Founders Fridays is a new StartupAmsterdam initiative that showcases local entrepreneurs who help strengthen our ecosystem. By inviting founders to answer five questions, we want to shine a light on our ecosystem’s most inspirational stories and role models. We hope that we’ll all learn and grow together by providing startup founders with a space to share their insights and experience.
This week we spoke to Ru Wikmann, co-founder of BeeSage. BeeSage is developing multiple devices, software and data analytics that help beekeepers mitigate risks and enable informed decisions. The use of the Smart Beehive Scales can help them evaluate the strength of a colony and take advantage of peak blooming periods.
1. How did your career journey lead you to found BeeSage?
It really was serendipity. BeeSage started at an IoT hackathon in Riga, Latvia, where I met my co-founder Girts. Together we built our initial prototype in 36 hours and won the hackathon. His dad is a hobby beekeeper, and one spring they discovered that their honeybee colony had died during the winter, and the beehive was inhabited only by a mouse. They were astounded and left wondering what happened. As Girts is an experienced electronics engineer, he figured that remote monitoring through sensors may provide some answers. And the reason I took part in that hackathon in the first place is related to my previous failed startup attempts, which inspired me to pick up some coding skills from blogs and YouTube, and see if I could actually be useful in creating a product.
2. What makes Amsterdam a great city and ecosystem for a startup founder?
I fell in love with Amsterdam in autumn last year when I had a chance to spend two months here. I have a couple of close friends that live here and it was great to explore the city while developing business opportunities for us. One of the most helpful things is the high level of English spoken here. I'd love to learn Dutch too but it’s great to be able to do it at my own pace. I absolutely love the architecture in Amsterdam. It’s really a delight to the eyes just getting around in the town centre. Also, as I’ve always preferred riding a bike to being on public transport or driving, it’s great to have a good infrastructure in this regard, when compared to, for example, London, where I’d lived for over 10 years previously. Muay Thai is my favourite sport, hence, I also appreciate the abundance of awesome kickboxing gyms. Last but not least, the startup ecosystem is lively and diverse, and I always felt welcomed.
3. What are the goals and needs for BeeSage in the upcoming months?
We’ve recently changed our business model to subscription so I’m busy setting up our payment infrastructure, among other things. As we’ve been doing all the manufacturing of our Smart Beehive Scales in-house, we’re also focused on scaling up various processes related to this, and planning to start outsourcing to a manufacturing partner towards the end of this summer. In a few weeks our next product is leaving the lab for testing in beehives – Sensor Node, which utilises sound frequency to derive insights and mitigate risks during the overwintering of honeybee colonies. We’re also developing a data analytics platform, which enables beekeeper associations and other entities to understand geographical trends in honey production and pollination. As we’re pretty strong on the tech side, the COO is the next hire we’re looking for, so please reach out to me if you have some experience scaling a startup and you think data-driven beekeeping could be your jam.
4. What has been a recent win for your business?
The biggest wins in my view are the people that have joined us recently: Rudolfs, a very experienced electronics engineer, and Joao, our spatial data scientist. These hires happened organically through personal connections or serendipitous encounters. I believe it’s the best way for sustainable growth – having conversations, exploring a working relationship, and making sure we’re all aligned for the long term. The key thing is to enjoy working together and having a mission that’s meaningful to us all. Enabling bees to share knowledge with humans is what brought us together. And when it comes to business development, we’re also making some leaps, as we’re expanding to multiple countries in the EU.
5. What has been a recent challenge for your business, and what have you learned from it?
We were hit by the global semiconductor shortage a couple of times recently, just like most other companies that build their own hardware. It’s been amazing to see the creativity of our engineers in overcoming these issues. It’s tough when suddenly we cannot obtain a component but every time we have to reengineer and reconfigure a part of the product there has been a silver lining and we’ve overcome an orthogonal technical problem in the process, which makes our products better. Hardware is hard. Not everyone has the bounce-back ability to keep battling these types of challenges but if the mission is important enough, one can always find a way.
Bonus question: You were selected to exhibit at TNW2021 with StartupAmsterdam. How was your experience?
It’s been amazing! Very grateful for this opportunity as the connections gained from the conference have been relevant and meaningful. I had a chance to show our Smart Beehive Scales in action, which also meant that I needed to find an actual beehive to display in the natural environment. I was very lucky to meet an experienced beekeeper, Annemieke Timmerman, who helped me out with this. She runs the charity BeeSupport, which enables people in developing countries to get into beekeeping and make a sustainable living. Also, TNW has been very helpful to us from the first connection last year. It’s a great community.
If you would like to share your story with our local ecosystem, you can contact us by email at email@example.com.