University of Eastern Finland PhD students, Arezoo Rahmani and Vijay Burman, participated in the YUFE Accelerator Programme hosted by the University of Antwerp in March. Their business, WonderBee OY, was selected alongside eight other high-potential start-ups from across Europe to be part of this innovative experience.

WonderBee is the brainchild of our founder Arezoo Rahmani. As part of her PhD in Applied Physics, Arezoo participated in a business development course where she was tasked with forming a business idea, building a team, and pitching for investment. As a keen beekeeper, she had witnessed the devastating impact of dry summers in her home country of Iran on bee colonies and the annual harvests relying on the pollination process. So, she decided to address this issue and began to form a small team to support the development of a specialist feed for bees – nutrition expert Ratika Sehgal (PhD Translational Medicine) and business strategist Vijay Burman (PhD Economics).

WonderBee is a pollen substitute that can be used during emergency periods across the world as dramatic climate change is increasingly experienced globally. We have created pollen patties that support nutrition and have a probiotic effect on the gut health of bees to boost their immune system. Our product has undergone the Research and Development stages and is ready to enter the Finnish market.

Our university works in collaboration with Business Centre North Savo, a network of organisations supporting innovation and entrepreneurship regionally. This connection has been fundamental in developing our business, by supporting the evolution of the idea and equipping us with the knowledge needed for investment readiness. University staff at the centre were involved in coordinating the YUFE Accelerator Programme and encouraged us to participate to help prepare us for the launch stage of the business.

The Accelerator Programme allowed us the opportunity to work with a team of expert coaches from across the YUFE partner institutions on various workshops specific to developing the skills of entrepreneurs. Topics such as understanding the customer journey and creating a marketing and branding strategy supported the adjustment in focus that we needed from product development to fundamental business strategy.

The Pimento Mapping workshop provided the ideal tool to reflect on how far we’ve come, where we are now and what we need to prioritise to move forward. By analysing our consumer journey, we gained greater insight into the behaviour patterns of our customer base and the logistical considerations for managing both our B2B and B2C operations.

Participating in the Accelerator Programme was hugely beneficial for us.  Hearing first-hand accounts of entrepreneurial journeys from University of Antwerp alumni was genuinely inspiring. Those sharing their stories were engaging and honest and talked us through their challenges and how they were overcome. We also appreciated the chance to work alongside our peers from other universities, to share ideas and enhance our knowledge of other European markets. Building our network in this way improved the immersive experience of the programme and boosted our motivation to succeed.

We have participated in accelerator programmes such as this previously within our locality, but in comparison, the experience was limited due to COVID restrictions. Fortunately, during this event we got to meet other participants from different EU countries, exchange our ideas, and extend further collaborations. Furthermore, participating in the YUFE Accelerator Programme also helped us with access to an international team of professional staff, introducing us to new approaches to entrepreneurship theory and interactive methods of applying it to our business plans. We recommend the experience to any aspiring entrepreneur ready to amplify their business prospects.