The Earthwatch Institute concluded at the last Royal Geographical Society of London that bees are probably the most important living thing on earth. But scientists are also making a startling discovery through various studies exploring pollinator health and populations: around 90% of the world’s bees have disappeared. Some of the reasons that experts attribute to the disappearance are deforestation, lack of flowers, changes in soil, lack of places to construct hives, and the widespread use of pesticides. This overwhelming loss becomes even more startling when one realizes that 70 out of 100 agricultural crops depend on bees for successful cultivation.
“With fewer and fewer resources and exponentially increasing demand, industrial farming is at a breaking point and soon won’t be able to meet the needs of a hungry world. That’s why we created BeeHero: to help growers maximize crop yields through pollination services combining sophisticated machine learning algorithms with low-cost embedded sensors in commercial bee-hives to stimulate full output potential during peak pollination cycles,” Omer Davidi, co-founder & CEO, told AFN.
The seed-stage company launched in 2017 after running several successful trials both in commercial beehives and crop pollination, focused on working with commercial beekeepers and growers all over the US. Before the startup knew it, they had 20,000 hives under management comprising 1 billion bees, according to Davidi. This amounts to the largest dataset of bees and pollination data worldwide, according to the company, though my colleague Richard Martyn-Hemphill also spotted other contenders for this accolade during his recent trip to Israel, the “land of alt milk and AI honey.”
We caught up with Davidi and fellow co-founder and farming expert Itai Kanot to learn more about BeeHero’s pollination technology.
What is your product?
We offer a sophisticated technology that measures pollination quality in real-time and enables us to optimize hive deployment and efficiency to provide quality assurance to pollination. By tracking and optimizing pollination in real-time, BeeHero ensures hyper-efficient pollinators that can increase crop yields by 30% on average for crops including but not limited to: Almonds, Berries, Soybean, Gourds, Sunflowers, Apples, Canola, Cotton and more. We recently completed a very successful trial in soybean pollination.
What are some of the challenges that you’ve faced and how did you overcome them?
Lack of available data. We were looking for data to build a model that would allow us to translate the pollination problem into a math problem. But even after contacting the most advanced research facilities and companies in the space, we learned that none of the existing data was formated for machine learning or large-scale algorithms. In the end, we solved it by building our own data set, building models for supervised as well as unsupervised learning, which allows us to optimize pollination.
Another challenge is explaining to farmers and growers that may have once considered bee pollination unpredictable or risky that with the right tools precision pollination is no longer a gamble. We’re still working to solve that one every day!
What’s been the most surprising aspect of your startup journey so far?
That there is a wide variety of crops that do not utilize bees today because the unit economics make no sense. But by implementing precise pollination, we can actually affect more crops than ever, even those species with no history of pollination! Soybeans, for example, showed a 60%-100% increase in crop yields by utilizing BeeHero technology during the blooming season in our trials in Alabama and Mississippi. We are only at the beginning of understanding the incredible value precision pollination can have.
Do you have any mentors that have assisted you along the way?
We have been privileged enough to work with so many customers and supporters on the ground, each of whom has each helped and guided us on our mission.
Are there any other startups that you looked to for guidance or as a model when you were getting started/as you scale up?
We looked at many companies in the Agtech space, mostly to learn from mistakes and success stories.
What’s your fundraising experience been like? Who are your investors?
Like most companies in our field, the challenge is always a question of the proof points you achieve along the way. Once we were able to prove that the value proposition of BeeHero wasn’t simply in optimizing beehive management but more importantly enabling optimized pollination and increased yields, conversations went more smoothly.
On the VC side, we’re backed by Upwest Labs and Entree Capital. We’re lucky enough to have a seasoned team of advisors, entrepreneurs, and industry veterans who share our vision.
How have your investors added value beyond capital? What do you look for in an investor?
Yes. Our investors help significantly in building connections with strategic players. We‘ve had the good fortune of working with investors with long track records in the farming and beekeeping spaces. They help us shorten the path to decision-makers that can asses BeeHero’s value proposition, as well as set goals and building plans. We work very closely with our investors and benefit from it every day.
Have you participated in incubators or accelerators? If so was it beneficial?
We’ve been part of Sigma Labs and Upwest Labs. Both were instrumental in helping shape every aspect of the company with help from experts from all industries.
Have you entered or won any tech competitions? If so, was it beneficial?
Here are a few notable mentions:
- Finalists: Radicle Challange at the World Agritech Innovation Summit 2018.
- Winner: SVOD 2018
- Finalist: Foodbyte by Rabobank
- Finalist: AgSouth
- Winner: Vizag $1M challenge
- Winner: Technion France startup competition
- Finalist: Showcase Minneapolis
These recognitions have absolutely been beneficial to us, mostly from the exposure and potential customers and investors that come to these events.
Any advice for other startups out there?
Spend as much time as possible with your potential customer in the field, not in an office chair. Look for good design partners to work with because they will save you time and stress. Understand the needs, pains, and challenges of your customers as early as you can.
Beyond price parity, CEA must focus more on consumer demand to truly scale