Hi Vanessa, nice to meet you! Can you tell me a little about yourself, Zen Eco and what it does?
I’m the founder and CEO of Zeneco Solutions, a startup that has created an agriculture business intelligence platform called The Farm IQ. It was an idea I had while doing my PhD in Agricultural Modeling in Brunei with IBM and Universiti Brunei Darussalam. I realised that there was a wealth of knowledge and research available from research institutes but they were not necessarily solving problems experienced by farmers on the ground.
Farmers need to figure out things that affect the profitability of their farm such as picking the best dates to plant or working out how much fertiliser should be applied. The Farim IQ was built to help farmers in their decision making so that they can be more profitable as a business.
I am not a coder so it was quite a challenging task to build the app. I spent three months in an intensive programming bootcamp in Canada at Lighthouse Labs, a company that teaches coding and developing. After winning the best app at the bootcamp, I was asked to stay on and join their accelerator program in Vancouver. So that was the first prototype for The Farm IQ.
My objective is to help farmers in the region as they are often ill-equipped and exploited. When I came back to Brunei, I enrolled myself in the 100-day startup boot camp which really enabled me to refine the startup and hire my core team members.
Your team is comprise of people from Brunei, Vancouver and Singapore. How do you feel about having a team of people from different countries coming together to solve problems?
Having a global team is an advantage because I’ve always believed in an interdisciplinary approach when it comes to solving complex problems. I try to leverage on the different skills each person brings to the table. A computer programmer would look at solving farming issues in a different way to a data scientist or a graphic designer.
Besides the FarmIQ app, what was the intention with starting a company based around providing ecological solutions?
I like to identify solutions that don’t exist yet and I’ve always done that in a scientific environment which involves experiments and lab work. But to make a real change, you have to address problems on the ground and that is what I keep going back to. Better farm management leads to improvement on food security.
That’s my main vision- to help farmers or to help the world solve the global hunger issue and grow better, in a sustainable way, as we move to nine billion people by 2050.
I’m glad to say that we’ve recently opened our second office at the Royal Agricultural University in Gloucestershire in the UK. That will help position the company and help us reach the European market.
What keeps you motivated and how do you stay sane with this incredible workload and a business to run?
I am just grateful that I get to do what I really love and it was something that I worked so hard to achieve. In the first two years of my PhD, I spent most of my time collecting data and talking to farmers to get insights on their farming processes.
Farming is tough work. You wake up at the break of dawn and work under the sun so I feel for them. Some of them have asked me why I am doing this. I felt that I had a responsibility to help them because of the information gathered from my studies.
I stay sane by taking my alone time and I’m very good in segmenting my work-life balance, so it’s definitely a balance.
That’s awesome! And what does Progresif mean to you?
To me, to be progressive is to be brave enough to stand up for your vision and to be resilient even when you’re in difficult environments!