BLOOMINGTON - Bloomington-based The Bee Corp. has announced a change in its technology offerings. The startup says it has shifted its focus from preventing hive loss to determining beehive strength, particularly among commercial beekeepers. Chief Executive Officer Ellie Symes says while hive loss is still a concern among beekeepers, the industry has adapted to the issue and beekeepers have begun changing their management practices to better improve hive health.

In an interview with Inside INdiana Business, Symes said the adaptation among beekeepers means they're putting more resources into hives than ever before, both from a labor and cost perspective.

"That is increasing hive prices for pollination and that's what's really causing this market to pay attention to the true value of hives and whether hives are strong enough to actually meet pollination because each hive is getting more expensive," said Symes. "So if you're a grower, you would rather have the strongest hives possible, so basically the most valuable hive if you're going to be spending large amounts of money on it. So it's very interesting how hive loss as an issue really has just changed the economic structure of this industry and we've figured out more accurately how we play into that."

The Bee Corp. has launched a new product, known as Verifli, which uses infrared image analysis to map out the heat signature given off by bees and determine the strength of the hive. The company says, using the new technology, growers can know which parts of their orchard have low-strength hives and shuffle around their beehive pallets to maximize pollination.

Symes says the shift in focus stemmed from a grant from the National Science Foundation, which forced the company to undergo "customer discovery" and meet with commercial beekeepers and growers before continuing with its technology adoption. She says they learned that the company needed to change aspects of its technology model in order to grow into the larger commercial space.

"We learned that bee strength as a metric to measure is much more important than survival and that commercially, folks were able to actually meet pollination demand without a problem, so we learned that fundamentally the bigger problem here is valuing and pricing beehives and determining if they're strong enough for pollination, not loss overall, which was a very interesting thing for us."

Symes says, because The Bee Corp. is still a startup, they decided to focus the company's resources solely on the hive strength issue instead of continuing to grow its previous products which focused on hive health and hive theft. She says the short-term focus is helping almond growers determine the strength of their hives and they will also be working with commercial beekeepers this year. Long term, the company plans to bring the technology to new crop markets to have a greater impact on pollination.

Symes adds, while the company's technology and product offering is different, their vision and mission hasn't changed.

"We are definitely excited about how this product actually helps researchers and industry as a whole be able to better understand impacts on hives and how to improve those," said Symes. "So the vision is still there on overall improving hive health moving forward and we were excited that that was an opportunity that is still around. We're just doing it by a different means of getting data on hives and solving a different problem."