The worldwide honeybee community is in crisis. In the years leading up to 2013, over 10 million of the nearly 90 million managed beehives were lost — close to twice the normal rate. Eight years ago in Northern Ireland alone, beekeepers reported an alarming decline of greater than 50 percent.
Colony collapse disorder, as the phenomenon’s known — when worker bees in a colony disappear and leave a queen behind — has no single, agreed-upon cause, but Fiona Edwards Murphy believes internet of things technology might be able to trace the early warning signs. She’s the cofounder and CEO of ApisProtect, an Irish agricultural tech startup that today announced a $1.8 million seed round of financing led by Finistere Ventures and Atlantic Bridge Capital. Radicle Growth, the Yield Lab and Enterprise Ireland also participated in the investment round.
Murphy said the capital will be used to expand the company’s team in Ireland and to “aggressively accelerate” international expansion into North America, South America, and the United Kingdom. The expansion effort will begin in Salinas, California, where ApisProtect plans to open its first U.S. office at the Western Growers Association’s WG Center for Innovation and Technology. Additionally, she added, it’ll allow ApisProtect to deploy its technology in more climates and foraging areas and with additional bee subspecies.
Finistere Ventures’ Kieran Furlong and Atlantic Bridge Capital’s Alison Crawford will join the board of directors.
“Our investment partners offer deep knowledge of the pollination services market, as well as the agriculture and IoT technology sectors,” Murphy said. “This investment will allow us to accelerate our expansion as we work to create an extensive global hive health database to power our machine learning insights. The aim is to help commercial pollinators and growers to optimize pollination.”
ApisProtect’s core technology enables beekeepers to keep tabs on hives remotely, 24/7, without having to perform periodic manual checks. Leveraging a combination of machine learning and satellite-enabled sensors retrofitted to existing beehives, it automatically alerts hive managers of important events. And it allows them to compare the productivity of each hive to previous seasons and other hives, or to dive deep into hive health and activity reports containing insights about how to improve yield.
The beekeeping business is no joke. According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, honey bees contribute $174 billion worth of pollination to the agricultural food industry annually, or about 9.5 percent of the total value of the world’s production. They and other pollinators affect 45 percent of the world’s crop production.
“With a science-driven, multi-disciplinary leadership team, ApisProtect is primed to fundamentally change the way commercial beekeepers around the globe manage their hives,” Furlong said. “There is a need for technologies to aid pollination in agriculture, and the ApisProtect hive monitor technology has massive potential in key markets like California.”
ApisProtect currently monitors 6 million honey bees in 144 hives across North America and Europe, and it has been in trials since the end of this summer. It competes with Nectar, another bee activity-monitoring startup that sells a puck-shaped sensor designed to measure humidity, temperature, sounds, vibrations, geolocation, weight, and other key vital signs within a hive.