This interview details Aerospring Hydroponics, an indoor farming company based in Singapore. The interview is with Nadine Keller, Co-Founder of Aerospring Hydroponics.
What is the origin story of Aerospring Hydroponics?
In 2013, my husband and I embarked on a journey to cultivate tomatoes in our small Singapore apartment. This endeavor sparked our passion for gardening and ignited our vision for a sustainable local food source.
Singapore, a densely populated city-state dominated by high-rise apartments, heavily relies on imported food, with less than 10% of its supply grown domestically. Tomatoes were really expensive as did salad, basil, kale, and other fine herbs. I was soon growing a lot in the vertical DIY system Thorben designed for me, which would eventually develop into the Aerospring from all the learnings we made. We received a lot of encouragement, from friends, family, and an angel investor, and in 2015 we took the plunge, gave up our respective careers, and decided to manufacture and distribute our own hydroponic home gardening system.
We’ve since sold over 4,000 hydroponic gardens worldwide to places as far flung as Tahiti, Ghana, Alaska, and Tenerife. Our systems are even on an entire fleet of marine break bulk vessels, growing food while sailing the seas.
We are so proud that our hydroponic systems are helping so many people worldwide live more sustainably and grow their own fresh food. With the challenges facing the world today, including nutrition, food security, and food safety, we believe we are helping people one garden at a time.
What are some of the biggest challenges facing Aerospring Hydroponics in the future?
There’s still a lot of opposition to hydroponics, perceptions from the produce tasting bland or watery all the way to the whole process being unnatural or chemical. We make no claims about the system or the produce being organic and often correct the perception that it is. But in places where there is no arable land, little water, space, and a very dense population, hydroponics just makes sense. Water is a huge issue worldwide, and drought is an absolute reality. Hydroponic produce is already everywhere on supermarket shelves, 60% of the world’s quality snacking/fine tomatoes are grown hydroponically, in greenhouses. We spend a lot of time talking about these often false perceptions of hydroponics, of growing food “this way”.
Marketing and distributing a consumer gardening product in the digital world is equally challenging. It’s expensive and the goalposts keep shifting. We started the business as a very face-to-face, retail-front kind of enterprise. There was a lot of education and there still is a lot necessary to let a customer make an informed decision to purchase our product and to start growing their own food at home. Some don’t have the sunlight, some just don’t have the conditions because it’s actually too hot or cold and some things just won’t grow for you in your temperatures, no matter how hard you try. Being able to communicate product features and all the gardening 101 without meeting our customers and translating this for a global market is keeping us on our toes.
What is unique about Aerospring Hydroponics compared to competitors?
Usability, quality of build, and yield. Our system was built by home gardeners, for home gardeners. We believe that we’ve created a highly usable system that will be in use for many years and that the user will find easy to manage and maintain. Some of the first systems that we sold in 2016 are still in use. We’ve allowed for every part to be replaced, it doesn’t have to be thrown out wholesale if a piece or component is broken.
The Aerospring is also able to grow some really large plants and express themselves to their full potential. I, along with thousands of our customers, have all managed to grow kilos of tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, pumpkins, melons, and a whole heap of leafy greens and herbs. In addition, amongst our indoor system competitors, we are the only indoor system with a grow tent, which effectively blocks light and delivers up to 30% fast growth when the tent is zipped up. This proves useful in a home, school, or even office setting when the lights can get a bit glaring at times.
How do you measure the impact of Aerospring Hydroponics so far? (Revenue, Employees, Customer Quantity, Production Volume) etc?
We’ve grown so much as a company in the last 3 years. It was really only Thorben and I running Aerospring with little help for the first 5 years. From packing boxes to growing seedlings, to unstuffing and stuffing containers and managing the accounts. Along with marketing, advertising, creating social media content and so much more.
Then Covid struck worldwide and sales accelerated for us. With this uptick in sales, we were able to get further investment, produce more, hire, expand, and grow. We’re still only 8 employees in total but I am very proud of what we have achieved as a company and as a product in the eight years we have been around. The more important impact is how much produce our gardens have grown for everyone and this is ultimately, what makes me proud as a person.
What have you learned that you wish you knew when you started the company?
That it would take much longer to achieve the milestones you initially set. And that it would take much more money. The amount of cash tied up in manufacturing is very different from distributing someone else’s product. We’ve also learned that fundraising is a very big part of growing a business.
How can people connect with you or learn more about Aerospring Hydroponics?
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