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SinGrow romps to victory at Asia-Pacific Agri-Food Innovation Pitch Competition

November 21, 2019

There’s no stopping Singapore’s love for its strawberries — especially if they’re locally grown, a feat that used to be futile in this swelteringly humid Asian city state. Our recent profile of SinGrow showed one way that’s all set to change in drastic fashion. And since then, this strawberry-growing Singaporean startup has added another accolade to its punnet by winning the Asia-Pacific Agri-Food Innovation Week Pitch Competition on Tuesday night.

Part of the award saw SinGrow’s CEO, Dr Shengjie Bao, present the company’s breakthrough indoor strawberry farming tech to an audience of 800 conference delegates the day after in Singapore. “Boring as it sounds, it was the right balance of innovation and go-to-market that came across in a clear and concise manner,” said Adam Lyle, the executive chairman of Padang & Co. Lyle, whose company organised the event, was part of a trio of judges that also included Temasek associate director Ryan Rakestraw and Deepak Raghothaman, Ferrero’s APAC lead for open innovation.

“This definitely won’t be the last time we see SinGrow stroll off with silverware,” noted AgFunder’s Michael Dean, who is also a director of the GROW accelerator, where SinGrow is part of the first cohort. SinGrow was one of four teams from GROW to take part in the contest. The other three GROWers in contention were Future Fields, Intello Labs, and Wittaya Aqua. In all, the night time showdown featured 12 start-up companies nominated by all the leading Singapore agri-food accelerators – Big Idea Ventures, Innovate 360, Hatch, The Yield Lab, and GROW.

So how does it feel to win this competition from a crowded field of other good startups? AFN checked in with Dr Bao, who is a molecular biologist specializing in plant flowering.

“I felt really lucky,” said Dr Bao. “The other participating teams are very solid and promising. This accolade also makes me feel more confident in our company and we’ll continue to implement our business plan to ensure that SinGrow deserves this win.”

Indoor farming has its share of issues and criticisms despite its many merits and theoretical possibilities. One of its key challenges is the high level of energy consumption by vertical farming that rely on artificial lighting and expensive climate control that in Singapore’s humid climate should mean extensive cooling. This specific challenge was posed by one of the judges.

How did SinGrow respond?

Dr Bao told the judging panel about how he obtained the seeds of two natural mutants of a red strawberry species that produced white strawberries and started cross-breeding the varieties in the lab. As we all know, white reflects light and heat. Concurrently, he worked with his partner, Xu Tao, a PhD candidate in bioinformatics, on designing and optimizing indoor strawberry farming technology. Three years, six-generations of cross-breeding and countless iterations of vertical stacks later, they developed the white Crystal strawberry breed and an indoor farming set-up that’s resistant to Singapore’s muggy weather and produces yields two times as large as those of existing breeds.

What will be keeping Dr Bao and his team busy for the next few months? “We are going to build out our indoor vertical farm, grow more samples, and continue to pursue business development opportunities.”

So it seems it won’t be long before Singapore gets a lot more of its own strawberries – low-carbon footprint, affordable, and above all, fresh and sweet.

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