August 25, 2021

From Honey Producer to Environmental Activist, AWE Alumna Champions a Buzzing Future for the Dominican Republic

When Suleika Ureña joined the AWE Program, her business was focused around producing and selling honey sticks to local consumers. But her participation in AWE helped her to rethink her business model, and today Mother Bee RD is the first apiary in the Dominican Republic exclusively dedicated to environmental education. The skills Suleika gained through AWE enabled her to turn her dream into reality and to inspire others to learn more about bees.

A self-starter, Suleika began producing honey sticks in her living room based on what she learned from YouTube videos and using store-bought honey. Suleika registered Mother Bee RD in 2018 with the initial idea of producing honey sticks and selling them in gas stations, supermarkets, and liquor stores, and the same year she created the Mother Bee Instagram account. The business took off immediately as people bought her product for their own consumption or for special events.

Despite the business’s early success, Suleika soon realized that the use of prepackaged honey resulted in an inconsistent product. To address this, she connected with a local producer who sold her two hives and linked her to an organization that provides workshops on apiary management and maintenance. Suleika moved the hives to a countryside mission outside of Santo Domingo and painted newly built boxes with her three daughters. Wearing children’s beekeeping suits Suleika bought online, her daughters accompanied her when she maintained and cared for the hives.

The business thrived. While Suleika knew she had something good on her hands, she understood that she needed to continue to grow her skillset, and thus she applied for the AWE program. It was during her AWE program experience that she decided to take her business in a new and innovative direction.

Suleika observed how her daughters lost their fear of bees as they worked on the hives with her. Working with her AWE mentor, she made the decision to transform her business into an educational apiary so that other people would have the opportun ity to see the bees up close and learn the critical role they play in the environment. Her first AWE assignment was to conduct user experiences to test the concept. These first visitors posted about their experience on social media and paying customers soon began to flock to the apiary.

The AWE instructors also helped Suleika look beyond her original market. Mother Bee opened a unit dedicated to corporate social responsibility, where Suleika could explore alliances with private companies. She signed her first agreement with a corporation that sponsors two hives and owns all the honey harvested from these hives. The company used the first harvest of this year as Valentine’s Day gifts for their clients.

In her business plan, Suleika planned to form Mother Bee’s first corporate partnerships in 2021. She is currently more than a year ahead of schedule and relishes that achievement. Profitability has also multiplied by 300 percent. The business expanded from a team of two in 2019 to a current staff of five: Suleika, two beekeepers, a teacher, and a nurse who comes when there are family and school activities.

Mother Bee also no longer produces honey sticks. As Suleika deepened her engagement with beekeeping, she began to pursue a master’s degree in ecology and the environment. It was here that she realized producing plastic products contradicted her stance as an advocate for the environment. While it is no longer a core part of the business, any honey that is produced beyond the hives sponsored by corporate clients is sold in glass jars. Suleika’s husband, one of her biggest supporters and counselors, even helps – after the honey is packaged, he brings the jars to his clients as a gift. He says people in the Dominican Republic are learning more about quality honey through Mother Bee. “My clients every year are waiting for me to bring them that package of honey, and they value it much more than a bottle of wine or a bottle of whiskey.”

Before the pandemic, all of Mother Bee’s activities were in person. As COVID-19 cases rose they halted on-site activities and moved to online meetings and classes. In October 2020, they reopened the family experiences but attendance still has not fully recovered and Suleika is continuing to reconsider the business plan, including a shift to a semi-digital format.

Suleika wants the next generation of beekeepers to be trained with Mother Bee. In 2021, she launched a workshop called “Beekeeping for Beginners” that provides students with the tools, supplies, and information they need to maintain hives. This course was not included in her initial business plan, but she noticed many families placing a higher value on being outdoors and relocating to the countryside during the COVID-19 crisis. The next step is to digitize the course and upload it on her website so interested users can purchase it. She is also developing a course called “The Zoom of the Bees” targeted at primary school students. “When we talk about environmental conservation, we have to educate the minds of those growing up, the next generation,” Suleika told us.

Suleika continues to find the DreamBuilder material extremely useful as she considers how to adapt her business to the pandemic. “When I sit down to rethink everything like right now, I grab my DreamBuilder notebook. All these tools I received allow me to rethink what I am going to do,” she said.

She also highly valued the mentorship component of the program. “Every time I came out of a [mentorship class], I had an assignment to do, and I could see the results almost immediately.” For example, she used to think of digital marketing tools as out of her reach, but after being tasked with sending out mass marketing messages, it has become part of her regular office operations.

The emotional support she received from the AWE Program was also extremely beneficial. The 36 women in her cohort were diverse in terms of age, background, and sector, but as women they faced similar personal and professional struggles. Suleika reflected, “That was one of the things that I also liked a lot: knowing that there is a community of women who are also entrepreneurs, who are in the same boat as you, who have the same challenges... who fall but get up and keep going. Being surrounded by such people is very good for you.” She is proud of how they have all thrived and generated employment because of the AWE Program.

Suleika says that before the AWE Program, her business was just an idea she had in her head, and now it has come to fruition. She is committed to continuing to expand the capacity of Mother Bee – ultimately, her plan is to establish regional educational apiaries throughout the country.

“I want this place to last, and the tools I received at AWE have helped me with that,” she notes.

To keep growing, her primary objective is to identify additional corporate partnerships and to use that revenue to build an extraction room at the mission to grade and package Mother Bee honey. She also plans to create a beehive rescue division that will specialize in safely relocating swarms of bees.

The Academy for Women Entrepreneurs (AWE) is a global initiative led by the U.S. Department of State’s (DOS) Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs (ECA) to support and empower female entrepreneurs across the world. Through an inclusive learning community, participants have opportunities to explore the fundamentals of business, such as preparing business plans and raising capital, with the goal of building a better future for their families and communities. They participate in lessons related to business management and, in addition, they can connect with networks of companies, female entrepreneurs, and mentors in their own regions and the United States.