Meet Vriko Yu, the Co-founder & CEO of archiREEF
Humans and the marine ecosystem are closely bonded – we can be living in a world where marine life and humans thrive together. However, human activities have been pushing the oceans to their limits over the past few decades. Vriko, an expert in marine biology, co-founded archiREEF to preserve the oceans through planting coral reefs. If you have thought of adopting corals, you will have a chance to realize your dream this summer!
In this interview, Vriko shared how she utilizes her knowledge to tackle marine environmental issues and how she sees herself as a female startup founder in a male-dominating startup world.
Q: What is archiREEF?
V: archiREEF is a one-stop solution provider that empowers people to restore degraded ecosystems and make them function again. We combine our expertise in marine biology with 3D printing technology to create better strategies for restoring ecosystems.
Q: Breaking into an industry like this is hard. What led you to take that first step and start your own company?
V: Although books say that ecosystem degradation takes years, and I could not believe it when I saw a coral patch in Hong Kong disappear in just a single month back in 2015! Since then I have been looking for solutions and trying to reverse the loss of corals, researching the topics of coral restoration and resilience.
Q: What major problem did you encounter when you first got the company off the ground?
V: Marine technology is much more complicated than everyone thinks. Our product has to be able to withstand extreme environments, such as unstable sea waves and corrosion, and at the same time successfully grow the coral without harming the ocean. I led the first coral restoration project funded by the government in 2015 and experimented with different techniques to help corals thrive again. At first we tried with minimal intervention and low-tech methods. We planted corals directly on the natural substrates. However we then realized that the natural substrates are not ideal for corals to grow on, and we need better tools to kickstart the ecosystem’s recovery. Hence we used the power of 3D printing technology to assist corals.
Q: Why do you think Hong Kong is one of the best cities for building a business in coral-reef restoration?
V: Growing up in a metropolis surrounded by nature like Hong Kong is unique. I was born and educated in Hong Kong, and spent a lot of time in nature when I was little. Hong Kong has a long coastline and the species of corals have accounted for one-tenth of the total number of coral reefs in the world. This made me believe that Hong Kong is an excellent model to show how a modern city can strike the balance between development and environmental protection.
Q: What are some exciting developments you envision in the future?
We always keep ourselves updated with the environmental policies around the world. Although marine ecosystem restoration has been gaining extensive attention worldwide in recent years, ecosystem restoration is still restricted to a small group of people in the academic and conservation areas. The general public doesn’t realize they can make an impact on the environment as an individual. However, we believe every little thing we do counts and everyone is actually responsible for their own actions.
Therefore, we will be launching exciting projects to allow everyone to join us in saving coral reefs! Everyone will have an opportunity to “adopt” a coral reef and help boost its growth through our crowdfunding platform in the coming months. We will also be organizing experiential tours to offer the public a new way to explore the ocean and have a personal encounter with corals like never before! So don’t forget to check back to us. We hope these projects will give people a remarkable experience, and more importantly, allow them to contribute to the marine environment while having fun.
Q: What is the biggest challenge as a female startup founder in a male-dominated industry?
V: Frankly, gender stereotyping is still the biggest challenge for women, or anyone, in any industry. People around you might have different expectations on you as a girl, a woman, or a mom, and that expectation might become a frame you set to limit yourselves.
However, I believe that gender does not determine our personal traits. To me, the most important traits of a successful entrepreneur are whether you are visionary, adaptive and versatile while being risk-tolerant to go on a new path. So let’s break the stereotypes – either from yourselves, or from others. You should be the only one who has the power to define yourself. Be brave to stand for what you believe even though you might be the pioneer in your social circle. There’s always someone out there who shares the same views as yours. If we all can do our little parts, we can make a difference together.
Q: What have been your key learnings from your entrepreneurial journey?
V: Don’t hesitate to reach out to people and share your thoughts! As a scientist, we are used to following existing theories and protocols and many of our skills are actually self-taught. In the entrepreneurial journey, however, there is no standard formula for success. Learning from others’ success can be a valuable life lesson, so try to get advice from as many professionals as possible.
Also, experiencing ups and downs is inevitable once you get into the entrepreneurial life. It is easy to get frustrated and overwhelmed. As a founder, it’s important to stay motivated and hold on to the reasons why you started the company in the first place. Always remember that you are the one guiding the development of the company.
Q: Can you share with us one of your favourite quotes?
Anna Eleanor Roosevelt once said “The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams”.
Many of us, including myself, lack confidence and belief in ourselves when we need it most. I have one recipe that works for me and I would like to share with you: Pick a goal, pick one that really motivates you, start with a small task and celebrate each of the little successes, and repeat. You will soon find out you are achieving more than you expect!
Q: How can we learn more about you and your company?
Vriko Yu, Co-founder & CEO of archiREEF
March 26, 2021