Atlanta, Here We Come!

With such joy, we are excited to announce Bee Downtown will officially be expanding into Atlanta, Georgia in Spring 2018! A few months ago Bee Downtown was selected as one of eight companies to be part of the first cohort of startup to participate in the Engage Venture Fund based out of Atlanta. For those of you that don't know, Engage Venture Fund was created by some of the most influential companies in the world like, Chick-Fil-A, The Home Depot, Cox Enterprises, Invesco, Delta and more. For a fund that is supposed to primarily invest in and accept tech startups, somehow our wild and crazy "beesnees" made the cut. When we got the call we had been accepted into the program, we had less than one week to decide if Bee Downtown was ready and able to expand to Atlanta in 2018. Anyone who knows me knows if it feels right, I like to gun it full speed ahead, and when I get excited about something it can be quite hard to reign me in. With that being said, the idea of getting to partner with some of the biggest companies in the U.S. got me excited about the possibility of what could be, and with an AMAZING team to take care of the hives and partnerships in North Carolina, I set off to Atlanta for the 10 week Engage Program.

In all honesty the first few weeks my excitement faded and was replaced with the fear that Bee Downtown didn't belong. With all the other companies being technology startups, it was so hard for me to keep up with the jargon and all the acronyms flying around our co-working space. I was completely out of my element and was terrified these large corporations wouldn't be interested in "the bee company". However, anyone that's reading this article who is a beekeeper knows the bees have a funny and beautiful way of bringing people together. As I started to have meetings with people at each of these large companies, I began to meet the beekeepers that just so happened to fill the boardroom seats, the CEO offices, and the Innovation teams as core members at each of these companies. My fear faded as the idea of Bee Downtown was embraced and loved by so many new friends and fellow beekeepers I was meeting along this 10 week journey.

 


The bees gave me more than the opportunity to meet with people at the companies, but allowed me to build actual deep relationships and bonds with people I would have never imagined I would.

The bees allowed me work alongside the Head of Innovation for Georgia Pacific at his personal hives, and listen to the story of his multi-generational beekeeping family, while exploring the wax candle collection he kept from when his father was alive and a beekeeper. The bees gifted me the opportunity to extract honey with one of the most influential investors in Atlanta while meandering through his 10 acre garden oasis he and his wife maintain at their house. The bees allowed me to swap honey with a fellow beekeeper the CEO of Chick-Fil-A, Dan Cathy, and filled my heart with joy as we shared how the bees and their complexity remind us of the deep love we have for Christ and how faith is what drives our work as business owners and beekeepers. The bees brought a new friend and cheerleader into my life when I was able to share and learn about the bees the CEO of Invesco and his wife have kept year after year at their house. The bees showed me I was meant to be in Atlanta and that Atlanta was where the bees wanted to be as well.


What most people don't know is that I almost chose to not accept the investment from Engage Venture Fund. Under such a time crunch, with a board that was split on their feelings about an expansion, I was at my breaking point. It was 4:30pm on a Thursday and I had to send in a contract to Engage by

5:00pm to join them in Atlanta the next week to being the program. At 4:30pm I was sitting in my startup hub in Durham and was crying because I didn't know what to do and felt like no matter what, I was going to let someone down. An advisor came over and said, "Leigh-Kathryn, I think you need to go for a walk to clear your head. You have a lot of people giving you their opinions, but this is a decision YOU need to

 make". So, I mindlessly started walking around Downtown Durham and before I knew it, I was standing in front of our clear beehive at the front door of Burt's Bees looking at the bees.

I realized in that moment I had asked everyone what I should do, except for the one group I really should have ...the bees.

It might sound silly, but just like Dan Cathy and I talked about, spending time with your hive can be very much so a religious experience, and so I asked the bees what they wanted me to do. Everything we do at Bee Downtown at it's core is for the bees, so there I was standing in front of a hive half praying, half pleading for the bees to give me some sort of answer.

Right as I started to close the door and walk away from the hive a woman walked up to me from around the corner and said, "Are you the young woman that started Bee Downtown? I just saw you in a news article in Atlanta and my daughter and I have been following your story for over a year now! Your courage and drive to change the world has inspired us both and I truly hope my daughter grows up to be as brave of a young woman as you are one day." Well at that point I started bawling in front of a woman I didn't know, told her how much her words meant to me, smiled as I thanked the bees for answering me, and took off running to sign the contract to expand to Atlanta, because in that moment I remembered why I started Bee Downtown. I started Bee Downtown to make a difference in the world and if Bee Downtown could inspire so many people in Raleigh/Durham just imagine what it could do in a city like Atlanta.

 


So while Engage was one of the toughest things Bee Downtown, and I personally, have ever been through, it was also one of the most rewarding experiences as well.

Even in times of doubt, the bees were quietly hard at work building bridges and connections for Bee Downtown to so many wonderful companies, and because of their efforts and the kindness we were met with from so many wonderful corporations, next spring we will be partnering with some of the largest companies in the world to create a true and lasting change.

It is with so much excitement the Bee Downtown team begin to prepare for an upcoming year, 4 months ago we could have never imagined. To all the companies, friends, partners, and advocates for Bee Downtown, we are truly and eternally grateful for believing in us and loving the bees so well. We cannot wait for all that is in store next year!

--With Love--

Leigh-Kathryn Bonner
Founder/CEO, Bee Downtown