation (APU)’s Sandbox Incubation Centre, or better known as ASBX, a start-up incubator specially designed for undergraduates of different study programmes, to impart them with true entrepreneurial skills that cover inspiration, self-discovery and the innovative mindset.

Sean Lee Juan Shen (right) and Eddie Soong Chuk Ming proudly carrying the organic produce from their established aquaponics, the fruits of APU’s Sandbox Incubation Centre.

Today, Lee and Soong, both 19-year-olds, who are in their final year of BA (Hons) in Business Management specializing in E-Business, and BSc (Hons) in Information Technology specializing in Cloud Computing studies respectively, are successful urban farm founding entrepreneurs in town. They produce approximately 500kg of farm produce and 800kg of fish monthly, where the farm produce is sold at RM30 per kilogram and fish at RM25 per kilogram.

Recently, ASBX mentors – Prof Ir Ts Vinesh Thiruchelvam, who is also APU’s Chief Innovation Officer; and Pn. Haslina Hashim, Lecturer of Faculty of Business & Management, took the initiative to pay a visit to the E-Farm located in Cheras, Selangor. Both of them were very much impressed by the yields and their students’ achievement.

Prof Vinesh described, not only was he mesmerized by the overall eco-system in place but gratified by his students’ success. “They have taken their idea on to 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 the business relationship between supplier, grower, seller and clients.”

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

The graduating Lee recalled, when he and Soong embarked on their startup at the ASBX, they were motivated to step up deploying their business ideas. The 16 weeks of startup experience allowed them to analyse their idea and strategize it into the market using effectuation, design thinking and venture building concepts. Apart from that, they had acquired a range of technical and non-technical knowledge which spurred them further into the start-up environment.

The aquaponic farming greenhouse with the set up of vertical plant towers.

For instance, by having regular dialogues with their mentor-lecturer Pn Haslina, the duo managed to develop effective personal and communication skills required as a start-up to better manage people, project, time, and business or company which then led to improved writing, analytical, and critical thinking skills.

Most importantly, ASBX allows venture building as part of comprehensive support to help startups go into the market. The key mission of ASBX is to help founders build and scale their ventures. The support and mentoring by APU academicians or industry experts will be customised for each startup.

In a nutshell, the ASBX programme aims to enable students to gain start-up and entrepreneurship experience to develop their start-up as an alternative to job employment. By participating in this programme, undergraduates will be able to acquire the relevant content, mentors’ support, and exposure at the practical level, ultimately developing skills that are required for establishing and running a company.

Students will also build inspiration from various research and readings on entrepreneurship which then is 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 on to the final phase of venture building by pitching their fully developed ideas.

Lee and Soong unanimously agreed that the commercial implementation is vital in the value proposition, investment pitch and to ensure that the business model is intact. They admitted that the fundamentals addressed during the ASBX stage had led them to their current success.

ASBX mentors Pn. Haslina Hashim (from the front) and Prof Ir Ts Vinesh Thiruchelvam pay a visit to E-Farm. They are welcome by Sean Lee Juan Shen.

Soong stated that the ASBX programme allowed both of them to meet up and discuss the project and they eventually complemented each other with different skill sets in this startup. Without any overlap, Lee manages the front-end business engagement focusing on organic farming physical requirements, while Soong himself leads the technical backend development utilizing his computational skills obtained from his study programme.  

On their business modelling and strategy, Lee deploys what he had learned through his programme modules such as e-business, creativity & innovation, delivering customer value, digital marketing, and Integrated Business Processes with SAP ERP System (IBPSES).

On the other hand, Soong uses his skills attained via his exposure to JAVA programming, virtualization, mobile & wireless technology, web development, advanced database management, information storage & management to develop and maintain the E-Farm website, design web or mobile applications, code the UI/UX and overseeing the platform that manages the online orders or transactions.

On their success of venturing into the business world while still studying on campus, Lee and Soong also attributed this to their friendship & characteristics – having similar visions and sharing a common understanding for the betterment of the general society – which made up the backbone of their business partnership.

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