Design Thinking to Save the Pollinators: a Bee-utiful Summer Practicum

Montana6/1/17 – This blog post is written by Montana Williams, a student in the Global Social and Sustainable Enterprise MBA who is embarking on the summer practicum experience with his teammates Haroon Abasy, Sam Doll, and David Enden, for their venture, StrHive LLC.

In her book, The Secret Life of Bees, Sue Monk Kidd illustrates the most important lesson a novice beekeeper can learn: “Above all, send the bees love. Every little thing wants to be loved.” After spending a school year familiarizing ourselves with the art and science of beekeeping, we couldn’t agree more. That’s why my venture team is working to understand the challenge of pollinator loss in the United States. These assiduous little ladies and other insect pollinators contribute an estimated $29 billion to farm income in the US alone (Ramanujan, 2016). That’s a lot of money! Putting economics aside, we need these pollinators to help diversify our food supply and keep our natural and urban ecosystems flourishing. Just imagine a world without 75 percent of our flora. You can’t? Yeah, we don’t want to either.

My team and I recognize that we cannot rely on government and policy change alone to help save pollinators; we must utilize the innovation and talent of business to incentivize change. We are currently working with multiple organizations and individuals within the three key stakeholder groups surrounding honey bee health in the US—conservation groups, beekeepers, and farmers—to learn where business might make the greatest impact in mitigating this challenge. According to the Xerces Society, there are four main factors responsible for pollinator loss: the loss and fragmentation of habitat, the degradation of remaining habitat, pesticide poisoning, and the spread of diseases and parasites (Hoffman et al, 2011). Though pesticides and varroa mites seem to be blamed as the leading culprits in honey bee decline, habitat fragmentation and degradation are much more deleterious. Therefore, my team and I are focusing our efforts on finding business solutions to increasing honey bee and native pollinator populations in heavily fragmented ecosystems, such as urban and suburban neighborhoods or farmland.

Utilizing market research and design thinking techniques acquired during the school year we plan to immerse ourselves further in the world of pollinators to gain a better understanding of each key stakeholder group and how we might best design a business model to help mitigate the challenge. During our research, we found California to be in the greatest need of these services, which is why we will be spending the month of June traveling through the central valley of our nation’s golden coast. We will be speaking with farmers, beekeepers, conservation groups, municipalities, and homeowners within the central valley to help familiarize ourselves with the area and gain some insight into how we might best assist these stakeholder groups.

Staying true to the design thinking and lean startup methods we were taught this past year, we have released a MVP, or minimum viable product, to address pollinator loss in northern Colorado. This MVP is simply a swanky term for three honeybee hives we will be installing and maintaining for three lucky pilot clients. During this process, we are hoping to experience the art and science of beekeeping first-hand while simultaneously gaining a better understanding of the cost structure and revenue streams associated with the beekeeping business.

Please stay tuned for an update on what we learned from our California travels!

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