Bee Corp. aflutter with new funding as bee’s knees of Indiana agbiosciences sector | Crain's

Bee Corp. aflutter with new funding as bee’s knees of Indiana agbiosciences sector

A Bloomington startup creating a buzz in Indiana’s agbiosciences sector is focusing on new product development after landing a second round of funding for a system that monitors the health of bee hives.

The Bee Corp. Chief Executive Officer Ellie Symes declined to disclose the amount of last month’s Series A round, saying it was a relatively small amount but larger than the $100,000 the firm received last year by winning the Building Entrepreneurs in Software Technology Competition. BEST is hosted by Indiana University’s School of Informatics and Computing and Kelley School of Business.

Leading the Series A round last month was Village Ventures partner Jane Martin. Angel investors, included Scott Dorsey, who also heads Indianapolis-based High Alpha Ventures.

“We’re hiring a data scientist right now to do an analysis on new products,” said Symes, who hopes to hire three additional employees this year.

Honey of an algorithm

Bee Corp. developed a real-time temperature monitoring device for beehives that wirelessly transmits data to its software, which is kept on a beekeeper’s computer. The key is an algorithm developed by Bee Corp. that interprets data and suggests actions to improve the health of the hive.

Worker bees keep a hive’s temperature steady so that the queen’s eggs can incubate. A drop in temperature spells trouble and can portend a loss of production, or even hive loss during winter.

So far, the company’s devices are monitoring more than 170 hives kept by everyone from backyard beekeepers to commercial apiaries. The Queen Guard device costs about $70 per hive, with Bee Corp.’s average deal size about 10 hives.

Ultimately, though, the significant revenues for Bee Corp. are likely to be in the value of its quantitative data in the hands of researchers studying the loss of bee populations. In Colony Collapse Disorder, a large number of worker bees disappear, leaving the queen behind.

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, 23 percent of hives didn’t survive over the winter of 2014-2015, though losses have averaged closer to 30 percent over the last decade.

That’s a big deal because about one-third of the food consumed by humans—fruits and vegetables—was pollinated by honey bees, Symes said.

Her team is looking to add additional features to what’s believed to be the first-of-its-kind sensor and analytical platform. Additional applications could monitor for pests or to help understand toxicity levels in the broader environment in and around the hive.

Burgeoning sector

Bee Corp. is being heralded by agbiosciences initiative AgriNovus Indiana for being among a new generation of firms combining the traditional ag sector with life sciences and technology. Groups such as Purdue Foundry have also helped incubate such firms, having worked with more than 25 startups over the last two years. 

Among this new niche of agbiosciences firms is Purdue University startup Hydro Grow LLC, which earlier this year received $25,000 in an inaugural round of funding by the Purdue Ag-celerator fund to commercialize a vegetable growing system. It uses pods of seeds and an illuminated growing tube—sort of like popping a K-cup into a Keurig machine.

AgriNovus said it is tracking more than 30 early stage companies in the sector, which for years has been better known for big companies in Indiana such as Dow AgroSciences.

“Indiana provides several opportunities for agbiosciences startups by combining our traditional ag sector with a robust life sciences sector, booming tech sector and a legacy in advanced manufacturing and logistics,” said Dan Dawes, senior director of strategy and innovation at AgriNovus.

He said the initiative is “is deeply invested” in enabling startup activity and offering entrepreneurial support for companies like Bee Corp.  “We believe it’s a critical area for us as it encompasses all that we are focused on including collaboration, talent development and promotion of the sector.”

Bee Corp.’s beginning was anything but strategic, however—more like serendipitous.

St. Louis native Symes said she was lifeguarding in her freshman year in college when someone suggested she help out with beekeeping. Now a fifth-year beekeeper, Symes is also running the company and is enrolled part-time in graduate school at IU, pursuing a master’s in public affairs and environmental science.

Bee Corp.’s other leaders don’t fall far from the hive: Chief Operating Officer Simon Kuntz and Chief Marketing Officer Wyatt Wells are fourth-year beekeepers.

September 26, 2017 - 3:39pm