In the late half of the 2010s and into the 2020s, bee population numbers dwindled significantly due to disease, pesticides, habitat loss, and other factors related to changes in the climate. This has prompted more awareness surrounding these pollinating insects and how humanity can assist in greatly increasing the numbers to rates prior to 2010. While bees have rebounded slightly, there is still a need to protect bees, thus leading to large-scale beekeeping operations.
Advancements in data-driven technology and artificial intelligence has made beekeeping a much more lucrative and essential agricultural business venture.
Multiple start-ups across the globe are using analytics and biology to improve the health of bees, the quality of honey, and the rate of pollination. The last few years have seen nearly fifteen new bee start-ups open shop, with $165 million collectively raised to fund these technologically advanced hives.
One of the most successful start-ups is Israel-based Beewise, raising $119 million since its inception in 2018. The funding has powered a range of scientific improvements to beekeeping, mostly centered around robotic assistance. Beewise’s high-tech beehives come equipped with remote pest monitoring as well as climate and humidity control. They even have an AI-enabled system that can detect when a bee colony is ready to swarm, taking action to prevent it. On top of that, the funding has led to automated honey harvesting, alerting beekeepers when the limit is reached in a hive. Beewise’s approach has improved bee populations, increased rates of pollination, and honey yield.
BeeHero deploys smart-technology beehives built with sensors and data collectors to determine colony health and reduce harmful bee conditions.
With the research and development team based in Tel Aviv, the firm continues to monitor bee populations in their smart hives, particularly in California. They contract their services to farmers in serious need of pollination services. The funding has driven some success for the start-up, with BeeHero boasting 100,000 hives set up across multiple farms and 45,000 acres pollinated.
Los Angeles-based Beeflow is another player in the wide array of California-based beekeeping ventures. Beeflow raised $12 million to finance data-driven hive placement for pollination purposes to increase crop yields for farmers. The company uses data to strategically place beehives in struggling farms, focusing on cold-weather pollination. Beeflow’s team nourishes their hives with a plant-based feed that boosts bees’ immunity to disease and weather, and in turn, their work has seen a 60% increase in crop yield.
Not all bee start-ups are using their budget for smarter beehives. Melibio, a firm based in Oakland, closed on a $5.7 million funding round in March to develop plant-based honey. The inspiration for this project is based on not all native bee species being honey-makers, a misconception by the general public. Rather than interfering with native bee populations or commercialization of honey-making bees, Melibio uses a formula of plant-based compounds to make a substance that tastes and looks like honey. The company stresses that removing human interference will help native bees rebound from habitat loss and diseases and aid pollination.
Dalan Animal Group has taken up this task to improve the bees’ health. The Georgia start-up secured $1.9 million in seed funding to develop vaccines and biotherapeutics for bees. The health of the bees will improve hive productivity, but Dalan doesn’t just focus on fully-grown bees. The vaccines are designed to improve the health of bee larvae, strengthen the colony, and better honey yield and quality. Dalan’s work is especially important with the disease American foulbrood – the biggest threat to bee colonies – causing the beekeeping industry to lose $400 million annually.
Bee start-ups are doing fantastic work to save one of the most critical animal species on Earth. Without bees, there are no flowers, trees, or food. Pollination is essential for natural life, and continual funding for these smart beehives and biotherapeutics will be crucial to sustaining nature.