Women in AgTech: Ellie Symes
SOFTWARE FOUNDER HELPS ALMOND GROWERS MONITOR HIVE STRENGTH
Editor’s Note: The following profile is an excerpt from Amy Wu’s book, “From Farms to Incubators: Women Innovators Revolutionizing How Our Food is Grown,” which tells the stories of women entrepreneurs who are transforming agriculture through high technology.
Ellie Symes could easily pass for the girl next door. The petite brunette, with her dimpled ear-to-ear smile, is affable and easy to converse with. Symes is in her mid-twenties, and her youthful persona not only makes her stand out in a sector known for being male-dominated but belies her expertise: she is a ninja when it comes to talking bees and bee pollination.
Symes launched her agtech company, The Bee Corp, in 2016. The Bee Corp offers a software platform that monitors and grades the quality of hives before pollination. The technology, delivered through a mobile app, helps beekeepers and growers make sure their hives are healthy and ready to go. The start-up includes Symes and a small team of engineers and researchers who are based in Indianapolis, Indiana.
At the Forbes AgTech Summit in Indianapolis in 2018, she held the stage during the “Show Me the Honey: Innovating to Insure Healthy Bees and Honey” panel. During the question-and-answer portion before an audience made up of top executives, Symes fielded a question on what her company’s technology is taking pictures of. She explained that the Bee Corp’s Verifli is an infrared image analysis tool that helps growers measure pollination value. It captures an infrared image of the clusters of bees inside the hive box from a device that is attached to the user’s smartphone.
“It’s an infrared image and we are reading thermal heat coming off the hives, produced from the body heat of the bees. The bees are actually creating body heat to heat the eggs, just like a bird sits on a nest,” Symes said. Once the image is uploaded, a prediction of hive strength is made in four seconds and shared with growers.
The company’s tagline is “Snap. Grade. Go about your day.” “We focus on inspection and ensure growers they have strong hives and make sure they measure their pollination contracts. We can inspect earlier in pollination and be able to make decisions,” Symes said, noting that the technology is such that the process does not require the hive boxes to be open, thereby avoiding manual inspection.
Symes was an undergraduate at Indiana University in Bloomington when she began working on the project that would later become The Bee Corp. She has no farming background and fell into both entrepreneurship and agriculture. At the end of her freshman year, as she was looking beyond the prospect of lifeguarding again in the summer, Symes began researching internship opportunities in areas of the environment and ecology: “My goal [at the time] was to build a career and get the studies I needed to solve environmental problems.”
A beekeeping internship piqued her curiosity. “It was something new and different,” she recalls. Little did she expect that she’d get hooked on beekeeping.
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