Our hive mind helps build the buzz for an agtech startup.
Partnership at a glance
- HiveKeepers is a Victorian agtech startup that supports hobbyists and commercial beekeepers with tech innovations.
- Hobbyist-turned-CEO Simon Mildren’s first product was record management software, but when customers requested innovative hive technology, he needed business advice.
- In 2019, Mildren was selected for LTAP, La Trobe’s program to promote entrepreneurship, which gave him the skills and confidence to create new products.
- HiveKeepers won a place at a Silicon Valley agtech challenge in 2020 and Mildren credits LTAP with preparing him for the opportunity.
- The connection between HiveKeepers and LTAP continues, with Mildren now able to share his own knowledge and experience with others in the agtech sector.
"It started with a simple plan to brew a batch of honey wheat beer. Brimming with a hobby farmer’s can-do spirit, fireman Simon Mildren thought he’d get some bees and produce honey.
Twelve years later, Mildren is yet to make the beer but is, instead, the founder and CEO of HiveKeepers, a unique agtech startup in the honeybee business, supporting hobbyists and commercial producers with tech innovations.
Mildren has even taken HiveKeepers international after winning selection for an agtech challenge and accelerator program in Silicon Valley, and with it, a US$50,000 investment in the company.
A La Trobe Accelerator Program (LTAP) alumnus, he’s grateful for the university’s commitment to readying entrepreneurs for the challenges ahead.
La Trobe is about growing people so that we can grow our business. It has impacted a lot of people in the startup space here in Victoria and it seems a great approach.
It took Mildren a couple of days to go from absolute beekeeping novice to absolutely hooked. “Look inside a beehive and it blows your mind … It’s seriously addictive,” he says.
The journey to beekeeping entrepreneur, however, took longer. Mildren admits he was looking for a business opportunity or “problem to solve” when he accidentally created his own. After his beekeeping record book fell into a puddle and was destroyed, he set up an online recordkeeping platform, opened it up to members, and HiveKeepers was born.
Soon, customers wanted more: could HiveKeepers deliver the SMART (self-monitoring, analysis, and reporting technology) solutions they needed to weigh their hives and keep them safe from theft? He signed up for LTAP’s pre-accelerator ‘boot camp’ in 2019 to test the idea and HiveKeepers was one of 21 selected for the main program’s workshops and mentoring.
“I wanted to understand if we should be taking on this idea of SMART beehives and really adding value to the beekeeper. It's a big step, from software to hardware as well. But that possibility matured and grew through the La Trobe program.”
The course also filled in many of Mildren’s knowledge gaps: from legal requirements and company financials to hiring and managing staff, pitching to investors and mapping the customer journey. He credits LTAP’s investment in him with securing his place in the Silicon Valley accelerator program.
The pandemic sent HiveKeepers into research and development mode, and in 2020 a livestock security grant allowed them to build a prototype beehive at the Port of Hastings in Victoria. AI-enabled, with inbuilt image recognition capacity and sensors, the hive screened bees for the varroa mite, a pest that is devastating the honey industry worldwide.
The HiveKeepers–La Trobe connection is ongoing, but now Mildren, too, can share expertise he’s gained as an LTAP-empowered founder. “Now we reach out to each other with ideas. For us, La Trobe has made a huge impact.”
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