Victoria born and raised Katie Gamble has always been down to initiate and propel positive change. From leadership committees to organizations and starting Open for Change with a friend in high school, her focus has remained consistent. The club focused on supporting the local community with meaningful initiatives. She likes “to follow her passions and be creative”. Her award-winning Nature Bee beeswax wraps embody her commitment to the environment, ingenuity, and workplace culture.
Katie initially took general courses at Camosun before finding the Business Program at UVIC. In 2018, Katie’s last year in Business, Nature Bee was her final project. But she wanted to go further with her concept and connected with the team at the Innovation Centre. They were wildly supportive, plus they offered diverse funding opportunities, learning programs and tools. She joined the Coast Capital Innovation Centre later in 2018. “I was curious to mix my passions in a different way, to have a big impact. I also wanted to brainstorm and learn and share with other entrepreneurs.”
In the early days of Nature Bee, finding the perfect balanced formula was tricky. There was much trial and error. Jojoba is shelf-stable, has a neutral scent and is pliable, producing a smooth, crack-free wrap. The pine resin provides the stickiness, so the wraps hold their shape to pots, bowls, etc. Nature Bee wraps are anti-bacterial and suitable for approximately 300 uses or approximately 9-12 months. To date, Katie has sold more than 750,000 units.
In April 2019, Katie won $2500 for PlanIt with the Innovation Centre. This competition involves submitting a business plan or canvas with a three-five executive summary. For new entrepreneurs, the feedback, support, and cash rewards are invaluable. During Katie’s time with the Business Program, “you are focused on working through the diverse projects getting the project done, but at IC, you can turn your focus on how—How do you scale? How do you source things? Where is growth? What are the next steps? Who are your customers?” The support, communication, and connection that the Innovation Centre extends during but also after program completion were key to Katie and Nature Bee’s ongoing success.
Katie was approached about putting a logo on a wrap. Curiosity piqued, she developed a method to deliver logoed beeswax on 100% cotton, in-house designed, made and assembled wraps. It was a huge success. This increased her market substantially and created an innovative niche to inhabit.
Pre-pandemic, Katie sold Nature Bee at local markets, aligning with her focus on community and sustainability. Now, most sales are online or wholesale. She stresses the importance of recognizing the ebb and flow of business. “You need to try to understand the world and how that impacts your business.” But most importantly, Katie shared that being clear on your why and your values are vital to reinforcing a business’ mission, drive, and ultimate prosperity.
Apart from replacing single-use plastics or aluminum foil, beeswax wraps can be refreshed once they lose their shape and integrity. Nature Bee sells a Nature Bee Beeswax Block to reinforce the wraps. But they are also fully compostable and make fantastic fire starters when you cut them into strips. They must be washed with cold water, and an alcohol-free gentle soap added to the cold water works with a dish brush work when they are especially messy. Lay them out to dry, and they’re ready to go. It’s important to remember to let food cool completely before using them. Raw or cooked meats can be wrapped, but should not touch the wrap directly to avoid contamination, so put them in a bowl first. Also, do not put them in the microwave—the beeswax, oil, and resin mix will melt.
There have been a few bumps along the way, and Katie was pleased to share a few gems regarding starting a small business. “Understand what growth looks like. Don’t grow too fast. Make sure you take care of your staff; they are an incredibly important component of a successful endeavor. My team is the best. Hire on personality, not skills, unless it’s a specific skill required. You can teach skills.” She’s proud of the community she has built with her team and also amazed at the huge partnerships that have come her way.
Nature Bee also sells aligned products, such as eco dishcloths, a kitchen loofah, honey clementine foaming hand soap refill tablets, and product bags. Her customizable wraps have enabled companies and organizations to walk the walk regarding nurturing positive impact. She and her team work hard and are deeply committed to themselves, the local economy, and the world.
“You have to be passionate about what you are doing. You have to understand your why so you can bring people on board. You are the brand for the first bit. But,” she adds, “the business also has to be profitable to continue making an impact.”
In terms of giving back, Nature Bee firmly believes that even one small change can have a major impact. As such, they have partnered and/or supported several non-profits, including the national non-profit Mamas for Mamas, Vancouver Island’s Surfrider Foundation, Lalmba Canada, the Mustard Seed, as well as supporting individuals and community initiatives that resonate with their values.
Reflecting on her time with the Innovation Centre, Katie can’t emphasize enough how wonderful it was and still is to have a great community cheering for you. “They have funding, knowledge, and they sincerely want to help. Plus, if it doesn’t work out, each failure is a learning opportunity that you can drive with you in your future endeavors”.
The Coast Capital Innovation Centre has been made possible through a partnership between the University of Victoria and the Coast Capital Federal Credit Union. Since 2016, Coast Capital has committed over $1.5 million to support entrepreneurs and innovators at UVic.
Written by Gillie Easdon