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The team behind Martian Farming

Posted by Deesha Chandra (Admin) Jul 8, 2016 Posted in FELLOWSHIP UPDATES

We catch up with the team behind the idea "Martian Farming for Dummies" to learn a little more about what drives them and their advice to fellow entrepreneurs....

1) What inspired your idea?
 
Our idea to do vertical farms is the result of our team conducting several experiments and ideating rapidly to understand what we can do to contribute to addressing food security. Our initial idea was to provide young people in secondary cities with meaningful opportunities, which is why we created the Balanga Makerspace back in the second half of 2014. During the five months we were understanding what the skills of young people were, one team that was interested in pursuing agriculture emerged. We chose to focus on this path and throughout 2015, our team made several experiments that gave us insight as to what can and cannot be done in this industry. We tried out farm management apps for fertilizer management and yield tracking, building irrigation control sensors, building small-scale rice dryers, and importing second hand harvesters from Japan. We failed many times and when we put what we learned together, vertical farming emerged as the model where we can create a sustainable business. When the MIT OpenAg Initiative launched, we were reassured that we are not the only ones venturing in this direction.
 
In summary, we did not have one thing that inspired us to pursue vertical farming. It was a series of experiences in understanding how agriculture works that lead us to understanding why vertical farming makes sense in the Philippines.
 
2) Who would you like to connect with to develop your idea further?
 
We definitely welcome prospective clients and strategic partners who can help move us closer to what we envision as the future of agriculture. In TechAguru, our slogan is to "co-create the future of farming" since growing food is something everyone has a stake in. We would not be here if it were not for partners who spent time to advice, guide, and direct our development. One mentor who is part of the TechAguru team came from the Lean Startup Manila network. Other inspiring mentors are from Kamogawa Hackerfarm and TechRice Japan.
 
More importantly, we need to connect with as many young people as possible, since they will be the backbone to developing vertical farms further. We need to inspire young people that agriculture is not back breaking tough work. It is even more high-tech than call centers and BPOs. There are networking systems running throughout vertical farms to monitor the environmental systems to grow food. There is a science behind what light spectrum each species of plant needs to grow. Eventually, farming will become fully automated and robotic, and this is not a matter of if it will happen, but when young people will make it happen.
 
Our moonshot request to connect with someone would be to have an audience with Elon Musk since he is an inspiration to our team. His drive to setup a colony in Mars definitely resonates with what we do. We imagine how farming might be done in Mars and backtrack and figure out how these might affect the design of a cost-effective vertical farm system that we can create.
 
3) What has been the biggest challenge when testing your idea? 
We have not had many challenges in testing the idea itself. Vertical farming sells itself. Our pitch is basically to make people imagine how it would be like to farm in Mars and we are going to do that cost-effectively here. People usually get excited and when we tell them theres gonna be a salad bar where they can eat those veggies, they start asking when will it will be open.
 
The biggest challenges are how to make vertical farms cheap and how to operate it cheaply. This requires people who understand multiple disciplines, long hours of research, and building lots of prototypes. When things need to scale up, we need to have an intimate knowledge of the supply chain for all the parts we need. So you can imagine that one day we are figuring out where to source aluminum in Binondo, Manila, and the next day we are in Cavite talking to hydroponics suppliers. We are fortunate we are not on this journey alone. The Kamogawa Hackerfarm and MIT OpenAg initiative have lots of resources to help us build the vertical farm we envision.
 
4) What advice would you give to others who are thinking of submitting an idea? 
The Philippines has a lot of problems. However, it is not only us here that have these problems. If we are humble enough to look past the problems and understand how people from other places have solutions for these problems, we can definitely come up with something that people will gladly buy from you as a business.
 
Our team took the chance of pursuing an idea that was crazy and the journey has been fulfilling. Moving our startup forward is not just about making a sustainable business, but also creating opportunity for the young to be high-tech farmers. This for us is important, and continues to connect us with supportive partners and find excited customers.
 
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See more about their idea here

This post was edited on Jul 8, 2016 by Deesha Chandra

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