By Janis Zhang
An alumnus of the School of Biological Sciences, Sven Yeo (Class of 2010) met his co-founder Vincent Wei, from the National University of Singapore, when they both took part in Small World Group, a sustainable technology incubator, in 2011. Together, they started BioMachines, an Internet-of-Things (IoT) company developing off-grid sensing infrastructure for smart cities and agriculture.
In 2015, they saw the inefficiencies that the agriculture industry was facing and decided to develop their own indoor farming system to tackle them using tech-enabled solutions. They named their new company Archisen (which stands for Architecture for Sensor Networks), but soon encountered challenges on their journey into uncharted territories.
"One big challenge is the relative lack of investor familiarity in this sector," said Sven, explaining that significant capital is required due to the amount of hardware and infrastructure needed. "Most investors in Singapore are more comfortable with finance and retail, so they find it difficult to do due diligence and commit to such investments. We soldiered on purely through resilience and perseverance, pitching to over a hundred different investor groups over the years while building our track record to get to where we are today," he said.
Archisen designs, builds and operates high-tech indoor farms, and distributes fresh produce and salad products through its flagship brand, "Just Produce". As the CTO of the company, Sven’s role focusses on technology and business development, evaluating new technology to improve yields and the quality of Archisen’s products, as well as setting strategies to grow the revenue of the company.
"My degree in SBS, coupled with interests in finance and engineering, was instrumental in providing me with the background and training needed to excel in my work," says Sven. "Systems Biology and Synthetic Biology modules helped me view Biology through a very different perspective. I was part of the inaugural batch of the ideasinc competition in 2009 that set me on the path of my first start-up, which forced me to learn how to plan a business model and cashflow, build the prototype of a physical product from scratch and lay the roadmap for mass production."
Archisen has big goals ahead. It is expanding its offerings with the launch of new products by the end of 2022, and it is in the middle of building one of the largest fully automated indoor farms in Singapore, which will produce nearly one tonne a day of Asian greens at its max capacity in the first half of 2023.
Though the road to success has been tough and has been hampered by the pandemic, Sven and his co-founder have persevered to build the company to where it is today. He says that any aspiring entrepreneurs considering entering the sector must be prepared for the long haul. "This path is not glamorous and not for the faint-hearted. Agriculture and agri-tech tend to be slow in nature so I would discourage anyone from embarking on this journey until they are really sure that it is their passion and that they have the conviction to see it through."
But he says, to those alumni who have the conviction to see it through and have survived for at least a year, he welcomes their contact and in return will be happy to provide advice or assistance.