Vatorex cares about the honeybee for a modern and species-appropriate beekeeping
Please introduce yourself and your startup Vatorex to our readers!
Vatorex cares about honeybees. Our founders come from a beekeeping family and as honeybee colonies are dying across the globe, we wanted to act. One major cause of bee mortality is the Varroa mite. We provide chemical-free and automated treatment of Varroa and help beekeepers monitor and manage their beehives in a smart way.
We developed a «Varroa treatment» based on heat. Because bees have a higher heat tolerance than Varroa mites, we heat up the beehive. The mites start dying at 39°C while bees can tolerate up to 45°C. So, if we heat up the hive to 41°C from time to time, the Varroa mites die and the bees survive unharmed.
Our founding team consists of our CEO Pascal Brunner, in-house beekeeper (50+ years of experience) Willi Brunner and our tech guy Renato Cortesi.
How did you get the idea of Vatorex?
Willi Brunner, our beekeeper and biologist, got the idea during a business flight to Beijing. While other passengers were reading «The Economist», he was reading the Swiss beekeeper’s journal. There he stumbled across a scientific article about heat treatment that works in the laboratory and developed the concept of transferring this idea directly into the dynamic environment of a bee hive.
Why did you decide to start with Vatorex?
The Varroa mite is a threat to bees worldwide. As the parasite originally spread from Asian honeybees, Western honeybees in Europe and North America lack natural defences. So far, beekeepers have been using chemicals to cope with Varroa – which harms the bees as well. Since we were aware of the extent of that problem, we decided to give our idea a try and help the bees and the beekeepers.
What is the vision behind Vatorex?
Bee mortality is not just bad news for honey-lovers alone. Through pollination bees play an indispensable role in our ecosystems and agriculture. For example, around one-third of food supply relies on pollination by bees. Therefore we aim to, by supporting bees, contribute to a more healthy, robust and sustainable world.
How difficult was the start and which challenges you had to overcome?
Building a company is a journey and we had our fair share of bumps in the road. Especially gathering enough funds to construct our comb-machine. At the start we assembled every single heatable comb by hand, which was very time-consuming and untenable if we wanted to grow into a serious company. Through a crowdfunding campaign we were able to gather enough funds to automate this process. Although we can still make lots of improvement in our supply chain, we now have the capacity to supply over 100 customers in 8 different countries.
Who is your target audience?
Our products facilitate the beekeeper’s lives and increase the vitality of their bee colonies. Therefore we target all kind of beekeepers, from hobbyists to professionals. Our Varroa solution gives beekeepers an efficient and bee-friendly method of Varroa treatment. Besides this we also offer the smartphone app «Hive Manager» where digital beekeepers can organize and keep track of their colonies, plus bee hive monitoring solutions.
What is the USP of your startup?
At the moment Varroa is mostly treated with chemicals which also harm the bees and can lead to residues in the wax and honey. As Varroa mites get more resistant to these chemicals, more and more has to be used, this practice is unsustainable. Our solution based on heat has been proven to be an efficient (95% Varroa killed) and sustainable treatment, with no negative side-effects for the bees. Indeed, the bees significantly develop 31% better compared to acid treatment, which also leads to an increased honey harvest.
Compared to other methods of heat treatments (such as applying heat from outside the hive), our fully automatic and solar powered solution is located directly in the bee colony. Each comb is equipped with a heating wire, creating a «floor heating» for the bee brood. In this way, we can regulate the temperature very precisely.
How is the feedback?
Basically, practically all beekeepers are interested in our innovation. Most feedback revolves around how our solutions work and how they can be integrated into individual beekeeping practices. But there are also, mostly elderly and stubborn beekeepers who don’t want to know anything about innovation in beekeeping – so we cover a wide range of feedback.
The most important feedback for us is when customers buy our solution for more hives or additional apiaries after one year. And fortunately we have a very high rate of recurring customers.
Can you describe your typical workday?
That’s a though one! Often some time is spent with the bees. We have over 80 hives which of course need to be cared for. We are also continuously studying the effectiveness of our products with our own bees and look for improvements. Nevertheless, I guess most of the time I am in the office or having meetings. At the moment there are so many different projects going on like getting funding, talking to potential customers, developing new products and looking for new talent to join our company. So, a typical workday has a bit of everything, from working with bees, meetings and in between finding time to actually implement the stuff that comes out of those meetings.
Where do you see yourself and your startup Vatorex in five years?
Bee mortality is a global problem, which means we aim to become a global company. We already have customers in 8 countries and pilots in additional markets for next year. I believe that in five years, Vatorex will be named in several national beekeeping guidelines as reference for Varroa treatment. But most important for us is to grow our base of happy customers, as they are the driver of sustainable company development.
What 3 tips would you give to founders?
First, find something you really believe in, yes it sounds a bit cliché, but you have to enjoy working and thinking about your project all day every day.
Secondly, be persistent. As entrepreneur and/or CEO, the daily rollercoaster will hit you anyway. The one entrepreneur who manages to stand up again once more will be the successful one.
Finally, take some time to clear your mind once in a while. Personally, I enjoy doing sports. Especially when things are not going as planned or when there is lots of work to do, giving yourself a breather is definitely worth it.
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