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AgriTech: These MBAs Just Launched A Game-Changing Urban Farming Startup In Hong Kong

A team of MBA grads from the University of Hong Kong are making farming accessible in the heart of the city



Tue Apr 24 2018

A team of five recent MBA graduates from the University of Hong Kong (HKU) have just launched Farmacy HK, a smart city, urban farming concept based on cutting-edge hydroponic technology.

The first concept city farm opened in Hong Kong’s Causeway Bay in February this year. Over 100 species of organic food products—rare herbs and edible flowers—are grown in a controlled environment without soil, using mineral nutrient solutions dissolved in water instead.

Farmacy HK—fully operational since early April—is already selling its produce to two restaurants in Hong Kong and is exploring B2C opportunities with retailers online. The team expect to sell out the entire farm’s produce in just six months’ time.

Woody Chen, an HKU MBA alumnus, worked for his family’s construction business in his native Taiwan prior to his MBA. His interest in urban agriculture piqued after reading an article about a former Sony Corporation semiconductor factory in Japan that had been transformed into the world’s largest hydroponic farm.

Living in Hong Kong during his MBA, Woody found that he couldn’t buy the high quality, fresh vegetables he was used to in the local supermarkets. Taiwan is well-known for its agriculture but in Hong Kong there’s no land for farming; most food is imported.

Woody decided to put his nascent startup idea into action. He enrolled in the HKU MBA’s famed Business Lab, an elective course which takes students through every step of the startup process, from idea conception to launch.

“I wanted to put what I’d learned during the MBA into practice,” Woody explains, “to use the Business Lab to come up with an idea that fits Hong Kong, is good for society, and harnesses technology as well.”

At the start of the Business Lab, Woody got up on stage and pitched his idea to his MBA classmates. So, the Farmacy HK team was born.

Woody was joined by Sanford Liu, the engineer; Nicholas Cheng, the finance guy; Raymond Mak, who’s background in consulting and public policy help the team deal with local government; and Lucia Sohn, the marketing and design expert. “Lucia makes the whole idea look sexy!” Woody smiles.

Led by Business Lab coordinator and facilitator Pedro Eloy, the Farmacy HK team learned how to create a business plan, marketing plan, finance plan, map out product development, work with ongoing iteration models, and transform an idea into a viable business.

Throughout the Business Lab, successful entrepreneurs, investors, and business people with sector-specific experience offered feedback—an acid test—on the students’ startup projects.

“The Business Lab ran to a very tight schedule,” Woody continues. “Every week, you had a deliverable to submit. But there’s no formula of how to design your business. You get guidance and there’s a blank canvas—at the end of the day it’s up to you.

“Pedro brought in a lot of professionals from different backgrounds like finance and marketing, so you learn a lot from that cross-industry knowledge.”

Sanford, an alumnus from HKU’s engineering school, agrees: “We’re still leveraging a lot of the network from the Business Lab now,” he says. “The whole Business Lab experience is a preparation for real-life. You talk a lot about practical things—recruiting, managing stakeholders, managing peoples’ expectations—things that aren’t taught in a normal business school.”


The team are doing a lot of work around public perception and education, selling hydroponic farm experiences and culinary workshops. Sanford says they’ve had plenty of interest, not just from consumers, but government entities, schools, hotels, and local industry in Hong Kong.

Next, the team want to transform their first farm into a fully-automated Internet of Things (IoT) system and gather data on plant growing techniques, stored on a blockchain. They want to expand into Macau, Shanghai, and Shenzhen too.

“We’ve been evolving ever since we completed the Business Lab and turned into a startup,” says Raymond, who worked in consulting for PwC for six years prior to his MBA.

“Farmacy HK can do a lot of things. The first stage is growing rare edible flowers to really justify our qualities. But the two major problems we want to address long-term are carbon footprint and food safety, using our high quality growing techniques.

“We’re going to develop the IoT and agricultural technology—agtech—to penetrate communities and homes, and make farming accessible in the heart of the city.”

Would the team be where they are today without the University of Hong Kong? Raymond doesn’t think so. “I didn’t even think about starting my own business when I applied for the MBA,” he says.

“For a startup, more than ideas, you need people who have the skills you don’t have and the strengths that can supplement your weaknesses—that’s what an MBA gives you.”

Woody agrees: “The HKU MBA program put together a lot of smart and talented people that speak a common language,” he says. “Not everybody is Mark Zuckerberg—you can’t just design something from your garage and be successful. You have to rely on and work with others.”

Student Reviews

The University of Hong Kong (HKU) - MBA Programmes HKU Business School




On Campus


Very good academic, caes course amazing, ccs are all amazing, professors are excellent, the architecture and infrastructure is splendid, people here are awesome, made some really nice friends, and teachers support us




On Campus

Diversified culture

I highly recommend The University of Hong Kong to students all around the world because of their diversified culture, teaching standards, and the people which make the learning experience better every day.




A place where you best understand local and international cultures

With plenty of experiences available, HKU provides a plenty of experience for me to explore our own and other countries culture. She has excellent teaching and research staffs in the Department of Ecology and Biodiversity. Time allocate to students are considered sufficient and staffs are ready to reach anytime. Besides academic, she has various subsidised programmes that allow students to explore. This credit should be given to GenEd (general education) Office to provide different interesting programmes. These ranged from guest speaker giving talks on China-Hong Kong relationship; Contemporary art in Asia; or holding mini forum on geopolitics. Most, if not all, of which are free of charge!




Life at HKU

Pursued the SHS degree at HKU, academic and clinical staff members were very devoted and passionate. The academic program is under constant reviews, staff members are open minded and willing to modify the program with regards to students' opinions. Career prospect is good. Uni life is fruitful, many different activities for students to choose. Great facilities supporting learning.




Student Life in HKU

As an Accounting and Finance year3 undergrad student in HKU, the university provides lots of opportunities for me to learn and explore my interests. You could join a wide variety of activities, like being an committee member of societies and joining hall activities. As for me, I chose to join the winter exchange programme, be a committee member, and did volunteering servic and had latrine construction and volunteer teaching in Ghana, Africa. I also organized lots of activities for societies and had lots of meetings with company representatives. As for school work, it is okay normally but definitely u got a lot busier during November and April. You got a lot more free time compared to CUHK and HKUST. And of course, this is considered as the most ‘international’ uni in HK in a way that I could make friends coming from different countries. Just wanna add, HKU has a good location for foodie as its near Central, Causeway Bay and Tsim Sha Tsui. For those who love night lifes dont miss this. I didnt speak of anything i dislike coz there isnt anything i dislike much, but if I do have to say, it is the hall life of many local students, such as having cheers at night and never sleeps that may disturb others.






I think it’s a great university that gives you a lot of opportunities in terms of academics as well as extracurricular activities. The education system is fairly westernized and the professors are good for the most part.




International, stratified and political

Adequate resources and very convenient campus with sufficient channels to expand your social and professional circle. Also politically active, and perhaps too biasedly so. Its law school is firmly established, with the longest history in Hong Kong. Practical and professional training, with a constant atmosphere of anxiety and competition that encourages a relatively focused and narrow vision of career outlook. Good range of extra curricular activities available.




Life in HKU

HKU provides students with lots of opportunities in multidisciplinary researches and experiences. This encourages students to widen their horizons and prepare for the future. The programme I attended organised both local and oversea field trips that allowed me to have the first hand experiences of relative aspects. It was very useful for my later career.





I am a graduate of the BSocSc programme several years ago. I appreciate that the programme provided a flexible choice of majors and minors. Even I was admitted into social sciences programme, I could explore various streams of studies in and out of the social sciences faculty, including global studies, human resources, politics, science and music. I did a double major in psychology and sociology. Among all learning experiences in lectures, tutorials, field trips…, I would say the internship experience was one of the most memorable part of my university life. The faculty offers a credit-bearing internship programme in which students can go to various NGOs to work on social issues, ranging from poverty, education to adjustment of ethnic minorities. Students can be placed locally or overseas, depending on placement quota, their personal preference and past experience. I went to a social service agency that serves adults who are intellectually challenged and have autism spectrum disorder. It was an eye-opening experience in observing how different professionals work together to provide training for those people and reflecting on how psychological knowledge could come into play. I was also able to gain some hands-on experience in leading an activity. There are more and more internship opportunities for university students. It is just another way to gain practical experience apart from applying for interns in government agencies or business companies, especially in organisations that would not openly recruit interns but only work with tertiary institutions. It should be noted that for some majors/courses, there are really a lot of people studying. When I was an undergraduate back then, we often expected a lecture with 100+ students and a tutorial with nearly 20 students. If you favour close student-teacher interaction in small classes, you may look into the enrolment of particular courses.