Humans of Weremote: Urban Greens

Welcome to the Humans of Weremote blog section, where we put a spotlight on the valuable members of our community. Let’s get to know them better to gain insight on their business philosophy that we could adopt as we move our own enterprise forward. Weremote, after all, is more than just spaces. (If you would like to be featured in future editions of Humans of Weremote, don’t hesitate to inform us. Just send us a message at hello@weremote.com.)

Ralph Becker, the CEO and founder of Urban Greens, started this indoor farming company in 2017. It was just a small company back then. And it was operating from Ralph’s condo unit because he didn’t’ have a garage back then. Today, Urban Greens is expanding to more sites. It aims to help the Philippines create a food supply chain that is typhoon- and flood-proof. Veggies and fruits and all sorts of plants grow without soil and inside houses and buildings. All thanks to the magic of hydroponic farming.

Weremote recently sat down with Ralph so we can get to know more about his company that is positively impacting the local food supply chain.

Weremote (WR): What inspired you to establish Urban Greens? And what are the main goals you aim to achieve with your hydroponic farming?

Ralph Becker (RB): I moved to the Philippines back in 2016. I was born and raised in Luxembourg, but my mom is a Filipina from Cebu. My dad is German, so I have a little bit of both—like East and Western cultures in me. When I moved here, I went to the supermarket. I realized that herbs and vegetables and lettuces, etc. are more expensive here compared to Europe, which is crazy.

I had just come from living in California for four years. And even compared to San Francisco, this was comparatively more expensive. I was wondering why that was the case, you know. Because the Philippines is a lush and green country, and I thought, everything would grow here. But the Philippines is battered by storms, typhoons, and other climate calamities that make it difficult to grow things consistently. Throw in a lot of other factors that make it really hard for the Philippines to grow food here.

I came across hydroponics when I was living in the US, and also when I was living in Japan. And I thought, hey this could really be something made for the Philippines.

WR: What excites you most about hydroponic farming and working at Urban Greens?

RB: More so the urban farming or the indoor farming aspect. So now it’s quite hot outside and we can grow indoors. It hasn’t been raining for the last couple of weeks, months, right? But we can still grow stuff all day round, all year round. Consistently, without any interruption of any other climate impact.

After this, it will be really rainy, [La Nina] will have its effects. So there will be floods and there will be too much water. And again we will not be affected by this. So for me, what’s exciting is to create technology. And that we can show to the Filipino people, particularly, that this is all built in-house. In the Philippines, for the Philippines to show that this can be done locally. As well, just to inspire people that things don’t necessarily have to come from far away, from abroad.

WR: Could you describe the work culture at Urban Greens?

RB: I think we have a very cool work culture here. If you would ask the staff, they’d probably say the same thing. No one is a “work hard, play hard.” I’d prefer “work smart” instead of working hard. Sometimes I even prefer people who are lazy because they figure out things, how to do things a little bit more efficient. But, all in all, it sort of resembles more a Silicon Valley startup where we balance work and life and play so it fosters creativity. At the same time, IT makes sure that you have all the right tools as an employee to fulfill your tasks and to make an impact on society.

WR: Could you share a recent achievement or project of Urban Greens that you are particularly proud of?

RB: We actually have a couple. First, we have expanded to other [Philippine] islands. So we have a setup now in El Nido [Palawan] and most recently in Moalboal in Cebu, and we’re looking at further islands. We are in talks of setting up in Clark, Boracay, Siargao, Bohol, and Leyte. That’s all very, very exciting. Expanding the reach that we have outside of Manila. And then, on top of that, I think what’s really cool is that more and more bigger customers, more prestigious customers approach us. They all seem to find my numbers, somehow through referral, which is really great because that also gives us a lot of confidence in the product that we grow, in the service that we deliver. I can’t talk about a lot of the customers here because they are still under wraps, but they are really big names out there who have reached out to us and they want to collaborate with us.

WR: Could you elaborate on the hydroponics technology and techniques that Urban Greens employs to grow food in an urban setting?

RB: It’s called “indoor vertical farming” and there are certain ways on how to do it. We have what is called NFT, not the crytpo NFT but it’s the “nutrient film technique.” The are gutters here which have a sliver and a film of water running through, and it’s a closed loop, closed cycle. We add nutrients and minerals into the water. Similar to if your doctor tells you like, “Hey, you need more magnesium or more calcium.” You take a calcium tablet and you dissolve it in water. Those are the same nutrients that we put in the water for the plants to grow. It takes about a cycle of four weeks in the system here for the plants to grow from a seedling state to a full-grown plant. We can control everything through our mobile phones. That’s why we love working with Weremote because you give us a perfect environment right in the heart of the city [where we can reach] all of our customers.

WR: What are the factors that influenced you to move to Weremote Makati Central Square?

RB: It’s a perfect location. You know what they say, “location, location, location,” right? In urban farming, the premise is really to be as close to the customer as possible so we cut down the carbon footprint, the emissions, and also the cost of transport. We don’t have to warehouse anything. This is where the customers are, the customers are in Makati. The customers are not outside of Manila. All of the 5-star hotels we are targeting, all of our high-end customers, they are here. They are a stone’s throw away. They are only 15 minutes away from the Weremote site here. That’s our premise, so we have a perfect location and a perfect partnership with Weremote to be close to our customers, and access is just tremendous.

WR: How does your office at Weremote enhance your company’s mission at collaborative efforts?

RB: Weremote is our second big farm. We’ll still be operating our current farm, which is also not too far away from here. But this is just great. Weremote, outside of the space that we have, is a one-stop shop. We have access to marketing, we have access to legal, we have access to all these different services. And of course, it gives us a platform to what it is that we do to a wider audience, to all the officegoers and the coworkers here and the collaborators. We are excited to be striking even more partnerships with them and some of the guys who come and cowork here at Weremote.

WR: Is there a particular feature of Weremote that has positively impacted your business operations or team dynamics?

RB: I think we are a specific customer to Weremote because it’s the first time I hear that we are getting a purpose-built space. The team was very accommodating for this, the engineering team, the interior design team, they were really professional and really fast. We could just tell them our wish list of how we would want our ideal space to look like. And you know, what they’ve come back to building for us is just tremendous. I couldn’t have asked for a better partner than this.

WR: Does your team have a favorite spot in Weremote that boosts creativity or productivity?

RB: I can’t talk for the team, but I do see a lot of people, like the coworking space here with the grass and the ambience, just to get away from it a little bit. I can see them huddling in different parts of the room so I think they’re still finding their favorite spot, but this is quite interesting. It gives a quite nice vibe, and you get to talk to other people from different industries.

WR: Describe a typical day at Urban Greens.

RB: When my team meets, it’s really a farming operation. They come in early morning, as farmers do, they tend to the plants, make sure everything is running. Although most of it is automated, so it’s basically just checking and then looking at what is on schedule to be transplanted or shipped out to the customers. Do we have to plant new plants? They have a real schedule but think of it as really just a farm operation.

WR: How is being at Weremote influenced networking opportunities or community connections for Urban Greens?

RB: It’s still early, but what’s been really amazing is that even in this very short span of time, Trish [Reposo, Weremote co-founder and CEO] has reached out to us with so many different people that have seen the displays and want to get in touch with us. I’ve had several meetings already with people who are just interested in the business because they see it, and they just want to know more about it, how it works, and what our customer base looks like. I’m very excited to be having more of that and having more partnerships and collaboration.

WR: What benefits do businesses that still use traditional office spaces find in a coworking space like Weremote?

RB: Coworking takes away a lot of the pain points that you might have to figure out, particularly if you’re a startup, you might not know or you don’t have the bandwidth or the budget to do so. You basically come here into a made nest. There is internet that is figured out, you have a space, you have an office. You have all the amenities, you have unlimited coffee, which is super important. You have a bathroom and toilet, and everything is clean. So, you don’t have to look after that. And then the shared services they provide; it’s just a lot of networking…I can highly recommend going for a coworking space, specifically Weremote—it’s just a great networking experience.

WR: What future projects or developments can you look forward to for Urban Greens?

RB: We will be expanding further into other sites, in other islands, and we have a plan in the near future to venture outside of the Philippines. So that’s going to be very exciting. We have already put the plan in motion. Soon you will be seeing us outside the Philippines.

Weremote stands as a community where professionals and businesses thrive, offering a dynamic environment for growth. As the coworking brand of Wrkspace Office Management and Solutions Inc., Weremote continues to foster professional development and build vibrant communities. Weremote is a portfolio company of AHG Lab, the largest independent venture builder in the Philippines.

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