The Successful Startup That Disrupts Using Bees Instead of Code

Photo by Stéphane Magnenat (CC BY-SA 2.0)

At Bitter Southerner, Iza Wojciechowska profiles fifth-generation beekeeper Leigh-Kathryn Bonner whose startup, Bee Downtown, has 100 sponsored hives on the roofs of old tobacco warehouses in Durham, Raleigh, and Chapel Hill, North Carolina. The hives house thousands of bees who do their part to pollinate the cucumber, apple, and berry crops that are staples of North Carolina’s economy. Bonner is not only helping the local economy and the environment, she’s bucking convention in the traditionally male-dominated apiary industry.

Bee Downtown emphasizes education and spreading awareness about bees and their role in our environment.

“To have these hives in places where people can see them, and being able to visit schools and have kids look at bees, that gets people excited,” Leigh-Kathryn says. “And people care about things that make them excited.”

And there’s good reason to want that. Honeybees are the world’s No. 1 pollinator, pollinating 80 percent of Earth’s plants. Conventional wisdom translates that number into about every third bite of food we eat. That means bees contribute more than $153 billion to the world’s economy every year. In North Carolina, honeybees are critical to the production of cucumbers, apples, and blueberries, which North Carolina produces in large quantities for the entire country.

“People think it’s a man’s job because it’s manual labor,” she says. “People tell me, ‘You can’t move a 50-pound beehive,’ and I’m like, ‘Watch me, I’ll do it in heels and a dress if I want to.’”

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