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Bee Downtown

Bee Downtown installs and maintains beehives on rooftops of businesses in cities, where honeybees thrive, to rebuild honey bee populations.

Photo of Leigh-Kathryn Bonner

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Honey bees pollinate the vast majority of the world’s plants and are responsible for over 80% of the food we eat. However, over the past 50 years, changing agricultural practices have crippled their world. Bees need a variety of food sources to survive, and the widespread cultivation of the same crops prevents them from reaching adequate nutrition. As a result, honey bees are disappearing at a dizzying rate, endangering the future of agriculture altogether. In 2012, U.S. beekeepers lost almost half of their hives in what is now being termed ‘Colony Collapse Disorder.’

Bee Downtown is fighting this important problem by creating and selling rooftop and clear storefront observatory hives in cities, where bees thrive due to the availability of diverse food sources, while simultaneously providing a one-of-a-kind progressive marketing tool for businesses to show their commitment to the environment and honey bee populations. These hives serve as feeder populations to rural areas, as newborn queens split off and establish their colonies elsewhere. 

Describe your team

Hi! My name is Leigh-Kathryn Bonner and I am the Founder and CEO of Bee Downtown. I graduated from North Carolina State University in Raleigh, North Carolina this past May and majored in International Studies. People often ask how an International Studies major became passionate enough about honey bees to start her own bee business, or “beesness” as I like to call it, and I share with them that I come from a long line of keepers! Beekeepers, that is. I am actually a 4th generation beekeeper and share the love of beekeeping and agriculture with my great-grandfather, grandfather, and uncle. Bee Downtown is about two years old but I have only been working on growing the company full time since I graduated from school. I am the only full time employee but we have a contract beekeeper to manage our hives as well as an amazing support team of volunteers, mentors and community members helping grow the business and spread awareness about the importance of pollinators! My office is usually somewhere on a rooftop working honey bee hives which is, I think, one of the most fun office atmospheres you can have! If I’m not with the bees I work out of a startup hub in Durham, North Carolina called the American Underground. I’m surrounded by a sea of amazing entrepreneurs in an office space that has a video arcade, slide, scooters, free pizza lunches, and a rooftop bar! Basically, I get to work in a building that is MADE for a little kid stuck in an adult's body and it is AWESOME! In my spare time I love to watch and play soccer (I am a huge Barcelona fan), spend time with friends, travel, and eat lots and lots of pizza.

Why are you excited about this OpenIDEO fellowship?

I am SO excited about this OpenIDEO fellowship. I fell in love with IDEO when I was in an entrepreneurial class in college and before deciding to focus on Bee Downtown full time was looking at to applying for a job with IDEO. So to be able to work with OpenIDEO while pursuing Bee Downtown full time is literally a dream come true. I can’t wait to get to know the rest of the fellows and for all of us to be able to work together alongside the awesome OpenIDEO community to collectively work on projects that could truly create lasting change in the world.

In what ways might the OpenIDEO community support you?

Three things the OpenIDEO community could help me with are: 1. Messaging and Marketing to grow our social media presence and increase our followers. - I’d love for you to visit our website: www.beedowntown.org and give us feedback on the site! - If you have any suggestions and insight please share your expertise on how we can grow our social media base - Follow and like us on: *Facebook: facebook.com/beedowntown *Instagram: beedowntown *Twitter: @beedowntown 2. Help us further develop our brand! -The goal for Bee Downtown is to have a harmonious mix of urban and rural. -I would love to hear your feedback on how we are doing with that so far and ways you think we could improve! -If you have any design expertise or a branding background I would love to connect so we can work together! 3. Crafting our story! -I think Bee Downtown has a pretty great story to tell but need your help to share that story with the world! -I am looking for people interested in helping me tell our story whether it is through videos, short stories or news articles! I need YOUR help to grow this beesness and hope you will take flight in this wild and crazy journey of saving the bees with us! If you would like to join us and become a Bee Downtown worker bee for any of these projects, we would love your support, encouragement, and expertise! Feel free to email me, Leigh-Kathryn, at lkbonner@ncsu.edu Thank you! Leigh-Kathryn

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