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Monday, 08 May 2017 13:10

Endeavor Excelerator welcomes Urban Grown Organics

Urban Grown Organics, headed by Simbarashe Chimhandamba and his beautiful wife, Nonhlanhla Chimhandamba, is one of two Endeavor Excelerator companies that joined the Endeavor Excelerator family. We are proud to welcome such an amazing set of entrepreneurs in the network. Keep reading to find out what makes his business so important to South Africa and South Africans alike.

1. So Urban Grown has been in operation since 2015. Can you tell me more about what sparked the move from Marketing to Farming?

As an agricultural family business, in that year we raised funding and commenced trading in 2016. Urban Grown is a youth owned and run Urban- agricultural and agro-processing business which grows, processes and supplies the hotel industry, airline industry and retail industries

The spark was when we, the founders acknowledged we have a unique skillset which is a recipe for success, a marketer, financial accountant with FMCG experience and a Swiss trained hotelier able to supply fresh produce to an ever growing market.

Nonhlanhla has worked at Nestle SA as Brand Manager for Infant Nutrition and Coffee/Nescafe, this after similar roles at Unilever, Colgate Palmolive and Marketing Manager for DSTV. It is at NESTLE where she was exposed to the value chain from farm to fork.

Simba has had vast experience in Sports Sponsorship/ Marketing and through his work travels usually in remote areas and sporting outreach programmes found he had a passion for farming and acknowledged the impact agriculture has on communities. He always makes mention of the ABSA and Cricket South Africa sponsored training camps out in Alice and other farming regions.

2. Can you briefly explain the hydroponic farming process to us?

Hydroponics farming is the practice of growing plants in water using a non soil based substrate such as coco-peat or perlite, coco-peat is derived from recycled coconut husks and has the ability to retain 11 times more water than soil.

The beauty of hydroponic farming is its benefits to the environment and the consumer. Hydroponics uses 95% less water than conventional farming, there are less pesticides used as there are far less diseases as compared to hydroponic farming, for the farmer- hydroponics allows you to grow crop throughout the year. Therefore, allowing for revenue to be generated throughout the year, for the consumer-quality nutritious produce all year round. Grown in the city and supplied therein.

3. Does grow time decrease when using a hydroponic system?

Significantly. Due to the fact that plants have direct access to a re-circulating nutrient solution, the environment is controlled, allowing for the prevention of common pests and diseases found in typical soil farming.

4. How has your journey been? What sorts of challenges have you faced?

The journey has been equally rewarding and challenging and many lessons have been learnt. From the usual lack of funding, consumer perceptions, larger competitors with buying power and the inability to secure contracts due to lack of track records, to the time effort it takes to find an equally passionate workforce.

The key learnings however are as following: Integrity, leadership is best when flanked by the right staff, product innovations that allow you to create alternative markets.

But above all, we acknowledge luck and how it too, plays a part in a success story.

5. What has been the biggest reward for you since starting Urban Grown?

Acknowledgement by the industry and those we supply that we are a for-profit business with an impact and a viable model, a business which they have chosen to support, Urban Grown grows 60% of its own produce and carefully sources 40% from other small farmers and the Johannesburg Market.

This has led to City Lodge Hotel Group empowering us with an ED loan which has allowed us to develop our primary practice (Agro-processing) to our secondary (Agriculture).

Food Lovers Market and Comair have since come on as clients, BUT

In 2016 Urban Grown was awarded 1st Price at the Microsoft Ideas Space for our use of Hydroponics in farming.

In 2017, 1 of 20 Top Youth owned Agricultural entities, chosen for best practice exposure in Israel funded by Investec.

In 2017, we have been selected by Endeavor for the Excelerator programme.

These accomplishments for us are rewarding, more importantly looking at the jobs created and impact our business makes in Diepsloot,

6. What is the funniest thing that happened to your team at Urban Grown?

“Can you believe they are farming? A Financial Accountant/ FMCG person and a Sports Marketer left those careers to farm”– Overheard.

7. What does your team look like/who does it consist of, and do they exude the same passion you do?

As a family run business we are all close, the management team consists of Nonhlanhla, Simba, Naledi and Garven who is an Agronomist, we have 3 staff members at the City Farm in Laezonia and a team of 6 at the pack house, excluding David and Richard the drivers.

8. How do you give back to the communities in which you currently operate?

We source produce from small holder farmers without access to market, giving them a market for their produce, most importantly the technical support on how to grow the best quality and be market ready. “Teach a man how to farm, Feed them for a lifetime.”

We have also partnered with Nedbank in the past and built a “Green Space” in which children are taught about Agriculture at school. The site stands strong at Riverside Primary School, Diepsloot and our next community outreach will hopefully be at Laezonia Primary School, close to our newest farm site, this will most likely be in conjunction with Rotary, Midrand.

9. Where do you see yourselves in the next five years?

In the next 5 years we see ourselves as scaling supplier of processed and unprocessed fruit and vegetable, with a stronger, larger and more efficient workforce to maintain our reputation and quality standards.

More importantly though we hope in that time we would have attracted or partnered with a larger firm, i.e. Food Lovers Market, Urban Farms, Pick‘n’Pay or even a Famous Brands to secure a larger distribution channel and scale.

10. Do you have any advice for aspiring agricultural start-ups?

Start where you are, you do not need large capital to QUALIFY your proof of concept - BUILD IT AND THEY WILL COME.


Pete Benedetto and Tarisai Nyamandwe

Nonhlanhla with the owners of Food Lovers Market

Pete Benedetto and Tarisai Nyamandwe

Nonhlanhla Chimhandamba

Pete Benedetto and Tarisai Nyamandwe

Simba Chimhandamba – The farmer

Pete Benedetto and Tarisai Nyamandwe

The Urban Grown Team