22 September 2020: Yale-NUS students create green start-ups to tackle environmental issues

By Lim Wei Da

Wong Ryota (Class of 2022) at his urban farming lab. Image provided by Wong Ryota.

 

Over the past semester break, some Yale-NUS students created green start-ups to contribute to environmental causes in Singapore.

Wong Ryota (Class of 2022) co-founded Urban Green Dot, an urban farming start-up, to contribute to food security and allow people to reconnect with nature in Singapore. Ryota explained that though he has always been interested in environmental issues, it was only after taking more conceptual courses at Yale-NUS that he felt empowered to create solutions to contribute to sustainable food systems in Singapore.

He said, “In my course, I learnt about biophilia, a concept that suggests humans have an innate tendency to seek nature. This struck a chord with me, and I realised that as Singapore becomes more urbanised, there might be less opportunities for people to engage with nature meaningfully. Farming could be one way to help to fill up this gap while helping Singapore to meet its food security goals, and while people might shy away from the concept of farming in Singapore, I am excited to work and challenge narratives around this industry.”

Ryota explained that though vertical farming and hydroponics have garnered lots of attention in Singapore, few specialise in education or the provision of farm systems. Hence, he founded Urban Green Dot to provide vegetable subscription boxes, interactive farming courses, and personalised farm systems for households to achieve self-sufficiency.

An edible vegetable grown at Ryota’s urban farming lab. Image provided by Wong Ryota (Class of 2022).

 

Ryota is involved in seeding and harvesting plants as well as conducting regular system checks to ensure that farming equipment is running smoothly. In addition, he works on developing their business model and marketing materials.

On his work, Ryota elaborated, “While it can be challenging at times delving into areas of work that I have no prior professional experience in, my time at Yale-NUS has made me comfortable with venturing into the unknown. I am also grateful to my professors whom I could have a casual conversation with about my work while getting their feedback about my start-up. I intend to continue working on the start-up beyond the recent semester break, and while balancing it with academics will be tough, I find this work purposeful and relevant. I hope to continue learning about the food and agriculture scene and contribute to food security in Singapore.”

Image of Poon Yi Lin (Class of 2023). Image provided by Poon Yi Lin.

 

Poon Yi Lin (Class of 2023) co-founded UNDO, a second-hand fashion marketplace, with her friends to help reduce waste from the fashion industry.

Yi Lin said that during the COVID-19 ‘circuit breaker’ period in Singapore, she and her friends observed an influx of people turning to social media to sell their own clothes, some of which were in almost perfect condition. They then realised that these platforms were not optimised for selling, and came up with the idea of UNDO to improve user experience for people hoping to buy or sell secondhand clothes.

Yi Lin said, “We hope to correct the common misunderstanding of second-hand retail as troublesome, cluttered, and only for environmental activists, and through our work, we wish to reduce waste and contribute to the circular economy. My interest in sustainability in the retail space started when I worked at one of Singapore’s largest fashion brands and witnessed the waste generated. Joining Yale-NUS immediately after this job gave me the courage to imagine a different future for fashion, as I saw the community trading or selling their second-hand clothes frequently on Facebook. The conversations on climate change and sustainable living in Yale-NUS also spurred me to rethink my relationship with fashion and reaffirmed my desire for more sustainable fashion options and practices”.

At UNDO, Yi Lin is contributing to user acquisition and growth. Specifically, she looks into developing and implementing growth strategies to increase users, listings, and transactions on their site. For example, Yi Lin reviewed other similar platforms in Singapore to strategise how they could provide value for users as well as cold-emailed potential sellers to tell them about their platform.

On her learning experience, Yi Lin shared, “Since starting on this work, I have realised the importance of consistency and discipline. As a co-founder, there is no one to report to or give you instructions. So, things can easily stagnate if you push off tasks, and it takes a lot of determination and hard work to keep things going. I am grateful for the learning experiences at Yale-NUS which developed my professional skill sets and for the privilege of working on this with some of my best friends”.