April 9, 2021

131: Wings | Fiona Edwards Murphy and ApisProtect

131: Wings | Fiona Edwards Murphy and ApisProtect

Fiona Edwards Murphy, co-founder and CEO of ApisProtect, shares her story on channeling her technology expertise into a passion for helping beekeepers, her transition from academia into the life of a startup founder, raising ApisProtect’s first round, building a customer base looking after 20mn bees…and playing the bagpipes!

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MoneyNeverSleeps is sponsored by PAT Fintech, the training partner that demystifies fintech and digital finance for financial services professionals.

ApisProtect is an Irish tech startup using unique, innovative bee monitoring technology to help beekeepers prevent losses and increase productivity in their hives. Just this week, Fiona was named to the Forbes 30 Under 30 Europe list for 2021, and ApisProtect was recently featured in CNN (video here).    


On Fiona’s attraction to IoT: “I really just fell in love with using sensors in the real world to achieve meaningful things. You're taking all of these concepts that you've learned about to get those sensors out to the real world, give people information that they don't have already and get meaningful results.”

On the intersection of IoT and beekeeping: “Someone who ended up becoming one of my PhD advisors told me a story about how the very first time he used sensors in his entire life was in the winter in Romania, where he grew up, where his dad was a bee farmer. And they used to go out in the middle of winter with stethoscopes and listen to all of the beehives and try to work out which ones were alive and which ones were dead. Because you can't open a beehive during the winter because it's so cold, you'll kill them pretty quickly. So he said, ‘I've been working in sensors throughout my entire life and I've always been thinking can sensors be used for detecting things like which hives are alive during the winter?’.  I just thought that was amazing, and said ‘Can I just do that for my PhD?’”

On the early days of identifying the problem to solve: “Beekeeping works almost the same way as it did back in the middle ages. Before our technology, the last big advancement in beekeeping technology was the invention of the forklift.”

On finding the route to market for her passion: “What we found to be the most impactful thing that we can do with this technology is to help beekeepers reduce losses and increase productivity in their operations.  We work with pollination beekeepers and honey producers, but really, it's the pollination beekeepers that we designed our original product for. It's all about getting technology into beehives and using that technology to help them.”

On the business impact for commercial farming: “If you want to really level up your operation, if you want to dramatically increase the revenue from your farm without having to increase the size or change the crops that you're growing, you're talking about getting your crops to be more effectively pollinated.”

On Fiona’s transition from academia to startup life: “It was a huge culture change in some areas, but at the same time, it wasn't. One of the big similarities between a PhD and being an entrepreneur is that you're doing something that you care about so much that you don't really care if you get paid right now or not. That's absolutely the same. You have to be really passionate to do a PhD, and you have to be really passionate to be an entrepreneur.”

On moving from talking about the technology to talking about the problem: “The most important thing is the problem that you're solving rather than how you're solving it. Everybody's going to assume you're the engineer with a PhD, you know how to solve the problem. It’s about evaluating whether or not you've got a problem worth solving, whether it's significant and valuable enough to solve.”

On connecting with the customer’s true needs: “With the IGNITE Program at UCC,  I spent the first year learning about things like the business model canvas and the whole focus on ‘stop talking about the solution’. If you want to start talking about the problem and truly understand the problem, talk to a pile of customers. Find loads of beekeepers to talk to, get them excited about the product and understand what they want out of a product.”

On putting together the ApisProtect seed round: “Every single one of our investors, it obviously started out with money and getting the money was very important, but way more important than the money was their connections and their experience.”

On the importance of timing for a startup: “It was a combination of a very good product, a very good opportunity, and being the right team to go after it as we had been working in the area since the very early days of bee monitoring technology being a concept. We were in the right place at the right time with the right skill set and it all just came together really well.”

On the business impact for large commercial beekeepers: “First of all, what we focused on is proving out the aspects of our technology that can help them reduce their labor bill. And then secondly, take advantage of that reduced labor requirements to increase the average colony size and their operations.”

On the team effort with product development: “Everybody on the team is involved in the real-world consequences of the products that they're developing. Everybody goes into the field, everybody gets hands-on with a beekeeping operation and installs the technology and uses the technology. There’s a big difference between sitting in an office, designing something and the reality of going out into the field where things are messy and hard to keep track of.  Without the practical understanding of what that's like, I don't think it's possible to design a product and to build a product that works out there.”

On the never-stop-learning realities of a startup CEO: “I often say I learn more in any single six-month period at ApisProtect than I did in eight years at university. That's the nature of the job. You have to understand everything that's going on because at the end of the day, you're responsible for everything.”

Episode title inspired by Wings by Little Simz

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Dr. Fiona Edwards MurphyProfile Photo

Dr. Fiona Edwards Murphy

Co-Founder and CEO, ApisProtect