Photo courtesy Bird Box Science

Photo courtesy Bird Box Science

Bellevue held its annual Startup Weekend Oct. 24-26, and Bird Box Science walked away with the grand prize. But what made this team, led by Montana resident Doug Bonham, stand out from its competetors?

“We had a very clear and important mission. These four individuals got it immediately and came running. It was a perfect fit from the get-go,” Bonham says. “I eavesdropped and saw what was going on in other teams and they blew the whole weekend discussing mission, whereas I was able to clearly communicate what we wanted to do and why we wanted to do it. I stood back and let them do the magic.”

In short, Bonham’s mission is to bring science to Americans’ backyards.

“It’s my belief that Americans do not know what science is, and they don’t know how it works, and they don’t know how easy it is to participate if they have the right tools,” Bonham says.

Everyone loves critters that live in backyards, Bonham says. To help people better understand the birds in their yard, he developed a birdhouse fitted with a camera and sensors measuring movement, temperature, and humidity. His bird box costs $89. The camera and sensors build a long-term database far more comprehensive than human reporting could produce. Because the information is collected and stored electronically, the data would be more trustworthy than hand-entered observations.

White-headed woodpecker. Photo courtesy Teresa Lorenz

White-headed woodpecker. Photo courtesy Teresa Lorenz

Teresa Lorenz, a Ph.D. student and bird researcher at the University of Idaho, studies white-headed woodpeckers around Yakima and advised Bonham on his birdhouse project. Lorenz said the birds are picky about their living situation and prefer to excavate their own nests, but the small cameras and sensors would be ideal to collect data.

“We would note all parental visits, nocturnal behavior (most birds don’t really sleep, but remain at least partially awake at night), and visits by predators to nests,” Lorenz wrote in an email. “Avian researchers have wanted something like this for decades.”

Bonham’s bird boxes not only could provide entertainment for backyard birdwatchers; they might have a scientific impact, as well.

“The number of questions that could be investigated with Doug’s cameras seem endless because there is no comparable device on the market right now. It would not matter if the cameras were placed by researchers, children, or bird enthusiasts in their backyard,” Lorenz says.

Bonham knows the science, technology, and biology behind the product. Now that Startup Weekend has concluded, he’s looking for a business partner.

“I do not have a clue about business,” he says. “I need someone who can guide through the funding and business development.”

Bonham attempted to participate in a Startup Weekend event in Kalispell, Mont., but was unimpressed with the the organization and level of talent at the event.

“I knew that if this was going to get off the ground, it needed to be where the business and technical talent was,” Bonham said.

Bonham originally was interested in developing his bird-observation product at the University of Montana, but since has recognized the talent pool he would need is in the Seattle area, not Montana.

“The incredible talent, creative and business talent that I met during (Startup Weekend) really opened my eyes,” Bonham said. “To do it right, with a team who knows how to launch something like this, it really needs to be here.”