Recent Indiana University alumni have launched an agriculture technology startup called The Bee Corp. to monitor conditions inside commercial beehives. According to a 2014 White House fact sheet, honeybees contribute more than $15 billion annually to the U.S. economy.

The Bee Corp. founders are now prepared to begin research and development, building and testing sensors to better understand bee needs and behaviors as well as to reduce the substantial negative economic impact of the phenomenon known as colony collapse disorder and to enhance beehive health in the United States and around the world.

The Bee Corp. was founded by then-IU students CEO Ellie Symes, COO Simon Kuntz, CMO Wyatt Wells and current student Lucas Moehle. Wells said commercial beekeepers travel around the country with beehives in their trucks to pollinate almonds, sunflowers, apples and other fruits.

“Since the onset of colony collapse disorder, or CCD, in 2007, beekeepers have experienced annual hive loss rates of 30 percent on average,” he said. “Simultaneously, demand for honey and crops that depend on honeybees for pollination has grown steadily, resulting in an increasingly volatile industry. Our aim is to gather information that we can use to help reduce this volatility and to do so in a sustainable way for both the bees and the market that depends on them.”

The Bee Corp. owns and manages more than 100 hives in the southern and central regions of Indiana.

“We collect a comprehensive data set to gain a stronger understanding about the factors that contribute to a strong, healthy hive as well as factors that cause hive mortality,” he said. “We will perform research to test the hypotheses from the data we collect.”

Wells said the company has sourced best-in-class sensor hardware from domestic and international suppliers.

“During the next six months, we will dedicate most of our resources to research, which will be an ongoing process,” he said. “In the third quarter, we will split our focus between research, data analysis and prototype development.”

The Bee Corp. was established after the founders won a $100,000 investment from the Indiana University Building Entrepreneurs in Software and Technology — or BEST — Competition in February 2016. Investors include successful IU alumni, business leaders from Bloomington, and the Indiana University Research and Technology Corp., which protects, markets and licenses intellectual property developed at Indiana University so it can be commercialized by industry. In addition to financial support from BEST investors, The Bee Corp. has received guidance and mentoring from IU alumni as the founders have grown the business.