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Q&A with Tobias Peggs: CEO of Square Roots

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When you think of farming, wide sprawling hills with rows of stalks and veggies comes to mind.  You probably imagine a farmer as a dude with a plow with denim overalls, not necessarily as an entrepreneur.  Square Roots is a startup that is changing the way we think of farming.  Cofounded by Elon Musk’s brother, Kimbal Musk, this company is disrupting the industrial food complex by closing the gap between the food that farmer’s grow and the consumers who buy them.

In the heart of Brooklyn in a old industrial parking lot sits a bunch of unassuming shipping containers.  The last thing you’d expect them to contain would be two acres worth of growing produce, but alas, that is exactly what’s inside of them.

Your typical apple travels a huge distance from where it was picked to the grocery store shelf.  In the process it looses the vast majority of it’s nutrition.  Square Roots attempts to resolve this inefficiency by providing a place for produce to be grown in an urban setting.  It does this by growing produce in shipping containers hydroponically (a method of growing without soil).  Each shipping container is manned by a farming entrepreneur who is responsible for creating their own business plan, marketing and distribution logistics.  Once the produce is ready for harvest, farmers deliver the fresh goods directly to your office/home, connecting the farmer with the consumer in a more intimate and conscious way.

A couple weeks ago I took a tour of the urban farm led by of Square Root’s CEO Tobias Peggs.  Here’s a look at some of the things I learned along the way:

How much produce can one shipping container yield on average?

One shipping container can produce about 50lbs of leafy greens.

How long does it take a plant to get from seed to harvest?

This varies depending on what type of vegetable is being grown but take for example a head of lettuce: it takes about 2-3 weeks for the plant to go from seed to harvest.

Tell me more about the tech that goes into growing food in shipping containers.

To replace sunlight, we use red and blue LEDs, which are really the only two types of light plants need for photosynthesis.  Each shipping container is modular with a controlled climate.  My background is in artificial intelligence, so every aspect of the conditions in each shipping container is controlled by AI.  Say we had an heirloom seed that grew in southern Italy in the 1800’s.  We can look to see what the climate was at that time and replicate it’s environment within the container.   This way, instead of literally shipping food from southern Italy, we just ship the data about that environment and use it to grow exotic foods locally.

What control do farmers have over what they grow?

Our farmers are 100% entrepreneurs.  They decide which seeds to use.  They also are responsible for their own branding and marketing and how to distribute their goods.  This is our first cohort of farmers, they don’t have to use the Square Roots name, but most choose to.

Is there anything like this currently being attempted?

There’s one in particular being attempted in Japan.  A large portion of farmland was rendered unusable after the meltdown in Fukushima.  Because of this Japanese consumers now have stamps on the food which literally says “Proud to be grown indoors”.  So people are attempting it, all of them in different methods. I would say we were the most modular.

After the tour I got to sample some of the shipping container-grown produce.  The picture above is from a mustard green.  Believe it or not it was really spicy!  I never thought of leafy greens as spicy, but regardless it was bomb as hell in my salad.

As populations rapidly grow and change in cities, so must the way we produce and distribute food.  Not only does the current method of industrialized farming diminish the quality of our food, but it also disconnects the farmer from the consumer.  Square Roots presents us with a wildly innovative solution to these issues.  Where does your salad come from?  Mine came from a badass shipping container in Brooklyn.

What's up!? I'm Katrina. I'm wandering, collecting, witnessing and learning. I'm drawn to all things found at the intersection of art and technology. If I could go back in time, I think I'd be best friends with Mark Twain, Nikola Tesla and Cleopatra. When I'm not obsessing about the human endeavor or the nature of time, I'm probably cooking or dancing.

Business

How To Get Rid Of Office Gossip

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office gossip

Office gossip is a negativity that affects almost every office. No company encourages rumor or gossip, but it is present everywhere. A little gossip is not that harmful. However, rumors and gossip can cast a spell of mistrust among employees. Handling harmful gossip can be difficult for managers. It is not very comfortable for them to bring the issue into the daylight. As a leader, you should control the gossip and let your employees know the actual situation. Here are some ways to get rid of the continuous flow of gossip.

Do not take work gossip to heart

In most of the cases, office gossip is deliberately created to spread malicious nonsense. Some people want to create a sense of fear and insecurity in the minds of the employees. So, you should not take the rumors personally or defensively. The management of the company should take strong actions against spreading false stories. Focus on the present and try to find the reason behind the rapid growth of gossip inside the company. You should try to deal with issue objectively avoiding all kinds of personal attacks.

Do not participate in any kinds of gossip

As a management head or a team lead, you should not participate in any kind of gossip inside the office premises. It would be a wrong signal for your subordinates. Do not belittle yourself in front of the employees of the company. Try to keep a distance from the groups who believe in big talks. Be aware of all the happenings in the company. Keep the facts ready to assure your team when they are in doubt. Motivate your team to stay away from the gossip mills.  

Get your facts right

You know you need to stop the flow of gossip and rumors to keep the office environment professional. Before you can act, you should know the true facts. Try to know where the office gossip started. Ask the team leads and departmental managers what they have heard. You should maintain an easy relationship with them. They can come and speak freely to you. It would be easier for you to fathom how much the gossip have spread and who are behind the wall.

Address the problem frankly

The first step to stopping the gossip is directly talking to the person who is spreading it. You should always remember that there are other people too who are indirectly related to it. There are some people who always believe the story and are responsible for spreading it in no time. So, as a leader of your company you need to address the entire team and if it is a very serious issue you need to address the entire company. If your employees are concerned about certain issues, answer them frankly. You can keep a suggestion box where your employees can post anything anonymously. If their identity is protected, they will cooperate with you to get rid of the harmful rumors spreading inside the company.

Make it a company policy to prevent gossip

It is important to draft a strong policy against spreading of rumors. All the employees should know how creating negative stories about the company will be treated. Provide them with examples how to keep the office environment free from rumors. Tell them how to curb negative interaction and discourage gossip-lovers.

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Business

How To Be More Productive During A Slow Week

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There’s always something that needs to be done when you’re very busy with work. But what happens when a project is finished and you get a few days before it all starts again? A slowdown in work is normal but it can be boring especially if you’re used to being in the thick of the action at work. During this time you’re probably looking for some things to do just to remain productive. Here are some great ideas to consider if you want to remain productive during a slow week.

Lend A Hand

Other departments or co-workers could be struggling to meet deadlines. Lend a hand to show that you are a team player. Ask if there is anything you can do to help (with your boss’ approval). Aside from staying productive, you could learn something new or get a glimpse of how co-workers or other departments work or function and how it affects your side of the job.

Succession Planning

Have you thought about what happens to your work or teammates should you go up in smoke tomorrow? You should consider this seriously and think about succession planning. You basically take your job description and break it down so that each task is outlined per month. If this document does not exist, create it. It will make your job easier should you leave your job and your boss will thank you for it.

If you have one, update it. It is important to keep your succession plan alive.

Call To Follow-up

When you’re busy, you don’t have a lot of time to spend talking to people on the phone. Now that you have a slow week, it’s time to pick up the phone to catch up with clients, suppliers and stakeholders. Start with small talk because this will gradually become a lengthy discussion when you ask for their thoughts on how things are going. You can also bounce ideas around in order to gain their trust and foster the spirit of teamwork.

Give Yourself An Annual Review

Reflect on your performance this past year and think of ways you can do your job better. Aside from this, you can ask yourself if you’re happy with your career or which direction you want to take it. Thinking about these things can help yourself grow as a person and employee. Bring up these insights during your next evaluation. Supervisors like employees who see the big picture.

Check In With Your Boss

Now that you have time to catch your breath, check in with your boss verbally or through email to update achievements and discuss the next steps. Employees sometimes forget to pass on good news to their superiors or to update on the future direction of projects. Catching your breath during a slow week is a good way to get managers up to speed. Aside from this, checking in with your boss reinforces your capabilities for bigger things in the future.

Slow days at work are rare, which is why doing these kinds of things are important. Focusing on your interests and staying proactive can help advance your career, improve professional knowledge and keep you on top of things.

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Business

How To Attract Millennials To Your City

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Location matters in the means of professional success. Millennials are reported to be getting married and starting families later than their parents. This means that their main focus is strictly on their professional career, so these matters are taken seriously, as they involve these factors into determining where to live. Millennials select cities that will help them thrive. This goes vice versa, cities need to attract people in order to be sustainable. The city of Camden has been successful with this process. With the increase of millennial entrepreneurs entering the city, the better the economy gets, as it is shown around the waterfront.

To create more jobs and attraction, cities must attract the job-seeking millennials. There are 3 determinants for millennials to move into your city:

Affordability

Someone who is financially responsible will always consider the cost of living foremost. Cities that contain a high population of millennials often have low employment rates and affordability. If the city is popular but does not meet within millennial’s budget, then it wouldn’t be worth the cost. Money is the only physical asset that holds us restricted. The city of Camden holds that title of affordability. Tax cuts are what attracts entrepreneurs mainly, however the overall value of the stay is well worth it. Camden is located outside of Philadelphia, just close enough to go into their city to network without paying Philadelphia’s cost of living.

Entrepreneurship

Millennials are an ambitious generation. A reporting claimed that 54% have either wanted to start a business or have started one already. This characterized millennials as hard-working and motivated individuals. A location that showcases trails of entrepreneurship deliver a desirable reality to people. Silicon Valley embodies this example, as it is the most known startup hub for technology companies in America. Famous companies like Apple, Facebook, and Google are in that area, so the status of Silicon Valley is held at a high standard.

Another location that is maintaining that status is Camden. Due to Camden’s location outside of Philadelphia and surrounding fortune 500 companies, millennial entrepreneurs are inspired to bring their startup here. There are multiple different types of organizations located here with 76ers as one.

Accessibility

Millennials are attracted to cities that cater to their needs. About 66% of Millennials identified  decent quality transportation as a main influence to choosing a location to live. People typically pick the option that meets their social needs. To obtain that, a low cost transit is ideally looked for in a city. Cities with an ineffective quality transit fail to attract Millennials. 

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