What does your business do?
Apis Engineering manufactures precision instruments for the artificial insemination of honeybee queens. We manufacture a range of products that support the beekeeper who wants to improve the overall health and vigor of his/her honeybee stock. We also offer in-house training on the various instruments that we manufacture.
What is the reason for opening?
We saw a need in the market for a U.S. made instrument that was competitively priced compared to the models offered by European manufacturers. The off-shore suppliers offer an extremely limited selection, high costs, VAT, duty fees and poor customer service. We saw the gap and are trying to fill it. Our business model is based on innovation, rapid customer service and competitive prices.
What is the biggest challenge?
Keeping up with demand. We are only in our second year and the inventory build we forecasted was sold out by June. We are definitely a niche business but beekeepers around the world see the advantages of controlled breeding. We have sold units to Purdue University, University of Minnesota, University of Delaware, Central States University and the U.S. Army. We have many hobbyist beekeepers who now own our equipment as well.
When is the busiest time of the year?
The spring is the busiest. This is when we are training students on our instruments and when they are most likely to buy one. We try to pre-build in the winter but it’s only a guess at this point on how much inventory to carry.
What is the most popular thing you sell and service?
Our MicroStation is the most popular item. It is designed for the non-institutional beekeeper. This unit is very portable and can be used while traveling to other beekeepers’ facilities.
What is the less popular item?
This is hard to say because we are constantly creating new devices for the beekeeper. Some of these items are not yet on our website or catalog. I think we need a few more years for our product line to mature before we can determine which items are not popular.
What is the thing you like the most?
Well, personally, I like the creative side of the business. Our products are all cut on state-of-the art CNC machinery. The design and programming aspects of the product development is what I enjoy the most. I like to say, “I am creating products that the beekeeper doesn’t know he needs yet.”
What is the best thing about owning your own business?
Setting the direction that the company should take. Many would answer this question by saying, “I like setting my own hours.” And I would say if you are setting your own hours then you are not successful. A successful business drives all other activity, including work hours.
What is the biggest downside?
Unknown competition. This particular business has high barriers to entry. Expensive equipment, technical expertise, deep beekeeping knowledge etc. Not just everyone can jump in but undoubtedly there will be someone with all the pieces and then we’ll have to work even harder.
What is the biggest misconception about your business?
The biggest misconception is most people would not believe that a queen honeybee can be artificially inseminated. The process has been around since 1920 or so, but the practical application has only lately been realized. What I mean is the honeybee has so many stressors right now, such as pests, parasites, pesticides, mitacides and institutional farming that now is the time to select bees that are resistant to these attackers. It is similar to how the cattle industry has selected for superior strains of beef.
How would you describe your business philosophy?
Saving the world one bee at a time. If the honeybee disappears then instantly we would lose 30 percent of our food supply and then as years go on without the honeybee even more of the food supply would be lost. Artificial (or instrumental) insemination is the best chance we have of selecting bees that can survive these attacks.
When it comes time to retire, is there a family member who will take over for you?
At this point I don’t really know but I hope so. This is truly rewarding work.
How has your business changed?
So far the changes are only positive. We keep developing new products and have fun doing it.
What advice would you give someone thinking about starting a business?
There are two rules I think apply.
1. Only start a business that you are passionate about the products or service you would provide.
2. Find a need and fill that need.