Mikaila Ulmer, 14, counts the time she introduced U.S. President Barack Obama at a Women's Summit in 2016 among her career highlights.

Get Your Lemonade, Here! And Business Tips from Mikaila Ulmer

The lemonade stand, a favorite activity for enterprising kids who hope to make some cash selling a cold refreshment during the hot summer months, scored a victory in the U.S. state courts last week. Gregg Abbott, the governor of Texas, signed HB 234 into law – otherwise known as the “Save Our Lemonade Stands” bill. With the new law, Texas joins Utah and Colorado in allowing young entrepreneurs to operate a temporary business without a license.

Testifying in support of the bill was a teen entrepreneur from Austin, Texas, who was only four and a half when she set up her first lemonade stand — a true startup that has since grown into a family empire.

Mikaila Ulmer, 14, is the founder of Me & the Bees Lemonade, a company that makes and sells bottled lemonade (from a family recipe that uses honey and flaxseed) and donates a percentage of the profits to help save the honeybees. The recipient of many small-business honors, including a $60,000 investment from Shark Tank star Daymond John and an $810,000 infusion of capital in 2017 from a group of NFL players and businessmen, Me & the Bees is sold in Whole Foods Market, as well as restaurants and other locations.

A self-described social entrepreneur, educator and student, these days Ulmer frequents spots on entrepreneurship panels and leads workshops to talk about her business and her passion to help save the honeybees.

“My biggest lesson about money is simple and has not changed since I was four and a half. Give, save, spend — in that order.” — Mikaila Ulmer

KWHS recently caught up with Ulmer after she wrapped up a trip to the Social Innovation Summit in Los Angeles, where she closed the two-day event talking about her insights into brand purpose and the power of Generation Z purchasing. Ulmer has undoubtedly become a resounding voice for youth-inspired entrepreneurship. With that in mind, we asked the ‘Bee CEO’ to provide us with some valuable lessons from her past decade of business development and ownership.

Brand. “The beverage industry is very competitive and difficult to succeed in,” observes Ulmer, whose mom D’Andra leads the company’s marketing efforts. “I compete by being authentic to the brand and never, never forgetting why I started my business: To save the honeybees. Honestly, I would like my brand to be known around the world and I would like to create a Me & the Bees line, very similar to the Hello Kitty brand. Besides my lemonade, I just started with a new line of lip balms.” 

Scale. Scaling a business means finding ways for it to grow while still controlling costs and other expenses. A turning point for Me and the Bees came in 2015, when the company won a contract to supply Whole Foods Market. This followed many smaller, yet significant steps, says Ulmer. “My first scale up was when I was just five and decided to upgrade from a hand juicer to an electric Juicer,” recalls Ulmer. “My second scale up was when I was nine and decided to purchase already-squeezed lemon juice. I learned at an early age that scaling is important to grow your business.  Each decision to scale allowed me to produce more lemonade faster, which allowed me to have more customers. I went from one store in Austin, Texas to over 1,000 stores in 40 states across the U.S. Today, my product is manufactured by a large co-packer and we produce thousands of gallons at a time.    

Finance. “My biggest lesson about money is simple and has not changed since I was four and a half. My dad taught me lessons about money,” notes Ulmer, whose father, Theo, is CFO of Me and the Bees in charge of operations and finance. “Give, save, spend — in that order. Give: donate money to make a difference. I also give to my church. Save: I set aside money for college and the future. Spend: I love buying my own things and not having to ask my parents for money…all the time.” 

Mission. The bees have always been a part of Ulmer’s business. When she was four, she was stung by two bees in a week and started to research them. “I learned that they were incredibly important pollinators and dying at an alarming rate,” says Ulmer, who has grown into a true bee ambassador, often educating groups about how bees pollinate crops, help flowers to grow and face diseases and other global threats. The Beelieve Blog on her website addresses bee conservation and other environmental topics. “When I have a challenging day, if I know I saved a bee or inspired someone to be an entrepreneur, I know I am making a difference. I’ve been working hard not only to donate a portion of the proceeds [from lemonade sales] to help save the honeybees, but also speaking to Gen-Z who have, in my opinion, a more social/activist mindset. Two years ago, I started my own nonprofit called the Healthy Hive Foundation, where I help save the bees through education, preservation, and research. And currently we’re working on a pretty cool project with Microsoft to add technology to the mix!”

Funding. Mikaila is also a big advocate for women in business. “There has been an increase in women taking the leap to start selling products and services,” she says, noting that Inc. magazine reports that every day in the U.S., women start about 849 new businesses. And in the past 20 years, the number of women-owned firms has increased 114%. “Yes! I wish it were not so hard for women to fund their businesses. I have difficulty funding the growth of my business. So, there needs to be less bias in the investment industry. As a result, I would like to become an angel investor and help fund women and minority-owned businesses.”

Passion and Purpose. While building a business has been a lot of work, Ulmer has had many memorable moments. Among her favorites: a trip to Cape Town, South Africa with Dell Women’s Entrepreneur Network, and introducing U.S. President Barack Obama at the United States of Women Summit in Washington, D.C., in 2016. “The most successful companies are those where the founders are truly interested and love what they do,” suggests Ulmer, who plans to attend college and leverage all her entrepreneurship skills during her life after high school. “Find something you love to do and figure out a way to make it a business while also giving back to your community. The more passionate you are about your company, the more fun you’ll have while running it.”

Conversation Starters

As a social entrepreneur, Mikaila is passionate about both profits and the environment. Why is she driven to champion bee conservation? Using her website, as well as the "Bee Economy" article in the Related KWHS Stories tab, research honeybees and discover the purpose behind her business mission.

Mikaila says, "There needs to be less bias in the investment industry." What does she mean by this and how does she plan to be part of the solution?

Mikaila has visions of making Me and the Bees as popular as brands like Hello Kitty. Do you think she can succeed? How would you help her build her brand awareness, brand identity and brand loyalty?

4 thoughts on “Get Your Lemonade, Here! And Business Tips from Mikaila Ulmer

  1. It’s all about purpose! We’ve all probably watched Simon Sinek’s video, and just like Apple, Mikaila really works from inside the circle to out. Considering the purpose first is arguably the most important in businesses today. The purpose/mission is absolutely the core to everything that is done related to the business and can really distinguish the business from similar products (in this case, lemonade, which is nearly a homogeneous good). Without purpose, competition would be really different and it’ll be harder to distinguish between products.

    Of course, this is not to say that the good itself and quality of good doesn’t matter. They do, as these are the first things people notice. However, when you move on from that initial superficial thought and actually seeing the impact of your actions, that’s when the purpose for the firm really kicks in. And yep, consumer loyalty is easily captured this way. (Well, for me at least – that’s why I use Ecosia for tree planting instead of other search engines. I’ve read the financial reports for Ecosia carefully & spoken to sustainability educators and evidence has shown Ecosia is legitimate with donating lots of profits to trees.)

    Honeybee conservation is quite popular in society today as we slowly start to research & realise honeybees’ tremendous contributions to society. Positive externalities of scale and ‘free labour’, some put it this way. I’m an advocate for all service/sustainability issues, and would definitely like my honey!

    1. You make a marvelous point, Harry! A dedicated mission provides the driving force behind a successful business, and it can generate a positive wave of change. A thoughtful mission manifests itself in the product, and it reflects a certain authenticity. It’s very fortunate that so many people & organizations are raising awareness towards the importance of honeybees, as well as the endangerment surrounding them. The fusion between a quality business & an earnest pursuit on behalf of the honeybees is definitely worthy of all the buzz!

  2. I found Mikaila’s business to be very inspirational. Mikaila is very passionate about conserving the bees for many reasons, mainly because of her personal connections to them. She got stung by a bee twice when she was very young and feared them. She became convinced that she needed to overcome this fear. Starting her lemonade business increased her interaction with the environment. Her family encouraged her to learn more about bees. She realized that bee populations are severely declining. Every winter, a stunning 45% of their hives are lost due to Colony Collapse Disorder caused by pesticides, climate change, and parasites. Colony collapse disorder is when most of the worker bees in a colony disappear. What’s left behind is the queen bee, some food, and some immature bees to be taken care of by a few nurse bees. The bees have been losing their habitats. Once Mikaila had learned more, she knew that they needed saving. Additionally, her grandma’s lemonade recipe would not be unique if it did not contain flax seeds and honey. Bees are necessary for honey to exist and pollinate many important crops, contributing greatly to the economy and helping their offspring survive as well. Consumers have a large demand for honey and because of colony collapse disorder, beekeepers cannot meet their demands. Humans all over the world will not have enough food to eat, especially since bees pollinate ⅓ of food. World hunger would increase if it wasn’t for bees. Farmers are being forced to pay 20% more just to rent a certain amount of bees for pollination services, so they are losing a lot of money. Mikaila’s businesses would not be successful if bees weren’t there. What’s interesting is that bees pollinate lemon trees and help other species survive. The agriculture industry globally is worth $2.4 trillion and bees contribute to $16 billion of it.

    Her business mission also focuses on increasing people’s awareness about the significance of bees to our daily lives and funding of “women and minority-owned businesses.” Bees are very important in preventing the increase of world hunger. Most people don’t realize this, and I think it is an important factor for Mikaila to consider when growing her business. Overall, I really like Mikaila’s idea. I think she will definitely be very successful given the numerous resources she has, such as the deal she made with Daymond from Shark Tank, her blog, and the Healthy Hive Foundation. However, I think that all of us collectively need to play our parts in saving the honeybees.

    1. Great reflections, Phalguni! I agree that Mikaila’s bee-conservation mission is truly inspiring. It’s so much more than the lemonade sales that will go to help the honeybees; it’s about raising awareness of this problem so that future leaders are able to brainstorm meaningful solutions. Already—after learning Mikaila’s story—I find myself more attuned to the plight of the honeybee. I was excited to read recently that France has banned all five pesticides that threaten the bee population. I’ve also been following the headlines of how politics are reportedly impacting honeybees in the U.S. Trump budget cuts are being blamed for a winter with the most U.S. honeybee colony losses in decades. This could just be political rhetoric. But the more I learn, the better equipped I’ll be to consider all sides of the honeybee dilemma.

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