First of all, how are you and your family doing in these COVID-19 times?
Michael Choi: Good, thanks for asking. Fortunately, my family, myself, and the team at Ponix are all safe and well during COVID-19.
Tell us about you, your career, how you founded Ponix.
Michael Choi: Co-founding Ponix has been a fun journey. First, I studied to become an FAA-licensed aircraft technician and worked on jet engines in high school. That’s where I learned to work with my hands. After that, I attended Syracuse University as a film major – quite a change. I love filmmaking and the art of storytelling. During my senior year, four of my college friends and I co-founded a digital media company called Auxygen Creative. A multi-disciplinary team of talented individuals, we worked together to bring life to the ideas of clients from various industries to launch their products. A businessman wanted help designing a greenhouse farm and introduced to us the concept of growing food anytime, anywhere with hydroponics. My co-founders and I became fascinated about bringing agriculture indoors, and we made a prototype of an indoor farm all within a recycled shipping container. We showcased the container at the New York State Farm Show in the middle of winter and got our very first customer. We knew we had something special, so we studied agriculture and saw some big opportunities to innovate in the food space
How does Ponix innovate?
Michael Choi: As an on-site hydroponic vertical farming company, Ponix is on a mission to reclassify food as a utility. We see a future where food is grown locally and distributed to people and communities seamlessly just like how WiFi, power, and water are provided. Our crops are grown without soil and completely pesticide-free because we grow inside clean and controlled environments. We monitor and operate the farms year-round in any location using smart devices. This process uses up to 90% less water compared to traditional soil farming methods.
How the coronavirus pandemic affects your business, and how are you coping?
Michael Choi: The biggest lesson learned in this process was to have done more research in preparation.
COVID-19 revealed weaknesses in our supply chain for basic needs and food security. For Ponix, we experienced a significant increase in demand for fresh, locally grown foods. As a result, we opened up two additional indoor farms this year to make food available to the communities. We’ve also experienced an increase in inquiries utilizing our farming technologies within cities to become more resilient. We have been coping with this pandemic as best as possible and emphasizing policies for food production and safety procedures. We want to take care of ourselves, our families, and our customers. As food producers, we believe that everyone should have access to fresh food, no matter the circumstances. We want to nourish you, ourselves, and everyone we know.
Did you have to make difficult choices, and what are the lessons learned?
Michael Choi: Our vision to eliminate food deserts all across the world is no easy task. COVID-19 really became the fire beneath us to propel us forward and solve problems head-on. We had to rearrange priorities and objectives to make sure our solutions were solving a pressing problem. We changed our messaging and our target audiences to make sure we were educating and advocating our indoor farming solutions to the individuals and organizations that can help make a social impact in the most effective way possible.
How do you deal with stress and anxiety? How do you project yourself and Ponix in the future?
Michael Choi: When dealing with stress and anxiety, I try to relax, take deep breaths, meditate, exercise, and walk my dog. I clear my mind and restart. COVID-19 sparked a deeper sense of urgency for Ponix. 2 billion more people will be joining us by 2050, and the current state of agriculture is unsustainable. We are running out of arable land, wasting resources, and adding harmful chemicals to our food.
Who are your competitors? And how do you plan to stay in the game?
Michael Choi: We have two types of competitors in our space: indoor farms and traditional soil-based farms. While indoor farms are now trending and becoming normalized, many traditional soil-based farms are subsidized by the government. There is room for both types of farms in the future. However, with pesticides and harmful chemicals still in the process of traditional farming, I don’t foresee too much of that sticking around with us. We are working hard to establish creative business models, policies, and collaborations with municipalities, architects, urban planners, designers, and developers to incorporate indoor farming as a crucial and must-have program for future infrastructure.
Your final thoughts?
Michael Choi: I am grateful to have created a company that I truly love. I have partners and employees who help the company thrive and believe in using food and farming to transform lives and nourish the community by offering better ingredients with a fully transparent supply chain.
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