S’pore Startup Singrow Farms Strawberries

Many have qualms about the strawberries that we can find in supermarkets in Singapore.

Common grievances include overly sour or delicious strawberries, but at a high price.

Because it is difficult to grow strawberries on a large scale in the tropical lowland climate of Southeast Asia, those in supermarkets in Singapore are usually airlifted from countries around the world.

Thus, they are either harvested prematurely – resulting in poor taste, or expensive as they are airlifted from countries like Japan or South Korea.

Agritech Singrow has developed a solution for growing high-value crops in Singapore, and it’s starting with strawberries.

The strawberry market is worth several hundred million dollars in Southeast Asia, and goes up to over $ 7 billion, if you factor in countries like China.

Premium strawberries grown in sunny Singapore

singrow strawberries
Image Credit: Singrow

Singrow has developed a vertical farming solution that addresses all stages of a plant’s agricultural journey, from selection to harvest.

This differs from other vertical farming solutions which usually don’t deal with plant breeding.

The startup is co-founded by two scientists from the National University of Singapore (NUS), Bao Shengjie and Xu Tao.

Singrow co-founder and CEO Bao Shengjie shared with Vulcan Post in an interview that he always had a green thumb.

Growing up in China, he was exposed to agriculture from an early age.

“I remember accompanying my parents on their visits to various farms and I was always amazed at this,” said the expert in plant physiology.

“When I first arrived in Singapore, I was extremely excited to see shelves full of strawberries from all over the world, only to realize that many of these options were either expensive or sub-optimal.”

Shengjie finally started growing his own strawberries as a hobby in 2016, and then studied strawberries as part of his doctoral thesis work.

He received a PhD from the Department of Biological Sciences at NUS in 2017 and started Singrow two years later.

Singrow currently offers two types of proprietary strawberries: White Crystal and Red Ruby.

It took Shengjie three years to complete six generations of crossbreeding and breeding to finalize the current Crystal strawberry that the company offers.

singrow strawberries
Singrow’s red and white strawberries / Image credit: Singrow

According to Shengjie, Red Ruby strawberries offer one of the highest levels of sweetness available in Singapore, while White Crystal strawberries offer a unique taste and aesthetic.

Most importantly, we hope our burs will show that premium options don’t have to cost an arm and a leg.

Bao Shengjie, co-founder and CEO of Singrow

Besides being of high quality, strawberries will also be cheaper for end consumers because they are grown locally.

High quality, affordable and more durable

singrow germination hub
Singrow Vertical Farm, The Sprout Hub / Image Credit: Singrow

The Singrow Vertical Farm is located in the Sprout Hub, a redeveloped gym in the former Henderson High School.

The covered farm spreads over 500 square meters and has a ceiling of 6.5 meters high.

Even though strawberries are typically grown in temperate regions, Singrow does so without the use of air conditioning, which further helps keep costs down.

“Local production and lower operating costs means we can better control qualities such as freshness, taste and cost to the consumer,” Shengjie said.

In an interview with the Straits Times, Shengjie also mentioned that the controlled environment of the indoor farm – from the concentration of carbon dioxide to the acidity of the soil – helped reduce the time required to grow strawberries by about 30%.

The company will produce its first harvest of around 200 kg or 1,200 trays of strawberries in September.

Singrow has also developed an automated pollination system with tech startup Augmentus.

Singrow strawberries and augmentus robotic arm
Augmentus’ robotic arm used to pollinate and harvest Singrow strawberries / Image Credit: Enterprise SG

The system uses a robotic arm to help pollinate flowers and harvest strawberries.

According to Shengjie, this allows the company “to significantly improve the results” compared to conventional pollinators, the honey bee.

With all of these factors combined, Singrow is able to produce around 6 to 8 crops (worth 1,200 kg to 1,600 kg of strawberries) per year, double that of its closest Japanese competitors.

Thus, this guarantees the availability of strawberries all year round.

Beyond strawberries: grapes, saffron and more

Singrow co-founders Bao Shengjie and Xu Tao
Bao Shengjie (left) and Xu Tao (right), Singrow co-founders / Image credit: Singrow

Recently, Singrow joined Singapore’s first agribusiness accelerator program called GROW.

It also received funding from AgFunder, one of the most active venture capital funds focusing on the agri-food sector. AgFunder was also the lead investor for the Singrow funding round.

The startup also caught the eye of two angel investors from Singapore and the UK and received funding from them.

As for its future plans, Singrow may take advantage of its technology to develop cultivars of other crops that can be grown under controlled conditions, such as grapes and saffron.

It also plans to create a larger facility for commercial agricultural production, with a view to expanding overseas, to China, Indonesia, Malaysia and Vietnam.

We intend to continue to develop our research capabilities in order to continue to develop new innovative but pragmatic technologies that the industry at large would, we hope, find valuable.

Within a decade, we hope to have a portfolio of high value solutions that will have been adopted by partners here in Singapore and abroad.

Bao Shengjie, co-founder and CEO of Singrow

Singrow is currently in the middle of confidential discussions with major distributors.

Currently, the only way to get your hands on their strawberries is to purchase them directly from the Sprout Hub.

Featured Image Credit: Singrow and Healthline

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Jothi Venkat

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