The IU Philanthropic Venture Fund, managed by IU Ventures, is investing $250,000 in The Bee Corp, an Indiana agtech startup developing solutions for growers and beekeepers who rely on commercial pollination. The company uses infrared cameras that attach to a smartphone to provide a noninvasive look at the health of the hive.
IU Ventures' commitment to invest in The Bee Corp was made, but not transacted, prior to Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb's statewide stay-at-home order. Despite mounting economic uncertainty, IU Ventures is proceeding with this and three other approved investment transactions, demonstrating the group's commitment to supporting Hoosier entrepreneurs in this time of heightened need.
"With the threat of an economic downturn, we think it's important for our startups to have reliable access to capital," IU Ventures associate Samantha Ginther said.
"We're grateful that IU Ventures and our angel investors have allowed us to maintain our growth trajectory during this crisis," said The Bee Corp CEO Ellie Symes. "These investors have truly been angels through this process, and we are very excited to bring them into the Bee Corp team."
This capital injection arrives despite widespread uncertainty for many industries rattled by COVID-19. Certain agricultural producers have avoided negative impacts of the coronavirus, including The Bee Corp's target customers: beekeepers, almond growers and growers of other crops dependent on pollination.
"These individuals ultimately need bees to pollinate one-third of the crops in the United States," Symes said. "Almond sales in particular continue to perform well during this global crisis, as the product's nutritious and shelf-stable properties are ideal for consumers looking to stock their pantries."
Before The Bee Corp, Symes and co-founder Wyatt Wells created the Beekeeping Club at Indiana University. They presented some of their early findings about bees and hive health to the IU Foundation Board. The pair was challenged by board members Harry Gonso, Jane Martin and Milt Stewart to dream bigger about how they could help remedy the situation and make an impact.
Ginther said The Bee Corp epitomizes how a commercial venture can start.
"They pursued beekeeping and solving problems for beekeepers out of passion," Ginther said. "Through strategic utilization of grant funding, they converted that concept into a well-researched product."
The Bee Corp has received two SBIR grants from the National Science Foundation: a one-year, $225,000 Phase I grant and a two-year, $750,000 Phase II grant. Part of the process was to conduct 30 interviews with end users; Symes and Wells conducted more than 100.
"That helped us fully understand the pain points experienced by growers and beekeepers around pollination," Symes said.
The next round of NSF Phase II funding and IU Ventures investment will drive more research and development and testing of the analytics technology in new markets.
"We have been encouraged and supported throughout the existence of this business by the Indiana University community," Symes said. "This funding from the IU Philanthropic Venture Fund feels like a natural progression of our connection and mutual support."
Ginther agreed the investment represents potential beyond the financial returns.
"Aside from being a great investment opportunity to benefit the evergreen Philanthropic Venture Fund, The Bee Corp represents a connection to the agtech space," she said. "Through this growth, we can develop IU Ventures' relationships with other investors to benefit current and future portfolio companies."
About IU Ventures
IU Ventures is a Code Section 501(c)(3) organization dedicated to empowering Indiana University faculty, alumni, and friends to support and invest in IU-affiliated innovation. Through the IU Philanthropic Venture Fund and the IU Angel Network, IU Ventures works to provide opportunities for individuals affiliated with IU to network with fellow entrepreneurs; build innovative new businesses; and support growing enterprises through donations, investments, time and talents.