Biodiversity — or the tremendous variety of life on Earth — is an important indicator of the health of our planet. All the plants, animals, insects and microorganisms that exist all around us must maintain a delicate balance in order to survive. Measuring biodiversity is crucial for us to understand how to best care for our environment. 

HiveTracks is doing its part to make biodiversity measurement a reality. The company harnesses the power of honey bees — which can detect and respond to environmental and climate impacts earlier than humans can — to gather data on the environment. Beekeepers can use the HiveTracks app to monitor the health of their hives, gather data on local plant life, and more. KingsCrowd reached out to HiveTracks CEO and co-founder Max Rünzel to learn more about how the company is helping to gather essential environment data — one bee at a time.

Note: This interview was conducted over phone and email. It has been lightly edited for clarity and length.

Funding Round Details

HiveTracks logo
Company: HiveTracks
Security Type: SAFE
Valuation: $7,500,000
Min Investment: $100
Platform: Wefunder
Deadline: Apr 30, 2023
View Deal

In your own words, how would you describe your company?

HiveTracks is working to solve two problems. First, the changing climate, chemical inputs used in intensive farming, pests, pathogens, and changes in our land use have increased the pressure on bee health globally, which requires beekeepers to process more information and make better decisions to keep their bees healthy.

That’s where our tools come in. We help beekeepers do what’s best for their bees to keep them healthy and productive. We create mobile and web app solutions for beekeepers and beekeeping businesses, governments and organizations to support them. In February of this year, we launched our new app for individual beekeepers and are currently testing our web portal with 10 beekeeping companies.

The second problem we’re working to solve is leveraging bee data to build the first marketplace for crowd-sourced biodiversity data. Bees are a keystone species, and their health is an indicator of environmental health. Hence, crowdsourcing the collection of bee health data and local flora allows us to monitor the ecological health around a hive.

What inspired you to take the leap and start this company?

After graduating and obtaining my degrees in rural development and food and resource economics, I wanted to make one of my dreams come true: working for the United Nations (U.N.). I started with an internship at the Food and Agriculture Organization of the U.N. in Rome, Italy. As much as I adored the environment and working with international and diverse teams, I quickly learned that the work focused more on creating an enabling environment than on working directly with smallholder producers to solve problems. Also, I was longing to work in a more agile, creative and iterative way, which spiked my interest in startups. Lastly, I saw the exciting potential for software- and data-driven solutions, including distributed ledger technology, in the agricultural sector to improve smallholder livelihoods around the world.

Who is on your team, and how did you come together?

The management team is comprised of James Wilkes — a computer science professor, beekeeper, and farmer — who founded HiveTracks. James and I are joined by Laura Dye, our chief operating officer, who has a career in enterprise sales in analytics.

James and I met during a roundtable conference at the Food and Agriculture Organization in Rome, Italy, on how bee data can help achieve the U.N.’s Sustainable Development Goals. Since I had been working on empowering smallholder producers through technology and practices in the beekeeping space, it was a great fit from the beginning. We began having regular conversations when he was back in the states and started working on a few publications and conference presentations. After about a year, we decided to put our ideas into practice. During my first trip to Boone, North Carolina, I also met Laura Dye through another partner in HiveTracks. Laura, who happened to be James’ neighbor, became the first investor in HiveTracks, allowing me to leave the U.N. and start working full time on HiveTracks.

Since then, Sarah joined us as our user experience/user interface designer and Declan as our lead engineer to round out the team.

How is your product gender-inclusive?

One of our first government contracts was for a project called AI-Driven Climate-Smart Beekeeping for Women. Funded by the German Federal Foreign Office and in collaboration with the International Center for Agricultural Research in Dry Areas (ICARDA), we worked with women beekeepers in Ethiopia and Uzbekistan to localize the HiveTracks app. To do so, we used an inclusive and iterative approach that involved dozens of user testing sessions with women beekeepers, including digital literacy training to accomplish two goals.

First, we need to ensure that all the beekeeping-related features and available information match the local environment. Second, we need to ensure that our designs, icons, and language are inclusive so that women and men beekeepers of different age groups and experience levels feel comfortable using our app. This is a vital step to enable downstream functionality that allows access to micro-loans based on operational beekeeping data, payments for ecosystem services, and improved access to markets through origin authentication.

What is your company’s impact on biodiversity?

Beekeeping intersects humans and nature, and we view beekeepers as stewards of biodiversity. Bee health is one of the central indicators of environmental health, and observing and interacting with bee health is what beekeepers do. Since beekeepers visit their hives approximately every two weeks, they observe other fundamental indicators of biodiversity, including the diversity and availability of blooming resources.

Collecting and aggregating these data points with weather data and land use/land cover data allows us to assess the pollination impact very granularly and monitor the effects on biodiversity over time. This is the foundation for creating a marketplace for crowd-sourced biodiversity data with bee health as the central pillar. Our goal is to reward the biodiversity stewards for their work in monitoring biodiversity locally and, later, improving it through improved bee health or an increased abundance and diversity in native plants. On a higher level, the data can inform policymaking and corporate biodiversity strategies as we work toward tradable biodiversity credits.

How do you intend to use the money you raise this round to scale the business?

Earlier this year, we launched our all-new mobile app for beekeepers (B2C) and are currently testing our web portal for beekeeping businesses and organizations (B2B/B2G) to manage larger numbers of beehives and beekeepers. We will use our funds to reach product-market fit in the B2C and B2B/B2G space and increase our sales operations. Also, we’ll use the funds to further develop our proof of concepts in biodiversity monitoring, access to micro-loans, and honey origin authentication with the data collected ahead of the subsequent funding round.

We look forward to seeing where Max and his team take the company. HiveTracks is currently raising on Wefunder.