United States

NTU undergrad helps to build farm from scratch

Mr Lim Zi Jian at an American football game in New Jersey during his US internship. He has been interning since August last year at a vertical farm start-up, which hopes to revolutionise agriculture methods.
Mr Lim Zi Jian at an American football game in New Jersey during his US internship. He has been interning since August last year at a vertical farm start-up, which hopes to revolutionise agriculture methods.PHOTO: COURTESY OF LIM ZI JIAN

Mr Lim Zi Jian yearned for something different from what most of his peers were doing for their internships, stuck behind a desk in an office.

The third-year advertising undergraduate at the Nanyang Technological University (NTU) opted to help build a farm.

"I realised that it gets a bit tedious and boring being in front of the computer all day," said the 25-year-old.

"So I thought: Why not take the leap and do something different for a year?"

Mr Lim, who was selected to join the NTU Overseas Entrepreneurship Programme, has been interning since August last year at a vertical farm start-up in New Jersey, in the United States, which hopes to revolutionise traditional agriculture methods.

He joined its two co-founders while the project was still in its infancy, dabbling in farm management, construction and branding. Only the three of them were involved in the project at that time.

"There are also other ad hoc tasks that I take up," he added.

Given their limited manpower, Mr Lim has also been conducting research, taking on logistics duties and performing other hands-on tasks such as drilling, plumbing and wiring.

 

"We literally built the farm with our hands from scratch - we were the labour," he said.

Mr Lim added that the work can be gruelling, sometimes stretching to 15 hours a day. Work on weekends was not uncommon.

But the challenges of the job have allowed him to experience profound personal and professional growth, Mr Lim noted.

He said: "I learnt a lot about working in a very high-pressure, high-stakes environment.

"As it's a start-up and a very capital-intensive one, the survival of the company is very closely related to the day-to-day decisions.

"I got really lucky in the sense that I met these two founders who are very concerned about my living arrangements, whether I'm learning and my professional development," he added.

In fact, his bosses have invited him to extend the internship for another year, an offer he has accepted.

He will be taking a gap year as he focuses on helping them expand the start-up, which has since taken on three employees.

"Right now, I'm treating this as entrepreneurship school," he said.

"Who knows, maybe it will put me in a much better position to start my own business, hopefully before I'm 30."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 04, 2018, with the headline 'NTU undergrad helps to build farm from scratch'. Print Edition | Subscribe