At four years old, Mikaila Ulmer started a business whose product is now sold in over 1500 stores

BY Preta Peace Namasaba February 26, 2024 5:43 AM EDT

The world is waiting for ingenious entrepreneurs to solve some of the our most fundamental challenges. Sometimes, that entrepreneur shows promise at just four-year-old. For young Mikaila Ulmer, being stung by a bee triggered her creative spirit. She became afraid of buzzing objects but instead of letting the fear control her, she decided to learn more about bees. This was the start of a highly profitable business venture.

“Thinking about it now, it’s a really creative idea. Not only is it healthy, it’s unique, it’s a social business. But at the time as a four-year-old, it was just a product that tasted good, and it would do good and that was it,” Ulmer said of her idea to start a lemonade stand.

Ulmer learned about the importance of bees in the ecosystem and how the planet would be in trouble without them. She discovered that honey bees were in danger of becoming extinct which would have tremendous impact on food production. These revelations didn’t sit well with Ulmer and inspired her to make a change. She decided to set up a stand after coming across her great-grandmother’s recipe for homemade flaxseed lemonade. Instead of using sugar, Ulmer tweaked the recipe and added honey – to save the bees.

In 2009, Ulmer started selling her honey-sweetened lemonade outside her home in Austin, Texas. She saved some of the profit in a piggy bank and donated a percentage to organizations dedicated to protecting honey bee colonies. She continued hosting lemonade stands with word of her unique products spreading across the town. Soon, her stand became a common feature outside of local restaurants and at local youth business fairs.  By the time she was eight, Ulmer was teaching workshops about bees at Whole Foods and other stores.

Ulmer realized that her stand could become an actual business when a local store suggested that her lemonade should be bottled. She took their advice, bottled the product and had her mother deliver the packages to around 25 stores in the Austin area. Bee Sweet Lemonade, a fun play on words became increasingly popular and grew into a booming business. The time to plan for the long haul through scaling up production in a commercial kitchen and trademarking their logo had come.

To expand, the business needed to secure capital.

Ulmer and her father pitched the lemonade business to investors on Shark Tank in 2015. They landed a $60,000 investment deal with Daymond John for 25 percent of shares in the company. But following a lawsuit from a California farming company, Bee Sweet Lemonade rebranded to Me & the Bees in 2016. The company gained immense exposure from appearing on national television. Whole Foods was the the first well-known store to jump on board the Me & the Bees wagon with an $11 million deal.

The company received an additional $800,000 investment from some NFL players in 2017. The support has been immense to Ulmer and Me & the Bees in scaling their capabilities to produce over 12,000 cases daily across a broad product lineup with multiple lemonade flavors such as Classic, Prickly Pear, Ginger, and Iced Tea, among others. In 2019, Me & the Bees Lemonade launched Beeswax lip balms.

Today, the brand is available in 1,500 stores nationwide such as Whole Foods, World Market, The Fresh Market, Kroger stores, and others. It has secured food service deals with Sysco, Sodexo/Sodexo Magic, and Compass, and at airports. Last year in an update, the 19-year-old revealed that Me & the Bees Lemonade has generated more than $10 million in sales.

“Even though I started with lemonade, I always wanted to expand to different products. My dream has always been to be the Hello Kitty of lemonade, and do my brand and my mission but spread over an array of products. I always say that it’s important to dream like a kid and that (as a kid) it’s the perfect age to start figuring out what you enjoy and trying new things and taking risks,”  Ulmer said of her plans for Me & the Bees Lemonade.w

Currently pursuing a bachelor’s in business administration at Emory University in Atlanta, saving the bees remains Ulmer’s priority. She launched the Healthy Hive Foundation, a non-profit organization to help educate, research and protect the dying species. Ulmer has donated over a quarter of a million dollars to organizations such as the Sustainable Food Center, Texas Beekeepers Association, and Heifer International to help save the bees.

She has authored her first book, a memoir that provides readers with helpful tips on pursuing their own ventures. Ulmer has travelled across the U.S. to inspire young entrepreneurs who want to become social founders and make an impact.