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Meet Zoe van Helvoirt and Florence van Haastrecht: Founders of BeeGrateful, the company saving the wild bee ecosystem!

Hi Zoe and Florence. FEM-START is happy to be speaking with you today. Tell us, What inspired you to start your own business? What drove you to start BeeGrateful?

BeeGrateful originally started as a student project. During this project, we learned the difference between honey bees and wild bees and how important wild bees are for our biodiversity. We started to learn a lot about wild bees which drove us to start and find a solution to help those wild bees and increase biodiversity in that regard. We realized that we should be very grateful for these importance insects, and that is how BeeGrateful (as a project) started. We did not have a purpose or goal to start a company out of it, we really started it as a passion project and learned more throughout. We launched the business in September 2022 through the chamber of commerce – but it wasn’t until April 2023 that we actually started selling the hotels. In dec 2022 we launched our website and thereby our renewed product. We were shocked at how much of a problem the lack of bee nesting is, and we made it our mission to conserve wild bees and make sure they have this safe environment to be able to nest.

What are some of the most essential steps and actions you took to get your business off the ground?

When we started we cooperated with our manufacturer who produces bird houses as well. They were big in the scene, and we were sure the quality was outstanding because you need to make sure the bees can nest in those hotels. They scaled it up for us and we store our products there, so it was truly essential for us to start our company with their assistance. It also prevented us from looking for investments early on.Next to that, we also started researching our products at The Green Village at the TU  Delft together with students from the Wageningen Unversity. This gave us the opportunity to validate what we were doing and share our interesting results. 

How did you build your customer base and grow your business?

Both my co-founder and I are very passionate about wild bees so we are very happy to walk up to people, call to talk and ask about what they do for bees. We are very keen to explain what we do, and tell as many people as we can about our story and educate them. This is mainly how we increased our customer-base; calling people and spreading the word! In the beginning, we went to a lot of events as well, where we networked, met like-minded people and people started talking about us and our mission. We went to multiple exhibition fairs, such as the one in Jaarbeurs, Utrecht, started giving multiple lectures on our purpose and sign up for pitching events to get to meet people who are already entrepreneurs.                                

What are some of the biggest mistakes you made along the way, and what did you learn from them?

Thinking you can do everything and anything. I remember we had talks with potential clients, and when they asked what exactly was our expertise we said we could do it all, but it’s really not what you should say as a startup. We had a lot of ambition to do every step meticulously, which is really impossible. Its best to leave tasks that require specific expertise and experience to people who are trained for this, who have the sufficient niche knowledge in the field. No-one can do everything, that’s why founders have teams. Collaborations are also very important and that is what we are working on. We are currently collaborating with the Polinators, they do campaigns on the importance of wild bees and their network is giving us visibility. The expertise they share with us is crucial for BeeGrateful to grow and thrive.            

What is your biggest achievement since founding the company, and how did you get there?

We got awarded multiple times for BeeGrateful with Gouden Zwaluw by Vereniging Nederland Cultuurlandschap, Finalist KVK Innovation Top 100, Finalist SDG Awards. It is so heartwarming to receive this recognition and get the word out. From those awards, we know we are on the right track. Around the last week of November, we got our biggest order yet of 50 bee hotels we will install in a municipality in the Netherlands and we will also be able to maintain them! As we work on a subscription base, we offer the service of installing and maintenance for the bee hotels. We will be doing research on how the wild bees are able to nest at these different locations. We are planning on making bee diversification measurable. We have been testing and doing research on those wild bees nesting and implement our Bee hotels as indicators to monitor bee biodiversity with Wageningen university students. With those indicators, we can tell if the environment needs to be stimulated further or changed from the number of bees nesting.  

With our impact report, we can help municipalities to review their SDGs, sustainability goals and make sure the environment is friendly enough for wildlife. We want to slowly use more technology and find a tool to measure such as a biodiversity index in the Netherlands. We are having conversations with investors at the moment, we did not look specifically for an investor but we think it might be time now in order to properly expand.

What advice would you give to aspiring female entrepreneurs, particularly those who do not believe they can do it?

I would say just start. No matter how much planning, ideas or strategies you come up with, it never turns out the way you think it will. It is always full of ups and downs. I do believe it is important to have an established strategy but you will revise it over time, it will become more structured once you figure out who and what your market fit is. You learn by doing. I noticed people are nicer than we think, they will help you if you need it. We always get kind responses even if they do not help furthering our business, it’s never as daunting as it seems.

What’s next for BeeGrateful? Anything we can look forward to?

We are really interested in making bee-diversity more measurable. We are looking for exact data in bee nesting and how many actually nest in the hotels to see what it says about their surroundings exactly. We want to collect this data and help advice businesses and municipalities through impact reporting on how they can foster a more positive and sustainable bee-friendly environment. It is very important for those bees to have a safe haven. We want to become the organisation to find a reliable way to create bee-friendly environments.

If you would like to know more about Zoe and Florence’s company BeeGreateful, click here!



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