This Start-up Is Changing the Way Australians Grow Food

Urban Plant Growers

Urban Plant Growers is growing its Qantas Points balance along the way, thanks to a business Card that’s helping to take the fledgling venture global.

Dilhan Wickremanayake and Peter Cole were still at university when they first met on a camping trip at Frazer Beach on New South Wales’ Central Coast in 2017. Surrounded by coastal heath and surf beaches, they bonded over a shared love of nature – but a month into their friendship, the pair discovered they had something else in common.

Urban Plant Growers

Wickremanayake, a mechanical engineer, was experimenting with growing hydroponic vegetables in his backyard, while Cole was exploring opportunities for a business utilising similar technology. With their combined passion and expertise, it was a simple decision to work together.

“We tried to find out if there was a consumer hydroponic product on the market,” recalls Wickremanayake, “and we couldn't really find anything that was good. There was nothing that a regular person could pick up off the shelf, put in their kitchen and have basil or other herbs growing six weeks later.”

Together they launched Urban Plant Growers and a simple-to-use hydroponic kit that allows people to grow fresh greens in the kitchen and keeps house plants healthy, even in apartments with no natural light. Convenience is the main draw for most customers but all of Wickremanayake and Cole’s business decisions are underpinned by a strong ethos of sustainability. “By empowering people to grow their own food, we’re minimising their carbon footprint,” says Cole. “As we keep scaling up and develop products that can grow more food, eventually we can make a really big impact on food mileage.”

Urban Plant Growers

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Before Urban Plant Growers launched in June 2018, importing a compact hydroponic set-up with a grow light equivalent to their Indoor Smart Garden could cost about $200. By customising the units to remove unnecessary features and ordering in bulk they were able to halve that figure and currently ship 900 orders a month, from integrated grow kits to component parts and seed packets. With the business now moving beyond ecommerce and into the wholesale market, they’re projecting future growth of 300 per cent each year.

Such rapid growth meant they needed access to funds quickly and their American Express® Qantas Business Rewards Card has been essential to scaling up the business – and allows the business to earn up to 1.25 Qantas Points per $1 spent¹ on payments settled with their Card. “The Card’s dynamic spending capacity has been helpful when I’ve needed to make a larger payment. For example, there was one time where I had to put a US$35,000 payment through for stock, so I connected with American Express who quickly assessed my financials and confirmed they were happy to increase my spending capacity. I was very, very impressed with the customer service."

The next step is looking beyond Australia. “Our plan is to expand into the UK by the end of 2021 and have our own warehouse there,” says Cole, who will use the Card to further reduce costs by doubling his order sizes then splitting that stock between the UK and Australia. He is also planning to visit China once restrictions are lifted, so he can work with manufacturers on new products. And with 600,000 Qantas Points accrued in the past year, “we’re hoping to do all of our travel using those Points”.

But Wickremanayake’s next trip will be a bit closer to home, indulging in the passion that first brought the pair together. “I’m looking forward to going to the Northern Territory for the first time and enjoying the great outdoors there.”

Urban Plant Growers

Urban Plant Growers’ top business tips

Grow at your own pace: Urban Plant Growers began as a side project when Cole and Wickremanayake were at university. “That meant we could gradually invest more time and resources into the business as it grew,” says Cole. The slow and steady approach has helped them keep their core values front and centre, ensuring they both remained passionate about the business.

Use credit wisely: Cole pays up-front when he places an order with his suppliers but it can take months for the product to arrive from China. The American Express Qantas Business Rewards Card offers up to 51 days to pay for purchases², which helps to bridge that gap. “It means that sometimes, I’m about to receive the product in Sydney by the time I have to pay for it, which has really helped with cash flow for the business.”

Urban Plant Growers

Find a good partner: Developing productive partnerships is vital for any business and the first one can be the most important. For Wickremanayake, “having someone to bounce ideas off and split the load has been the biggest thing for me”. Shared values are important, he says, “but you also want someone who’s different enough that you complement each other”.

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February 03, 2021American Express approval criteria applies. Subject to Terms and Conditions. Fees and charges apply. All information is correct as at February 03, 2021 and is subject to change. This offer is only available to those who reside in Australia. Cards are offered, issued and administered by American Express Australia Limited (ABN 92 108 952 085). ®Registered Trademark of American Express Company.

 

¹. A business must be a Qantas Business Rewards Member to earn Qantas Points for business. Membership and the earning of Qantas Points as a business are subject to the Qantas Business Rewards Terms and Conditions. Points are earned in accordance with and subject to the American Express Qantas Business Rewards Card Points Terms and Conditions. Your business will earn 1.25 Qantas Points per $1 of everyday spend, which does not include annual fees, late payment fee and fees and charges for foreign currencies. Your business will earn 0.5 Qantas Points per $1 spent at participating merchants classified as "utilities" including gas, water and electricity providers; "government" including the Australian Taxation Office, the Australian Postal Corporation, federal/state and local government bodies; and "insurance" excluding insurances offered by American Express. Industry specific earn rate may apply when you use a payment account, payment aggregator, services of a third party or online retailers that sell goods for another merchant. For example a payment made to Local Government bodies processed through a payment aggregator may earn rates at the government earn rate. Your business will earn 2 Qantas Points per $1 spent on the following Qantas Products and Services purchased on the Qantas merchant account (i.e. directly from Qantas): Qantas passenger flights (with a QF flight number), Qantas Holidays, Qantas Branded non-airfare products, and Qantas Frequent Flyer and Qantas Club membership joining and annual fees. Excludes Jetstar. For the full list of exclusions, please refer to the American Express Qantas Business Rewards Card Points Terms and Conditions.

*From 10 January 2024, once you have earned a total of 500,000 Qantas Points on your Card Account in a calendar year, your earn rate of 1.25 Qantas Points per $1 spent will change to 0.75 Qantas Points per $1 spent on everyday business purchases. All other earn rates (Qantas products, services and government, utilities and insurances spend) will remain unchanged. For Card Members who applied for the Card between 1 July 2023 – 9 January 2024, this change will come into effect from 10 July 2024. The points threshold is based on eligible Qantas Points earned during a calendar year and will be reset on 1 January each year. Qantas Points earned by all Card Members on a Card Account contribute to the 500,000 points threshold each calendar year. Bonus points earned from Acquisition bonus offers and marketing campaigns are excluded from the threshold.

². Extend your cash flow by up to 51 days: depending on your method of payment, when you make a purchase, when your statement is issued and whether or not you are carrying forward a balance on your account from your previous statement period. If you pay by direct debit, your payment will be processed 10 days after your statement is issued.

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