Indianapolis-based agriculture technology company The Bee Corp has created a bee-monitoring application that helps beekeepers collect vital data on their hives, helping to ensure bee safety and food security across the country.
The app is called Verifli, and it uses infrared technology to scan the inside of a hive and display an image of the contents on the screen of a mobile device. Its purpose is to provide beekeepers with essential hive health information such as bee count. According to co-founder and CEO Ellie Symes, Verifli is 93% faster and more accurate than traditional methods of hive inspection.
“Verifli is actually helping beekeepers measure the size of the hive inside,” she explained. “It’s non-invasive, so you don’t actually have to open the hive and disturb colonization for the bee count.”
In order to create the app, The Bee Corp team collaborated with more than 100 beekeepers to learn what kinds of data would be most helpful to the industry. The app was officially launched in February.
Although beekeepers are primarily the ones using the app, the data they collect is provided to the growers of commercial food crops. Verifli helps growers and beekeepers get on the same page, which is essential for hive health and food security.
These industries work closely with one another to ensure many familiar foods wind up in grocery stores across the world. Some examples of crops that are pollinated by bees include strawberries, watermelon, coffee, pumpkin, lemon and avocado. In fact, bees pollinate nearly one-thirdof all food.
“Not a lot of people are aware of just how important bees and other pollinators are in agriculture, and it’s extremely important for our food security and our growing crops,” Symes said.
When growers need pollinators for their crops, they reach out to beekeepers to let them know how many they need. They then order the bees, oftentimes from across the country, and have them shipped in to pollinate.
Shipping bees over long distances is costly and dangerous. Not only does it use resources like fuel, which can have negative environmental impacts, but traveling also causes the bees stress and exposes them to disease. In order to determine whether a particular hive can survive the journey, beekeepers must carefully evaluate the health and size of the hive beforehand.
Symes said Verifli “will allow beekeepers to send fewer, stronger hives,” which is beneficial to the bees because stronger hives have a better chance of surviving the shipping process. Furthermore, it helps guarantee food security by ensuring that enough bees survive to pollinate the crops. Without the proper amount of pollinators, crop yields will be weak or nonexistent.
As of now, The Bee Corp exclusively targets almond growers, in part because 80% of the world’s almonds are grown in California.
“Directly, we’re truly solving a business problem for beekeepers and growers, but overall this is going to help growers in the industry,” Symes said of Verifli. “We definitely think with what we’re doing we can help growers get a better estimate for how many bees they need.”
Due to the busy late summer season, growers affiliated with The Bee Corp were not available for comment.
Symes has been educating other Hoosiers about bees since 2013. After a summer internship with a beekeeper sparked her interest, Symes founded the Beekeeping Club at Indiana University-Bloomington. Soon, the group had more than 300 members.
During Symes’ senior year, she and fellow beekeeper Wyatt Wells entered the Building Entrepreneurs in Science and Technology competition through the Kelley School of Business. The competition invited students to pitch plans for their startup.
The Bee Corp team won the competition, earning a prize of $100,000 to found the company under the leadership of Symes and Wells. The startup was the first Benefit Corporation to enter the competition, which means it stated its commitment to being socially and environmentally conscious.
As a Benefit Corporation, The Bee Corp releases annual reports detailing the ways in which it maintains these goals. Those reports are available to the public on the Bee Corp website.
For the last three years, The Bee Corp was located in Bloomington, but it recently moved its day-to-day operations to Indianapolis.
“We’re just at that stage now of our company where we need to make a lot of key hires,” said Symes. “It was a smart move for us because we can continue to grow our business but still maintain our network.”
Symes acknowledges that Indiana may seem like an odd place for a bee business, but credits the state’s thriving agricultural industry and particularly its ag-tech sector with making it a good home for The Bee Corp.
Today, The Bee Corp team consists of four full-time employees, including Symes and Wells, and often employs interns from IU. This year, as the company moves to Indianapolis, Symes said her main focus is on continuing to improve its product and expand its customer base.
Symes, who studied environmental science and policy at IU, said the group will continue to refine its business model and consult with industry experts as its moves into the future. She said she looks forward to seeing the ways in which The Bee Corp can expand.
“Every day, we’re getting to solve problems and getting to work on things that we find exciting and that we’re interested in,” she said. “It’s always something new and something interesting. It’s definitely a challenge that keeps me engaged.”