The buzz surrounding NC State alumna Leigh-Kathryn Bonner’s company isn’t dying down. Since her graduation from NC State’s College of Humanities and Social Sciences in 2015 (International Studies), Bonner has grown her company Bee Downtown to $350,000 in annual revenue — with an impressive new recognition. Bonner, 25, was recently selected as one of Inc.’s 30 Most Inspiring Young Entrepreneurs under 30.
“The selection process for Inc. Magazine has been a truly humbling and exciting experience,” said Bonner. “I would never have thought even just a year ago that this honor and distinction would be possible. As big of a win as this is for Bee Downtown, this honor extends to all of our partners and cheerleaders that have helped us along the way. We cannot wait for all that is in store for us this year!”
Bee Downtown’s goal is to promote healthier honey bee populations through the installation of hives on corporate headquarters. In addition to their beekeeping responsibilities, Bonner and her team work with the corporations to provide employee engagement initiatives, including beekeeping courses, hive tours and free honey. Customers include big names like Burt’s Bees, Delta Airlines, IBM and Chick-Fil-A.
While headquartered in Durham, the company has recently expanded to Atlanta after raising $75,000 from Engage Venture Fund.
Bonner became passionate about solving the honey bee decline while at NC State. She credits an Introduction to Beekeeping course and a study abroad experience as inspiration. Supported by several of NC State’s entrepreneurship programs — Lulu eGames, Miller Fellowship, Social Entrepreneurship Initiative — she founded Bee Downtown.
It might take me twice as long to move a 60-pound beehive, but I’ll do it in high heels and a dress coming out of a meeting with the New York Stock Exchange.
“NC State has stayed with Bee Downtown from the minute they found out about it,” she said. “As a small business owner, to have a university that’s so invested in what you’re doing is huge.”
Upon graduation, Bonner declined a job offer in order to pursue Bee Downtown full-time. She became profitable her first year in business, selling over 50 hives and hiring her first employee. Since then, the company has expanded to four employees and a projected 2018 revenue of $1 million.