Turning Problems Into Purpose: Teen Entrepreneur Celebrates 10 Years of Business Success

Jo-Carolyn Goode | 3/13/2020, 10:53 a.m.
On a hot day, nothing beats a nice tall glass of ice cold lemonade. That perfect blend of lemony tartness …
Mikaila Ulmer

On a hot day, nothing beats a nice tall glass of ice cold lemonade. That perfect blend of lemony tartness with the right amount of sweetness is the best pop to any day. Now take that combination and pair it with a child's curiosity and an unfortunate experience and you get a million dollar idea.

Mikaila Ulmer was just four years old when she became CEO of her own lemonade company. Quite different from the millions of children who open lemonade stands across the country since Ulmer's lemonade had a bigger purpose than just learning business skills and making money. She wanted to save honeybees.

A swarm of bees will send anyone running (which you shouldn't do) due to fear of getting stung. However, in Ulmer's case, getting stung by a bee is crucial to her business success story. Around the same time she got stung by a bee twice, she found a recipe for flaxseed lemonade in an old cookbook belonging to her great grandmother Helen.

“I was so lucky to know my great grandmother, who made sure she passed down her wisdom and traditions like her lemonade recipe,” commented Ulmer.

Mikaila Ulmer

Mikaila Ulmer

Ulmer’s first reaction from the first bee sting was naturally a sense of fear of bees. By the time she got stung again her fear turned into curiosity, as she wanted to learn everything she could about bees. She never knew how important their role was in life. Bees play a major role in crop production and a good number of foods we consume would not exist without the pollination of bees. The more research Ulmer did the more she wanted to know. When she stumbled upon how pesticides, climate change, and other factors threaten the life of bees it set off an alarm in her brain. She had to help save the bees but how? Grandma Helen’s lemonade was the fix.

Ulmer thought if she adjusted her grandmother’s recipe using honey from the bees and sold the product that she could use her profits to help save bees. From that spark and her parents’ support, Ulmer got the wheels of her plan in motion for her Me & the Bees Lemonade and it got her all the way in front of Daymond John of Shark Tank. John became one of the investors and great mentors along with family friend and fellow investor Nina Smith. Before her very eyes, her grandmother’s lemonade with extra sweetness from the bee went into high gear with professional bottling, promotions, and high dollar sales. In a few short years, Ulmer’s lemonade started to appear on the shelves of major retailers like H-E-B, Whole Foods, and Kroger.

“It made me smile from ear to ear. “To actually see something that you created to be a product that people want to buy is amazing,” said Ulmer, whose grandmother was also smiling at how the world was experiencing her lemonade. “It was also a bit unbelievable because a drawing of my face was on my very first bottles. Seeing my bottle in a store also widened my view of how large Me & the Bees can grow, and made saving the bees all year round possible.”

Ten years later with five different flavors of lemonade, Ulmer is still in awe of the success and growth of her business and the progress she has made to help save bees. “At Me & the Bees, we are passionate about making sure we keep purpose rooted in our brand. I started my business to help save the bees, by spreading awareness and donating a percentage of our profits to help with bee conservation. Seeing Me & The Bees make an impact, and watching others join my movement motivates me to keep going,” said the teenaged CEO.

Mikaila Ulmer and her mom with former First Lady Michelle Obama

Mikaila Ulmer and her mom with former First Lady Michelle Obama

Since she has been in business for a decade Ulmer has picked up a lot of good advice along her journey from her many mentors along the way. Some of those lessons are:

• Be the person in the room who always has a solution, not a problem. It sets you aside and you’ll be known as that.

• Being nervous/ getting butterflies before something big just means you care about it, take deep breaths.

• Your ambition determines your own success

• Always know your numbers (balance sheets, profit margins, sales)

She shares this advice with other entrepreneurs when she gives speeches around the country. Soon all this advice will be available for all to read in Ulmer’s first book, Bee Fearless, due out this August. Excerpts from the book note business lessons learned like:

-Don’t be discouraged by life’s little stings; get back up and spread your wings - After getting stung by two bees twice in one week then I was four, I chose not to be afraid of them. I learned that they were dying and I started a business to save them and we’ve continued to scale and grow ever since.”

-Believe in the power of “ouch.” - There will always be times when life presents challenges. If we take the time to tap into the power of learning from them and turn negatives into positives, we will be stronger and stronger and evolve to something bigger and better.

-Stop procrastinating. Start pollinating. - I like this saying because, to me, the word pollinating could mean to start spreading positivity, great ideas or actively showing by example how to make a difference.

-I’m a bee-liever. - If you find a cause or a purpose to support and really believe in it with passion as I believe in saving the bees, you will make a bigger difference. When I learned the bees were dying as a young child, I was determined to help them and that determination has become my calling as a social entrepreneur ever since.

“It’s important to “bee fearless,” Ulmer says. “I like to say "Bee fearless. Bee the change,” because having the courage to spark change, and to actually be the change is critical. If we all motivate each other to be fearless and brave no matter what the challenge, we can make the world a better place.”

Because of Ulmer, more and more bees are being saved. Despite all she has done, she knows there is still much work ahead. “We have supported lots of efforts over the years from community gardens to research. In 2018, I created the Healthy Hive Foundation, a non-profit organization dedicated to saving the bees through research, education, and preservation. The latest research we helped fund was a study with San Francisco State University to learn the impact that the California wildfires have had on the bee population,” she said.

As her bottles fly off stores’ shelves Ulmer continues to buzz around talking about the importance of bees’ existence to our world. She set to serve on a panel this month before Congress to advocate for bills that support budding entrepreneurs. She will also hold a workshop in conjunction with the Disney Dreamers Academy, Steve Harvey, and Essence Magazine.

Ulmer’s story is one of where there was a problem and she found a solution to solve it. Continue to be a rescuer for bees, a lifesaver of dreams, and a trailblazer for pushing through all barriers as you relish in the sweet life of bees.

Find lemonade recipes and more about Ulmer and her Me & the Bees Lemonade by logging on to meandthebees.com.