Anyone who has been paying attention knows the honey bee population is in decline, and the loss of the bees’ pollination role could spell disaster for the food supply. While scientists search for the cause of the colony collapse disorder that first became apparent in 2006, small business owner Dave Hunter is working to alert people to a partial solution: mason bees.

Mason bees are not the generalists that honey bees are – certain types prefer certain plants - but they are efficient. Scientists estimate that one foraging female mason bee can equal the pollinating power of 100 honey bees. And, unlike honey bees, more than 130 species of mason bees are native to North America.

Through his business, Crown Bees, Hunter uses the Internet to recruit an expanding army of backyard gardeners to help fortify the nation’s mason bee population. The situation isn’t dire, Hunter said, but it could be in five to 10 years - and then it might be too late.

"I’m doing something about it now,” Hunter said. "This is the food on our table.”

Business advisor helps see the big picture

Hunter was director of real estate for DHL/Airborne Express until the recession upended his corporate career. Already passionate about bees, he began considering if he could make a career out of promoting them.

While he was pretty sure he could, he also sought the expertise of Peter Quist, a certified business advisor with the Washington Small Business Development Center (SBDC) in Everett. The statewide SBDC network is a partnership of Washington State University and others.

"As a company of one, I have to succeed,” Hunter said. And, he said, working with Quist improved his odds because suddenly he had an objective business advisor to help him see the big picture and point out potential problems or gaps in his business plan.

"If you know your strengths, you should be able to run a company,” Hunter said, "but if you know your weaknesses, you can be successful.”

Creating success that flows downstream

Near the start of their working relationship, Quist suggested Hunter read "The E-Myth,” by Michael Gerber.

"It’s a beautiful book and it gave me great insights,” Hunter said, including the fact that simply having a good idea isn’t enough.

One problem for Crown Bees is that raising mason bees is a seasonal business. Together Hunter and Quist discussed ways to manage cash flow and the myriad other issues involved in owning a small business that’s looking to expand, including tax implications and marketing.

Yes, Hunter wants his business to be successful. But what he’s really trying to do is create a tipping point where not only is he successful, but his customers are successful. That will lead to farmers being successful and North America continuing to enjoy an abundance of diverse fruits and vegetables.