Apart from bees being reared to produce honey they also produce sweet sticky substance. Moreover, bees are essential insects that contribute to the global agriculture for due to their role in pollination. However, the diseases and climate change affects their ability to carry out their part well. For instance, winter hive losses rose to 44% between 2016 and 2017 in Tunisia. These challenges are what led to Khaled Bouchoucha venture into what he refers to as agripreneur. Bouchoucha has come up with an electronic device to measure hive temperature, humidity and many more. This has allowed experts to monitor the health of the bees. But he never succeeded in his two years move to fix Airbuses for $300 for every month, so he decided to call it off in 2014. He then decided to launch IRIS technologies in 2016.
He first developed an interest in apiculture in 2011 when it was challenging for his father to manage the 50 hives that were under his ownership. During his time at National Engineering School of Monastir, he told his dad that he was in a position to design technology to monitor the hive. No one took the idea seriously, and it never came to be until he became an entrepreneur and decided to resurface the concept. Together with his engineers, Bouchoucha came up with Smart Bee which is a card designed with sensors that relay brood temperature and various measurements to the clouds. The information conveyed allows the company’s employed vets to advice beekeepers on methods of optimizing hive health. The cards are bought for $137 which comes with five years monthly vet visits. Beekeepers need to have one card for five hives.
According to the founder, the move helps in the increase in the production of honey by 40% and the hives by 25%. Moreover, the honey is of high quality since they alleviate the need for sugar feeding or medicine increasing the prices leading to high profit. But it is challenging when it comes to getting beekeepers to invest. According to Bouchoucha, the hardest part of it is convincing beekeepers to use the technology. He added that it is easier for him to satisfy a large microfinance institution compared to convincing a beekeeper. The beekeeper will follow once the institutions are convinced. This forced him to present the technology to Agency for the Promotion of Investment in Agriculture (APIA) back in 2016. One person to be impressed by the innovative ideas and professionalism of Bouchoucha was Monia Ben Romdhane a director of the program that helps entrepreneurs. APIA together with German Agency for International Cooperation (GIZ) shortlisted the Smart Bee for the pilot project known as an innovative pilot apiary. The project will run for three years and will host ten beekeepers across Tunisia in an agricultural incubator.
IRIS keeps an eye on the hives, certifies the collected honey and trains the beekeepers. All these are under the supervision of a specialist from APIA. Ben said that they are looking forward to designing a new way to national beekeeping using IRIS Technologies. She added that the beekeeper is now a promoter of agriculture. Bouchoucha is now getting his business to the people through different platforms. According to his LinkedIn page, he says that he is one of the most awarded entrepreneurs in Tunisia. The statements are supported by various honors including Qatar Friendship Fund’s Tech Entrepreneur of the Year (2015) and Total’s Startupper of the Year (2016). Apart from that, he is also skilled in sweet talking investors for money. He got around $63,000 in 2015 by presenting to Tunisian based investment fund startup Factory and IntialQ. Moreover, CAPITALease gave him $45,000 in the same year. Tunisian Startups’ founder Amel Saidane said that startups currently are only able to get such amount of funding at the seed stage. Investors are claiming 50% ownership of the Smart Bee. According to him, that is a disadvantage to him, and he is working on fixing it. But he is keeping in mind that the funding is what helped him to develop the technology.
Attempts to build the company’s prototype did not succeed for three times. According to the founder they sourced for industrial partners that could build their system using existing components and did not work out each time. They ended up finding CME a startup that works together with IRIS engineers to develop various components that could communicate well with their software. IRIS currently has a contract to supply a Switzerland based Green Bird Trading with 10 tons certified honey. This is 2 tons above honey exported by Tunisia in 2017.
Bouchoucha grew up with her younger sister in a middle-class family. His mother is still a teacher of French while his dad is a retired teacher of Mathematics. Both did not understand their son’s ambition of becoming an entrepreneur. However, he believes that they have seen his moves and they are proud of the steps he has taken so far. According to his GIZ partner Peter Lappe, Bouchoucha is a, but he is concerned about his state of health. He added that the founder is currently working on registering his firm in Europe and 100 Omani beekeepers to secure more funding internationally. Furthermore, he is targeting the emerging markets within Africa beginning with South Africa and Ethiopia. Bouchoucha is looking forward to selling IRIS Technologies and come up with other firms that use technology to improve agriculture.