Beespect, an NYU startup led by Octavia Larentis (Tandon MS '19) and Monica Mendoza (Tandon MS '19), share lessons learned through their participation in the Prototyping Fund.
Putting the Buzz Back in Beekeeping
By Octavia Larentis and Monica Mendoza
We have known each other as graduate students in Biomedical Engineering at Tandon and have come to be good friends. Once we met, it wasn’t long before we realized we were both inspired by biomimetic designs and the idea of developing solutions to problems that impact human health. We first brainstormed ideas for a bioengineering company that could tackle these types of problems from an engineering perspective back in April of 2018. The disappearance of honey bees is a serious concern of global proportions that appeared many times in our various lines of research. To our dismay, the issue seemed to have no effective solution. In the summer of 2018, we learned more about the potential causes of honey bee colony losses and drew up our earliest plans for a hive monitoring device that could improve colony health. Hence, Beespect was born.
Beespect received its first grant from the NYU Prototyping Fund in September 2018. We experimented with several independent components that could serve as functional units within our beehive maintenance and pest management system, each delivering a layer of functionality that we hoped would add value for our end users.
At first, we had a very unclear idea of how our system would operate, where it would be located in the hive, what the user experience of a typical beekeeper was and how it might be impacted by a new device in-hive. At that point, our customer discovery process was in its earliest stages and we were essentially rookies in the beekeeping world.
By December, we achieved our first minimum objective, namely to create a complete prototype of the individual components of the system, as well as to start getting an understanding of the engineering difficulties that we would need to overcome to refine the concept and reduce it to practice. Our Phase 1 prototype also lacked the automation desired from the system, in terms of both accepting miticide into the device and scheduling treatments via a phone or web application.
Although we didn’t meet all of our Phase 1 objectives, we did successfully complete the following:
- A website with details on Beespect’s mission and current activities.
- A complete understanding of traditional beekeeping routines and behaviors through various meetings and interviews.
- A basic functional prototype of some of the hive components.
In January of 2019, Beespect received follow-on funding from the Prototyping Fund. (Many thanks to Sarah Maibach from the Entrepreneurial Institute, and Anne-Laure Fayard from Tandon.)
Since Phase 1, we have expanded our team to include further engineering and user interaction expertise. New team members (Lucy, Tianyi and Zakia) have assisted in furthering our prototyping progress. Moreover, during this prototyping phase we have continued to refine our design and better understand the features that beekeepers find important rather than simply of interest.
We have continued our conversations with beekeepers managing farms of varying sizes and continue to learn not just about colony losses, but about beekeeping practices in general.
We came to realize that environment sensing, integration and interpretation of that data falls under the realm of the Internet of Things (IoT). During Phase 2, we consulted with various IoT experts, one of whom had the idea for a similar project a few years ago.
The second grant from the Prototyping Fund was much larger than the first and allowed us to purchase sufficient components for the construction of 5 duplicate devices. We have secured the interest of commercial beekeepers who will assist us in testing the devices once complete.
We have also completed a minimally-viable dashboard that will serve to deliver data to beekeepers.
Although we are still many months from finalizing the design of both the hardware and software components of the system, we have produced the following:
- An MVP of the software component of the responsive web-based application.
- A functional heating component to sublimate the miticide to perform pest management.
We are very excited about the partnerships we have formed this year and that some beekeepers have expressed interest in testing and adopting our system. We anticipate being able to capture hive data over the upcoming winter to validate that our solution improves bee health and helps beekeepers reduce manual labor in order to improve productivity.
Stay tuned for more!
For more information on our venture, view our two minute explainer video at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Dks_1FaUepQ.
Meet the Beespect team in person at the NYU Prototyping Fund Showcase on Wednesday, May 1 at the Leslie eLab. RSVP here.