As far as hobbies go, beekeeping isn’t necessarily one of the first ones that comes to mind — unless you’re Jon Dudzinski, James Wiciak and Scott Haskins, the co-founders of Bee Bella, an Oshkosh-based business that sells handcrafted lip balm.
“We were just looking for a hobby to support the honeybees locally,” Dudzinski says.
The trio started small with only five hives the first year, but it wasn’t long before they pooled their funds to build 100 more. Despite that investment, the group didn’t set out with the intention of starting a business together.
“Initially, the design of the business was to generate enough revenue off the honey and have a hobby that pays for itself and supports the local ecosystem,” Dudzinski says.
But Dudzinski also admits the three tend to dream big, and they eventually noticed an opportunity to turn their hobby into a viable business. They officially formed Bee Bella LLC in 2015.
Today, the company produces high-quality lip balm made from Fair Trade Certified ingredients and, of course, locally sourced Wisconsin beeswax. Its balms are available in several varieties ranging from lavender vanilla to pumpkin spice as well as tinted versions.
The friends (who also happen to be roommates) are proud of the products they create and remain actively involved throughout the entire process.
“We like to say we’re involved from the flower to the tube,” Dudzinski says. “What that means is we take care of the bees and we work with them throughout the year. We harvest the honey at the end of the season, which in the process means we harvest the beeswax.”
Dudzinski says this level of involvement is rare when compared with other similar products on the market where the beekeepers usually have no part in the product formulation or production.
“Our heart and soul goes into the creation of our product, from the time we spend in the field with our bees to sourcing our Fair Trade ingredients,” Dudzinski says.
The three are fulfilled by the work they’re doing to support honeybee research. For those unfamiliar with the honeybee epidemic, they’re dying at a rapid rate, which presents a major threat to the ecosystem and even our own food supply.
“The epidemic was all over the news about five or 10 years ago, and it’s rarely talked about now,” Dudzinski says. “That’s why one of our goals is to make sure the problem stays in the public consciousness.”
Not only does the company’s product support local honeybees, Bee Bella also works with U.S. Department of Agriculture research teams and the University of Minnesota Bee Lab to get a better understanding of what’s happening with the honeybees.
For something that started as nothing more than a hobby, the journey into business ownership has been rewarding for the group. Their lip balm continues to gain traction and is available for purchase on the company’s website, through local retailers and in regional Whole Foods stores.
With that growing buzz, the three don’t intend to slow down anytime soon. They’ve set a goal to distribute to more Whole Foods stores and other high-end grocery stores and retailers around the country within the next five years.
“We want to become a nationally known brand,” Dudzinski says. “That’s a way to continue reminding people that the honeybee epidemic has not been solved.”