Leigh-Kathryn Bonner comes from a family of beekeepers.
“When I got to college I wanted to keep bees at my apartment,” Leigh-Kathryn explains.
But when she made this request her apartment complex told her no.
Many people would accept this response and move on. Leigh-Kathryn’s response was to start a company.
The company she started, Bee Downtown, brings agriculture (bees!) into urban spaces to help increase environmental sustainability for companies. Placing a beehive on the rooftop of a building is ideal because it takes up very little space but has a significant environmental impact.
Honey bees have been in perilous decline in recent years. In 2015-2016, the nation’s beekeepers lost 44% of their honeybees. This is problematic because honeybees are a driving factor in much of the nation’s food supply. Almonds, apples, avocados… the list goes on and on.
Bee Downtown’s work to combat the honeybee decline has been phenomenally successful so far. Seventeen beehive locations around the state and millions of bees have been placed through the work of the company.
But this hasn’t come without significant challenge. Leigh-Kathryn was a 21-year-old female, a junior in college, when she started her agricultural company. Both the entrepreneurial start-up world and the agricultural industry are overwhelmingly male-dominated.
She had to fight to be taken seriously.
“I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard someone call my business cute – ‘Oh it’s a beekeeping company, how cute’ – or call me ‘sweetie,’” Leigh-Kathryn, a fourth-generation beekeeper, said.
Leigh-Kathryn recalls setting meetings with potential business partners, only to be walked out on when they heard she was a young woman.
“Growing up, young girls are taught to be kind and sweet. It’s a tough switch to become assertive and confident as soon as you enter the working world,” says Leigh-Kathryn.
But Leigh-Kathryn was not going to let a few doubters stop her from working to build her business. She is continuously positive, and says that for all of the challenging experiences she encountered because of her age and gender, there have been many triumphs.
Leigh-Kathryn’s business partner, Jason, is central to the success of Bee Downtown and fully supports Leigh-Kathryn’s leadership. She’s made business partnerships with companies who appreciated the fact that she is different from the stereotypical entrepreneur.
Leigh-Kathryn says her road has been challenging but overwhelmingly rewarding. For other young girls, boys, or any passionate person who has a great idea to start a company, she offers some advice from her experience building a “bees-ness”:
- Tell your story. “When we pitch it is very planned. We don’t wing it. I take the storytelling piece of Bee Downtown very seriously.” People connect to story much more than they do numbers and data. Figure out what your story is, find a compelling way to tell it and then share it. “That is what people connect to.”
- Learn how to command a presence. “I was put in contact with a coach to help how I stand, what I do with my hands.” Do not sway. Do not play with your hands. “Put your hands down by your side and look like you command a presence for something you know you deserve.”
- Believe. “Whatever you set your mind to, if it is your passion, you can be successful in it.”
From wanting to keep her family’s agricultural tradition alive at her college apartment, to starting and running a thriving company with the goal of expanding worldwide, Leigh-Kathryn is not only a genuine steward of our community’s precious honey bees, but a world changer: “Our hope is to create a community, just like a healthy hive, so that in working together, we can collectively create lasting change in the world that we are proud to be a part of.”