An Entrepreneur Worth the Buzz
A typical 7th grader has a lot to worry about. Grades, sleepovers, trends, friends, shopping. Mikaila Ulmer is no typical 7th grader. At 4 years old, she started a company in order to win a competition. At 7, she was selling product around town, and at 9, she scored a deal on Shark Tank. Now, at 12 years old, she is an award-winning business owner on a mission: to save the world by protecting bees.
Don’t be mistaken. She lacks nothing in the way of joyful youth. We met the Ulmer family for ice cream after school, and there were definitely sprinkles involved. But when we sat down in her office to hear her story, the imminent sugar rush transformed into a laser-sharp focus. We learned about how this young entrepreneur plans to save the bees, one sweet sip at a time.
Stepping into business mode, Mikaila tells us the unlikely story behind the lemonade. “I started this company because I got stung by a bee.” She says, “When I was four and a half years old, I signed up for Austin Lemonade Day & Acton Children’s Business Fair, and I needed to create a product. Over the summer I was trying to come up with something, and I got stung by two bees in one week. When I was trying to figure out how to deal with my anger at the bees, my parents encouraged me to do some research about them. I found out how incredibly important they are to our ecosystem and that they are dying. I decided to create a product for the entrepreneur contest that used my great granny Helen's flaxseed lemonade recipe from the 1940s, which also helps save the bees and spreads the awareness that they are dying.”
She continued to teach us, “One reason why we decided to go with flaxseed was that it is really healthy, and you can't taste it in the lemonade at all. It doesn’t have a strong taste but it has strong health benefits. One of those health benefits is that it's packed with fiber and Omega 3s. It helps keep you going and that's why we decided to put it in there. My great granny Helen told us how to use the flaxseed in there, but we can't tell anybody else because it's her recipe and our trade secret.”
Mikaila has served her lemonade at the White House, faced the Sharks on Shark Tank, struck a massive deal with Whole Foods Market, and spoken publicly countless times (once to 15,000 people). Even after all of this, she’s not just a savvy businesswoman and entrepreneur in a kid’s body. She’s still a sweet young girl. When we asked her what motivated her to enter that very first business competition, she shared that she really wanted to buy a toy with the winnings. Her parents, who have nurtured her passion and curiosity from the very beginning, directed her to do things the right way.
“My dad wanted to teach me about finance so he told me to give, save, and spend. I did the math and I'm like, ‘In order to buy this toy then I have to make this much money to give and save, then I get the rest to spend.’ I started off doing it just as a way to earn some revenue, because it was once every year. But after a year, I realized that it was really interesting. I got to learn about finance. Then when I was about six, East Side Pies made me an offer to sell my lemonade at their location, I was like, ‘Wow, I want to make this into a real business.’”
While Mikaila is the creator of Me & The Bees Lemonade, it is a family business. Her parents have nurtured her passion, and even her little brother, Jacob, is creatively involved with the company. He created the ginger flavor and called it “Ninja-Aid.” The venture started as a project of passion, and it has become so much more. It started in their home kitchen, but has expanded rapidly. “First it was getting cute glass bottles, then going to a sticker shop and printing out some labels and getting the twist caps and creating an at-home assembly line. But as we got into more and more stores, the law says we needed to create it in a commercial kitchen. So we went from our home to a small commercial kitchen, then a large commercial kitchen, then we upgraded again and now we're at a huge beveridge manufacturer. It's probably going to get even bigger.”
Mikaila has been incentivized since the very beginning. She has a big heart and a hunger for learning. Most kids would not dream of taking classes to learn about beekeeping. That’s exactly what she did. “Later on I wanted to learn a lot more about the bees so I would be more experienced in my field, so I started taking classes where we got to put on beekeeper suits, go out to the hives, collect honey, and hold the frames. The instructor would point out the queen bee, the workers, where honey is formed and pollen is stored. That was when I got interested in teaching workshops about the bees. I went to a couple camps and taught at Whole Foods Market because it really interested me.”
I kept on teaching workshops and meeting the staff and then the buyers at Whole Foods. We eventually got a purchase order request from them, and we went crazy about it. We put it everywhere on social media. We were jumping up and down because it was so awesome that now we were about to be in Whole Foods Market. We started off in one store. As we grew, we ended up being in all the Whole Foods in Austin and then in Houston, then Dallas, and now we’re available throughout the US in 20 states at natural grocers and cafeterias.”
Of course, Mikaila made a huge splash when she was featured on Shark Tank, which was an unforgettable experience. “We spoke at Austin’s African American Chamber of Commerce, and the person who ran that center was holding a Shark Tank audition. She invited my parents to come and check it out. My parents initially were like, ‘No, we don't want Mikaila’s feelings to be hurt.’ Because on prior shows, the sharks were pretty ruthless. So they didn't want me to go on the show, get my feelings hurt, and want to stop running my business. They said no a couple of times. But I always wanted to go because it was a great opportunity. We did it, and we got past the different rounds, and before we knew it we were trying to figure out our places on the stage right before the sharks came.”
Reminiscing about the experience, Mikaila had a big smile on her face. We asked her how she felt when she was there. “I was nerve-cited. I was nervous and excited because it was a great opportunity, and could give my business great marketing.”
We asked her what advice she would give to someone starting their own business.
“I would say it's hard if you're not having fun, or if you're not interested in it, or if you don't have big dreams for it. If you’re passionate, nothing can stop you from making it happen. That’s the biggest piece of advice I would give to anyone who wants to start a business: don't create a business that you don't have a passion for just because you think it will make a lot of money. It's a lot easier and a lot more fun running a business than to have a company that you're like, ‘Ugh, got to go to work again.’ If you really want it to grow, it will be a great source of money naturally.”
Of course, Mikaila isn’t stopping any time soon. Her vision for the future expands beyond what she can see on the horizon. “We are working on a nonprofit called Healthy Hive to fund important honey bee research because bees are now really dying. We're creating a nonprofit, and then I see myself with national distribution and a whole line of products, and maybe even some small shops or trailers that have a bunch of merchandise. That would be awesome.”
Even more amazing than her wisdom, energy, and her incentive, is her heart. Mikaila Ulmer has a beautiful heart. Sitting across from this articulate seventh grader whose feet barely touch the ground, it’s impossible not to see that the most amazing piece of this equation is her kindness.
She lit up when she shared her joy for giving and shed some insight about how we can make a difference at home. “You can help save the bees at home by supporting local beekeepers by buying local honey. You can plant bee-friendly plants, avoid using pesticide, and spread awareness about the cause, and if you’re afraid of bees like I used to be, you should learn how important they are because it will help you appreciate them. Once you realize they're not really aggressive and they don't want to sting you, you won’t be afraid. And when you buy a bottle, you support the honey bees.”
A portion of the profits from the sale of each bottle of Me & the Bees Lemonade is donated to organizations that save honey bees, so when you buy a bottle, you save a bee. To find out more, visit the website meandthebees.com and find a bottle near you.
Me & The Bees Lemonade is distributed Nationally through United Natural Food Inc. and locally through Farm to Table. If you’d like to stock Me & The Bees Lemonade, email firstname.lastname@example.org.