This 11-Year-Old Lemonade Entrepreneur and Honeybee Advocate Inks Major Distribution Deals While Focusing on Giving Back
At some point during childhood, most kids beg their parents to help them set up a ramshackle lemonade stand in front of their house, hocking watery and tasteless drinks to generous neighbors and family members. Typically, this entrepreneurial spirit doesn’t last, and kids get bored and look for the next fun game – rarely do children take this early inspiration and turn it into a business. Lucky for us, Mikaila Ulmer is not like most kids.
When Ulmer was just four years old, she was brainstorming about her entry into a children’s business competition when she was stung by a bee twice in one week – and inspiration struck.
Ulmer tells NBCBLK,“I didn’t enjoy the bee stings at all. They scared me. But then something strange happened. I became fascinated with bees. I learned all about what they do for me and our ecosystem. So then I thought, what if I make something that helps honeybees and uses my Great-Granny Helen’s recipe?”
Serendipitously, Ulmer’s great grandmother Helen had recently passed along her recipe for lemonade made with flaxseed, mint and honey – and BeeSweet Lemonade was born. She started making the rounds at local business events and her lemonade sold out quickly.
From the beginning, her business model was about more than just selling lemonade – it was about giving back. Ulmer donates a portion of the proceeds to organizations that protect endangered honeybees like Heifer International, Texas Beekeeper’s Association and Sustainable Food Center.
In March of 2016, Ulmer’s hard work paid off. During her appearance on Shark Tank, she accepted a $60,000 offer with Shark Daymond John, and from there, her success skyrocketed. She promptly inked an $11 million distribution deal with Whole Foods for her lemonade to be sold in 55 stores in Texas, Arkansas, Oklahoma and Louisiana, and another rumored multi-million dollar deal with UNFI (United Natural Foods). She has also been honored as a Top 10 Black Innovator at the South by Southwest Festival, made an appearance on NBC’s Today Show, hung out with President Barack Obama at the White House State Dinner and carved out time to help her friends start their own businesses.
Despite her successes, Ulmer has stayed grounded and only works on her business after she is done with her schoolwork. Her mother shared with Essence Magazine, “Every weekend she does something that she enjoys. It may be rollerblading this weekend, sleepover this weekend. You create a balance because she is working as hard as she is playing.”
When asked what advice she would give to other budding entrepreneurs, Ulmer says, “You can still ‘BeeSweet’ and be profitable. So when I started BeeSweet Lemonade, I thought I would have to choose between making money and helping save the bees. And over time, I realized I could do both and be what is called a social entrepreneur.”
With Ulmer’s sunny attitude, commitment to giving back and tireless work ethic, BeeSweet Lemonade is likely just the first step in a long and successful business empire.