For two views of the possibilities that arise when colony monitoring technology is combined with colony management software, the data is shared, and this combined technology comes into broad use, see:

In this segment, the first section lists several ways to potentially carve up the market, then come a couple of entrepreneurial approaches that seem pertinent to the opportunities in colony monitoring, third, some insights from Kim Flottum, the editor of Bee Culture, on the information most valuable to beekeepers, the characteristics of tech that beekeepers need, and then his take on market segments and the number of potential customers in each. Finally, to put colony monitoring in context, I point to a ‘smart agriculture’ website and provide an example of smart agriculture in the vineyard.

For entrepreneurs, it would appear that there are multiple opportunities in colony monitoring.

  • At every step of the monitoring process there are opportunities for companies to differentiate themselves by developing and providing specialized or superior products.
  • There are also opportunities for companies to differentiate themselves by addressing different segments of the beekeeping market. For example, backyard beekeepers, small honey producers, large honey producers, pollination providers, packaged bee producers, queen breeders, and researchers will each have a need for monitoring devices adapted to their specific circumstances.
  • Companies could focus on producing components for one step of the process, such as sensor units, analysis modules, or visualization tools, or they could focus on integrating these components to supply a complete product.
  • Again, for two views of how colony monitoring technologies might evolve in the near-future, check out these articles, which first appeared in Bee Culture BabelBee and The Genius Hive.

Currently the field of hive monitoring devices and systems is wide open. Few entrepreneurs provide colony monitoring devices or systems that are low cost, reliable, and useful. One third of the existing honey bee colonies die each year and beekeepers would gladly pay for monitoring devices that reduce their losses by a significant amount. This appears to be a blue ocean opportunity.

At the same time, the details of the devices that sense, transmit, analyze, report and store colony health data in a robust, economical and useful manner not only remain to be determined, but are rapidly evolving as the underlying technologies advance, and will continue to evolve as the industry matures and beekeepers come to understand the value of their monitoring systems. In this environment, an entrepreneur might best be served by following the principles espoused in the Lean Startup approach to building a business.

Thanks to Kim Flottum for this information. We spoke with Kim 2013. Kim is the Associate Publisher and Senior Editor of Bee Culture Magazine.

A colony monitoring device should tell beekeepers:

  1. What is the approximate level of Varroa in the colony?
  2. Is the colony queenright? Is the queen there? Is she healthy? Is she the mated queen I introduced?
  3. Everything else is less important

Characteristics a colony monitoring device should have:

  1. Be battery operated; using 2 D cells (assuming a hand-held device)
  2. Cost no more than a couple of replacement packages: $150-$200
  3. Usable by a 13 year old
  4. Have no more than a half-page of instructions
  5. Be reliable
  6. Be tough enough to bounce around in the back of a truck on occasion

Beekeeper Market Segments

Note: These numbers were Kim’s 2013 estimates: the numbers may have increased by 50% – 100% in the intervening years.

  1. Commercial beekeepers; about 1000 in the USA: Almost all commercial beekeepers rely on pollination services as their main source of income as honey production is unreliable, but this can change as the market value of honey increases, or pollination value decreases. They buy materials in quantity; use labor-saving devices; and demand reliable equipment.
  2. Sideliners; about 5,000 to 7,000 in the US: Sideliners typically produce and sell honey, often locally. For them, beekeeping is a second business in which they reinvest any earnings to build the business up; apiculture may become their retirement occupation.

Backyard beekeepers; about 125,000 in the US: Most backyard beekeepers have 10 colonies or fewer. Those who dream of becoming sideliners watch expenses and plow earnings back into the activity. For others, it’s an expensive hobby. These beekeepers would be willing to pay – for a monitoring device – about the same as the replacement cost of two colonies ($150-$200). Some will be willing to pay more “boys and their toys”.

For inspiration, check out this website on Smart Agriculture.

And for a specific example of how using sensor technology can improve the quality of one’s product, wine, for example, check out Fruition Sciences  and the article, among many others, about them here.