Some businesses are so innovative they take even Silicon Valley by surprise! That is the case with Beeflow, an agricultural technology startup that seeks to address the world’s declining bee population one hive at a time. In two short years, Beeflow moved from its native Argentinian lab to San Francisco at the invitation of biotech incubator IndieBio.
Beeflow’s results speak for themselves. According to CNN, with their intervention, Argentinian kiwi, almond, blueberry, and apple crops yielded 90% more haul than before; the average size of blueberries increased by 22%. However, as CEO Mathias Viel explained to The Sunday Times’ Danny Forston, California farmers — who are responsible for almost 90% of the United States’ fruit and vegetable yield — were not going to be satisfied with Argentinian results. Hence, Beeflow, with IndieBio’s support, is in the process of market-testing its products in California’s booming almond industry. According to CNN, California is home to 80% of the world’s almond farms, and the demand is only growing.
In The Beehive Business
In 2013, beekeepers and farmers started noticing a disturbing trend. Colony collapse disorder, the name entomologists have for when a bee colony ceases to function, even with a healthy queen and food supply nearby, had been increasing dramatically year over year since the mid-2000s. Almost overnight, the looming bee apocalypse was all anyone could talk about. What was killing the bees? What could bring them back? What would we eat if our favorite pollinators were no longer around to do their jobs?
While no innovator can make bees immune to industrial-grade pesticides, Beeflow has been able to address two of the major reasons behind declining bee activity. The first problem is how variable climates affect pollinators. Most bees won’t even leave the hive in temps below 55 degrees, so Beeflow created a nutritional compound that fortifies bees for colder weather, making them more productive for longer periods of time. The second problem is the bee’s natural preference for sweeter fruit with abundant nectar can pull them away from less sweet crops, like berries, leading to a lesser yield. Beeflow has addressed this issue through conditioning the bees with flower essence supplements. In short, the bee, like Pavlov’s dog, associates the flower smell with the source of nectar and follows its nose. Or, smell receptors.
Inside A Bee’s Brain
Around the same time researchers were beginning to notice the bee decline, Argentinian entrepreneur Viel, fresh off of a failed attempt at launching a Brazilian version of TrueCar, was looking for his next venture. He was considering what kind of business he could start that would have a major impact on the world, in an effort to solve a problem affecting humans on a global scale. Enter Viel’s PhD partners, Pedro Negri and Augustin Saez, experts in bee behaviors and health. Negri and Saez showed Viel the science behind colony collapse disorder and what they thought could be done about it. In 2016, Beeflow was born.
As Viel explained to Forston on his podcast “Danny in the Valley,” he was surprised to learn that bees could actually be trained; in fact, researchers have been studying bees for several decades for their capacity to learn and retain new information. A bee’s memory is approximately two weeks long, so Beeflow feeds the hive the specialized supplement every two weeks during a pollination season. This ensures the bees are directed toward the appropriate flowers, creating a better yield for the farmers. The combination of fortifying bees against colder weather, directing them toward more vulnerable crops, and educating farmers about environmental dangers to bees, makes Beeflow at the very forefront of bee survival and the science of food supply.
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