Nectar—which graduated as part of the 2017 cohort at FounderFuel—is just a year and a half old, but already their technology is proving to be highly valuable to beekeepers and related industries. MTLinTECH sat down with Marc-André Roberge, co-founder and avid beekeeper to talk a bit more about their unique presence in the Montreal tech scene.
“Everybody on the team is very concerned about the decline in the population of the bees. We initially thought that we would create this technology to help translate what the bees are telling us and give more insight to the beekeepers. The idea is to give them the ability to become more proactive rather than reactive and give them the tools to be able to better handle new threats that are arising. In the last 20, 30 years there have been a lot of technological advancements in beekeeping so we are just allowing the beekeepers to keep up with that and help them adapt.”
While studying industrial design at Université de Montréal, Marc-André developed a personal fascination with apiaries and the art of beekeeping. His interest grew as he worked on his own ecological design projects, and was able to pinpoint the limitations of conventional beekeeping.
“I really fell in love with everything about bees, from all the problems that are coming up now to the social aspect, how the hive functions and human interaction as well, how we rely on them for farming and just their presence in nature, I was fascinated. I read a lot beforehand and did a lot of research, but still the first time you open a hive and hundreds of bees are coming at you, it’s pretty overwhelming. You need to be able to translate and assess on the spot exactly what’s going on within the hive. I was really having a hard time in the beginning and I saw that other beekeepers were struggling with this as well, and that’s when I started thinking about how to facilitate this interaction between bees and humans.”
Marc-André explains that the art of beekeeping contributes to a greater eco-system, and that Nectar has the potential to help facilitate business relationships between beekeepers and farmers.
“What’s interesting about the issue that we’re working on is that it’s global. We have the opportunity to work on something really big that has a huge influence on the whole supply chain of pollination dependent crops.”
“Beekeepers rent hives to crop farmers whose crops depend on pollination. So our technology can actually provide value to them in that we can tell them exactly how their bees are behaving in the field while they are being rented out. The farmers are able to see how the hives are performing, so we bring a certain level of transparency. In many cases the person who is buying the crop from this crop farmer doesn’t really have an idea how bees are affecting their business. They might buy massively in industries like blueberries, almonds, grapeseed, canola oil, crops that are highly dependent on bees and they have no idea what’s happening now, what’s going to happen next year, and how does it compare to the year before, because they don’t have the data, so that’s what we want to bring to them. So it really goes far beyond our initial idea to work only with beekeepers.”
He explains that the technology that Nectar is developing is beneficial for humans and bees alike. Being able to monitor the hives in this way allows the beekeepers to stay ahead of the curve and take preventative measures against potentially catastrophic events. It also means less contact with the hive which allows the bees to flourish without being disturbed.
“The reality of beekeeping right now is that in order to know what’s going on you need to open the hive and look inside. It takes a lot of experience to know what to look for. It is a very multisensory experience, for example you’re looking for fresh eggs that the queen just laid, you want to look for queen cells to know if they are building a new queen, if it’s overcrowded, if they’re producing honey, if there are too many drones, the level of parasites, and the list goes on. Even if you’re a very experienced beekeeper, you have to repeat this process every time. It’s a lot of time and money, and usually the accuracy is not there. The goal is to cut down on all inspection-based visits to the hive.”
The well-being of the bees and specific needs of the beekeepers have always been top priority for Nectar.
“The first thing we did was to spend time with the beekeepers to understand what is important for them. From this we were able to come up with a list of things that we should measure that is key for them to be able to improve their practice. We knew we needed to gather environmental data from the hive, not by keeping track of the number of bees but focusing on how the bees affect their environment. For example, we designed different pieces of hardware that would measure temperature, humidity, sound frequencies, weight, and the geolocation of the hive. The data is then sent to the cloud and from there we are able to analyze the data and find out what’s going on.”
The co-founder sees big things on the horizon for Nectar, as he realizes the technology they have developed has value well beyond Quebec’s borders.
“What’s interesting about the issue that we’re working on is that it’s global. We have the opportunity to work on something really big that has a huge influence on the whole supply chain of pollination dependent crops. We’re going to be launching a project in western Canada, we are starting to develop ties in California and have been approached by people in South Africa, Europe and Australia. For now we are focused on our clients here in Quebec but we do see the potential to expand globally.”
Nectar is currently raising their seed round and is actively looking for investors.