An Indianapolis-based ag tech startup that was born out of a beekeeping club at Indiana University is marking five years in business. The Bee Corp, which has developed technology to help commercial beekeepers determine the strength of their hives, was founded in Bloomington by Ellie Symes and Wyatt Wells in 2016 with the goal of helping to prevent hive loss. Wells, who serves as chief marketing officer, says they have since experienced “an enormous evolution,” both personally and professionally.
In an interview with Inside INdiana Business, Wells said the support from IU and others has been nonstop since the company’s founding.
“It’s been very heartfelt. It definitely says a lot to have somebody believe in you as a person and put their money and stake on it,” said Wells. “I think, personally, it goes to show that what we’re doing is still important and what we’re doing is valued by people. You can kind of get lost in the trenches like we do as founders but just thinking back to the support and the people who believe in us, it’s always a motivating thing for us.”
Wells and Symes started The Bee Corp after founding the Beekeeping Club at IU in 2014. The pair entered a student business competition and left with what they call a “healthy investment” and an advisory group to grow the business.
The Bee Corp has continually raised funding to further its growth, most recently securing $1 million last August from Indianapolis-based Elevate Ventures, IU Ventures and THRIVE in California. The company has also tripled its revenue over the last year.
In 2019, the company shifted its focus from preventing hive loss to determining hive strength with the launch of its Verifli product, which uses infrared technology to analyze the strength of hives. The company currently focuses on almond growers in California, who wells says are paying the most in hive rentals for pollination.
Wells says that shift was key to the company’s current success.
“Had we not done that, we really probably wouldn’t have made it to this five year point,” he said. “So, shifting to Verifli…that was just an enormous breakthrough for us because previously, we were more trying to push products that we believed would be beneficial, rather than actually reaching out to the customers, understanding what their needs are, what their pains are and building around that.”
Wells says the company currently has eight full-time staff and nine interns, with plans to add to its ranks over the next couple of years. He says as the years have gone by and the company has made its name known, finding talent in addition to continued support has become easier.
“Early on, for sure, there was a lot of kind of trying to figure out who we were, what our mission was, what our true purpose was as a company and once kind of established that, it seemed to pick up on its own. So as we continued to learn things and seek to solve to new problems, we continue to get approached by smarter and more intelligent and talented people who were curious and interested in the problem and passionate about solving it.”
Wells says the company has received a lot of interest from crop growers who rent bees for pollination, which could lead to even further growth down the road.
“A big shift for us over the next couple of years is going to be delivering Verifli to a wide variety of crop pollination events throughout the year. So, it won’t just be us with almond growers out and California; it’ll be berries and all these other things that get pollinated by bees in all kinds of states across the nation. So, that’s a pretty exciting thing for us.”
Wells says the support from IU and others has been nonstop since the company’s founding.