What does a YASAI location need?
"We made a few attempts at different locations. In the beginning, we didn't even know which zone we could be assigned to," says Mark Zahran. "Are we a farm? If not, then what is YASAI? And what regulations does that entail?" These questions are symptomatic of the challenges many young founders face. They know their technology and their business - but they only gradually realise the administrative hurdles involved in setting up a company. Alex Römer, site developer at HIAG, knows these challenges. "We often experience that companies don't know exactly what they actually need. Then we try to understand the ideas and needs of the prospective tenants exactly and support them with our experience, and help to find an optimal solution."
The founding team of YASAI knew what they wanted their hall to look like - but along the way, the know-how of the experienced area developers was indispensable. But from the beginning: Mark Zahran and his co-founders had to evaluate their possible future location according to different criteria. "The first thing we looked at was a greenhouse, where we would then have installed our shelves and everything else. But we quickly realised that such greenhouses are not high enough for our system." The logical conclusion was to look for an industrial hall. They finally found a suitable object in the greater Zurich area. But the project failed because the authorities refused to give their approval. "That was quite a bitter setback for us, because we were in the starting blocks but had no place to start."
Unexpected luck in the search
The turning point finally came when Philipp Bosshard came across a property online. "I was looking at umpteen such factory halls at the time and especially online," the environmental engineer recounts. "There are quite a few industrial halls, but most of them are barely more than a few metres high." But then he saw the offer from HIAG in Niederhasli. The catch was that it was only advertised for interim use for a maximum of two years. So Bosshard turned it down with a heavy heart. One week later, however, something unexpected happened: the responsible site developer contacted the young entrepreneurs and asked them how long YASAI would like to rent the space. "We then said that we would need at least five years." HIAG, owner and developer of the site in Niederhasli, agreed. A stroke of luck for the start-up, because the hall has everything it needs. It is high enough, has a large load-bearing capacity and was already equipped with powerful power connections. "Even the office was already there," say the YASAI founders. Another factor was the location. Located directly opposite Niederhasli railway station, it allows short distances for the mostly young employees living in an urban environment.
If development goes as expected, YASAI will break even in 2027. The prospects are already good today. YASAI currently supplies around 120 Coop shops with its own herbs, and the herbs are also available at Jelmoli and Farmy.ch. But that still doesn't bring them to their limits by any means. "We had even expected more and then had to adjust our calculations again. But this way we were able to gain valuable experience. We learn something new every day, which is super exciting." These experiences flow into further planning. "We are now also already planning new, larger vertical farms." In 2026, YASAI will operate the first vertical farm in Switzerland that is integrated into a residential neighbourhood. But this is just the beginning of a big idea that we hope to hear a lot more about.
Cooperation with future prospects
The current lease in Niederhasli runs until summer 2026, which is a good time for YASAI to take the next step in the company's development, says Mark Zahran. "For us, Niederhasli is the pilot plant. Accordingly, it was clear from the beginning that we would have to move to larger locations with the experience we have gained so far. Because our way of vertical farming makes sense especially if you do it on a large scale." Planning for these larger locations is already underway. When asked if he could imagine another collaboration with HIAG, the co-founder clearly answers in the affirmative. "Absolutely! We've actually already talked about what possibilities there would be and where we could fit into HIAG's portfolio and timeline for next projects." Alex Römer confirms these plans: "For us, it is of course also very exciting to work with innovative companies that have ambitious expansion goals. HIAG has 45 sites in Switzerland in its portfolio and has many opportunities to think about new projects together."