Founder Spotlight: Ralph Becker of Urban Greens, Bringing Agriculture Into The City
By Ysa Lauta
What comes into mind when someone says farming is rice fields or sugar plantations away from the city. The city is too crowded with buildings that one would say that farming is impossible. Ralph Becker, founder of Urban Greens, thought otherwise. TechShake talked with Ralph to know more about their Agri-Tech and urban farming company and how it’s changing the agricultural scene in the city.
Ralph shared with us that he was a part of was part of Sony Corporate, Inc. for more than ten years, based out of Tokyo, Silicon Valley, Barcelona, London and Berlin among others.. He enjoyed most part of it, but he wanted to do something that has more impact in society. He saw that the startup industry is growing in the Philippines, so he decided to move here from the San Francisco in 2016..
What he noticed when he came here was that vegetables and herbs are more expensive with less quality than those in the US, Japan or Europe. “I have seen how to grow vegetables at home through window farming and hydroponics, so I started to do my own. My colleagues were telling me that it was cool, and that the country needed more of that. So, I did some market research and talked to a few people in the food and beverage industry. They confirmed that they were having problems in sourcing good vegetables with good quality and price particularly during typhoon season. We were importing a lot because of this problem and I saw there the demand in this industry. I started setting up our funds and that was the start for Urban Greens.”
Urban Greens turns unused, underutilized, and unmonetized spaces in the metro like rooftops and basements into highly monetized and lucrative urban farms. Their goal is to evolve the Philippine’s vegetable food scene by introducing cleaner, fresher, smarter grown greens. They use hydroponics which means the produce grows without the use of soil, and with much less water needed compared to conventional farming. What's even more interesting is they use tech like IoT sensors for remote monitoring, big data analytics and soon integrating blockchain technology in their urban farms.
Urban farm hydroponic setup
Ralph shared with us that Urban Greens started out as a one-man band in 2016. But after three years, they have expanded into a ten-member team. Their team is composed of biologists, engineers, environmental scientists, marketing specialists, and data analysts to make sure their S&T and R&D are above standards.
But establishing these urban farms is not an easy task. Some of the challenges in their journey is trying to educate the market on what they are doing, finding local investors who were willing to work with startups, and the overall maturity of the startup ecosystem here in the country. However, these challenges are just little compared to their milestones. Urban Greens have already made strategic partnerships with some of the large businesses here in the Philippines. They have also established multiple urban farms in the metro. Lastly, they are the regional representative of the international Association for Vertical Farming and the only member in the Philippines.
Ralph shared with us that Urban Greens is looking to expand in various unused spaces and building a larger scale of their urban farm, as well as looking to set up in places like Siargao, Boracay, El Nido and Cebu, to cater for the need of fresh vegetables on site.. And when it comes to their longer vision, Ralph told us that it was to also address issues from environmental sustainability to food safety to climate change. “We are all affected by these crises whether we like or not. Urban Greens is providing one solution and I know we can help contribute in mitigating climate change and food security issues particularly in the Philippines.”
Click here to know more about Urban Greens.