Protecting our pollinators
The Global Social and Sustainable Enterprise MBA solution
“We should capitalize on the innovation and talent of business to accelerate this.” — Montana Williams
StrHiving for success
Zipping from flower to flower in the summer sun, wings beating over 200 times per second, you hurtle toward the next petal to land on in search of nectar and pollen. If you were a foraging honeybee, this would be how you’d spend most of your waking days, working to feed your hive.
In turn, the efforts of the 2.6 million commercial hives in the United States support many of flowering crops that humans have come to rely on – providing roughly $15 billion of annual economic benefit in the U.S. alone.
That’s a lot of honey.
But in recent years, concerns have grown over how pesticides, pests, depleting habitat, and diminishing biodiversity are affecting bee populations and leaving the impactful insects vulnerable to population loss.
“So that’s where we started,” said Sam Doll, a biologist and Global Social & Sustainable Enterprise MBA student at Colorado State University.
Sam was part of a team of MBA students – including Montana Williams, a horticulturist, David Enden, an animal behaviorist, and Mohamad Haroon Abasy, an economist and entrepreneur – who worked together to develop business solutions that would benefit pollinators.
In the GSSE MBA program, students are grouped into teams based on their interests and spend the summer semester founding a sustainable business venture that will make a positive impact on the community. Learning about new cultures and how residents’ lives can be improved through ethical enterprise, many students travel abroad for their ventures, exploring foreign countries.
However, StrHive decided to stay stateside for the summer and test ways to help some of their closest, and smallest, neighbors: bees.
“It’s an issue here – it’s a huge issue here – so why not solve it in America?” said Montana, who worked as a park horticulturist for the city and county of Denver and saw firsthand the major role pollinators play.
With diverse backgrounds, the students were brought together by shared frustrations with how they’d seen people and organizations try to affect change without proper planning in place: innovative ideas that couldn’t be supported by a grant-funding model, products not driven by customer demand, and research that couldn’t make it to the market.
“I felt like I could make a much greater impact as an informed and conscious leader in the business community,” said Sam. “The GSSE MBA program has really helped me learn the language of business and has helped me communicate more effectively.”
After the team formed, the students began brainstorming business ideas to help the bees – from promoting honey use and increasing demand for the pollinators’ product, to creating safer habitats throughout urban communities and farmland.
“I think the issue is that we’re losing pollinators at an unprecedented rate,” said Montana. “Nonprofits are great, and they’re doing a lot of work, but we think that we should really capitalize on the innovation and talent of business to help accelerate this.”
Haroon, who grew up in Afghanistan and is attended CSU as a Fulbright Scholar, has seen how problems with aid organizations and nonprofits have played out in his home country. In cities torn by decades of war and civil conflicts, organizations looking to help those living in the destabilized region have been numerous. However, oftentimes their results have faded.
“When the grant is finished, the project is gone,” said Haroon, who hopes that by learning how to establish an impact-oriented business he’ll be able to bring powerful lessons about self-sustaining, positive enterprise back home with him.
Community embraces students
For StrHive’s summer venture, the group tasked itself with building a buzz around backyard beekeeping and getting people more used to the idea of developing symbiotic relationships with the tiny insects.
The students developed a business plan to create healthy, active hives of European Honey Bees that they could then rent out to aspiring apiarists. Bees in the pre-populated hives could travel up to two miles foraging for pollen and nectar, which would then be brought back to feed their colony. This process would give a pollination boost to homeowners’ gardens and even provide a little honey on the side to sweeten the deal.
The team interviewed around 15 homeowners throughout Fort Collins to get feedback on the idea and nearly all the respondents expressed interest in owning a hive at some point.
“I was surprised by how many people in the city are concerned about the future of pollinators and wanted to help do something about it,” said Sam. “My dream would be to make pollinator health a source of pride for Fort Collins.”
The students found three homeowners who agreed to host the hives and the group began turning its plan into reality.
“People have this interest and they want to do good,” said Montana. “That’s really important, but ultimately a lot of these people just don’t have time, so they’re searching for a business that would come to their house and do it for them.”
After spending weeks researching how to nurture the bees, introduce the queen, and provide adequate shelter and care, the students were finally ready to deliver the hives.
Creating sustainable models
The fieldwork in their curriculum gave the team an opportunity to test the viability of its hive-loaning model, while also researching ways to increase pollinator diversity and promote biodiversity that can strengthen the ecosystem.
“A lot of other organizations focus on education, which is absolutely just as important, but we’re giving people the tools to take matters into their own hands,” David said. “There are a lot of people out there interested in beekeeping, but there may not be enough resources to get them started.”
The group used a variety of analytics tools, as well as customer interviews, to find entry points into the market, and to see what people are saying about pollinators.
Part of that journey included the group’s research trip to California, where every year the Central Valley host the world’s largest controlled pollination as billions of commercial honey bees are trucked across the country for the state’s almond crop.
“We’re talking with beekeepers, farmers, beekeeping associations and conservation groups,” said Montana, as the team tries to figure out what works and what doesn’t, and what could lead to people being more interested in having a hive of their own.
But questions remain.
“We still don’t know if it’s a sustainable business or not,” said Haroon.
However, the insights the team gained from their research helped to refine strategies that will promote the pollinators in the long run.
“Sustainability is an emotionally charged word with many meanings depending on who you ask, but for me it’s simply finding ways to meet the needs of the present without compromising the needs of future generations,” said Montana, who hopes the GSSE MBA team’s efforts will encourage people to seek out and adopt pollinator-friendly practices they can implement in their own yards.
“This program, and all the inspiration and insight I’ve received from my peers, has empowered me to use sustainable enterprise in its truest form.”