You probably don’t associate a little girl’s lemonade stand with generating fistfuls of cash, potentially millions. Then again, you probably haven’t heard of Mikaila Ulmer and her popular lemonade, Bee Sweet.
What makes the entrepreneurial spirit of this Texan 11-year-old even more impressive is that she is helping to save honey bee populations in the process.
Mikaila wasn’t always a fan of bees; in fact, after getting stung by the insect twice in one week she developed a fear of them. As a way of helping her get over her fear, her mother suggested she did some research on bees to better understand them. It was during her research on the insects that Mikaila learned of the threat honey bee populations are currently under. Bee populations have been on the decline for over a decade now because of a variety of factors including parasites, pathogens, poor nutrition and sublethal exposure to pesticides resulting in Colony Collapse Disorder. CCD is a syndrome where a colony is essentially dead because it has no adult worker bees but usually a live queen and a few immature bees.
Upon learning of the honey bees’ plight and their impact on our own food chain – honey bee pollination adds $15 billion to the value of U.S. agriculture annually – she wanted to do something to help.
“Last year, beekeepers lost 40% of all their hives. Bees are dying” Mikaila says. She also quotes Albert Einstein: “If the bee disappeared off the surface of the globe, then men would only have four years of life left.”
Mikaila decided that by adding locally-sourced honey to her grandmother’s flaxseed lemonade recipe was a winning combination. She then started selling the lemonade under the title “Me & The Bees” and donating some of her profits to bee conservation efforts.
Soon enough, the young businesswoman was on Shark Tank securing $60,000 in startup cash and securing a deal with Whole Foods that could be worth millions, to sell her lemonade in 55 of the grocery chain’s stores throughout the southern United States.
It’s a lot of work running a new business, but the sixth grader doesn’t seem to mind and is proud of her new venture. “I work on the business after school, after I do my homework, on weekends and during spring breaks,” said Mikaila. “There are not too many times when I feel stressed.”
The business keeps Mikaila busy, leading workshops on how to save bee populations and participating in honorary panels like South by Southwest’s Top 10 Innovators of the Year. Last year, she also had the opportunity to meet with President Obama at the White House Kids’ State Dinner, and this summer will travel to Cape Town, South Africa to speak to young girls about entrepreneurship.
Her mom couldn’t be more proud of the young entrepreneur who is creating new flavors of her lemonade and helping her friends start their own businesses too. “I think she is a pretty hard worker,” said Mikaila’s mother, D’Andra Ulmer. She has a gift for public speaking but what makes me very proud is that she is not only a smart entrepreneur, she’s also a good person and she’s kind to people. That’s more important than business to me.”