15 Jan Ellie Symes: The Bee Corp
Not only did Ellie Symes start her master’s degree program the same year that she was finishing her undergraduate degree at Indiana University, she also pioneered an ag start-up all about bees and agriculture’s pollination processes. Constantly moving throughout her childhood, Ellie has found a home in Indiana where she and her co-founder, Wyatt, continue to build research, relationships, and processes to solve the problem of accuracy in pollinator counts, specifically for almond orchardists.
The Importance of Extracurricular Activities
Ellie never would have guessed that she would be an entrepreneur, let alone an entrepreneur in the beekeeping industry, when she first set foot on campus at Indiana University Bloomington (IU). With the plans to work for a government agency or non-profit focused on solving problems in the environmental issues, it never crossed her mind that she would enter into the private sector in the capacity that she has.
Starting up a beekeeping club for fun, the presentation that they gave to the IU Foundation turned into something more. Inspired by the knowledge that they had gained and the information that they shared, the IU Foundation encouraged Ellie and her two fellow co-founders to dream bigger and use their research to help the bee industry as a whole.
“You don’t really tell people that are successful ‘No,’ when they are encouraging your passion,” says Ellie with a laugh. This encouragement led to the formation of The Bee Corp, a benefit foundation dedicated to the study and research of bees pollinating for agriculture.
The Bee Corp
The official product of The Bee Corp, Verifli utilizes the research Ellie and her team have done on beekeeping, pollination and beehives through infrared cameras. Not the first product that they have created, it’s their current staple product, and utilizes infrared cameras at nights to create a snapshot of the hive’s health.
The reason why sensors are helpful to understand beehives is because bees are their own heating and cooling system for their home. They control a lot of other factors in the hive in order to incubate their eggs. All of this can be monitored by sensors versus the usual method of manual inspection that requires the hives to be opened.
Solving the Problem
Ellie had collected research problems regarding sensors used to monitor beehives and felt that that research could be applied to help solve industry wide problems of creating a more efficient beekeeper through technology. Their original plan that they won a business competition with isn’t close to what they do today, as the research they accrued showed that the capital involved in starting a commercial bee operation was extensive. However, they could utilize the information to both train and assist already operating beekeepers.
Focusing first on hobbyists, the plan changed again when they received a large grant from the National Science Foundation to focus on the commercial side. This is the work they are still doing today, focusing on both the growers and the beekeepers.
The Problem, as the grower:
Growers use hive inspections on the hives that they rent for their crop pollination to ensure that they got what they paid for in order to have a good crop yield.
The Problem, as the beekeeper:
Through utilizing the Bee Corp, it eliminates the need to manually inspect hives. This provides a more efficient labor cost and less loss of bees and pollinator opportunity.
Using Sensors & Creating Trust
What Ellie has learned from growers and beekeepers that has been backed up with USDA data from an analysis advisor partner, is that manual inspections are highly inaccurate. Inspectors are looking inside a beehive and trying to guess how many bees reside inside, which is between 10,000 and 40,000 bees per hive. The potential for human error can be unfair to beekeepers whose livelihood is the pollination fees and to growers who rely on the crop yield.
“We are an objective standard and the model isn’t using any human input for the read. That unbiased approach is what is building that trust part,” says Ellie. “So many aspects rely on trust, so removing the appraisal and assessment part of it makes that relationship so much easier. ”
Choosing a B-Corp for The Bee Corp
Choosing to be in a Benefit Corporation in the very first meeting, held in an audience with the same professionals that had encouraged them to dream bigger, Wyatt and Ellie built their business model. One of the board members who was formerly a lawyer, encouraged them to look at the difference between private, non-profit and B Corp.
“[B Corp] sounded like the best marriage of our value as founders in doing well, while also fitting well in what we were trying to create with a business model,” says Ellie. Using the B Corp outline has helped The Bee Corp structure the company culture and their strong values around how their products won’t just benefit their business but the industry as a whole.
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