There is nothing average about 17-year-old entrepreneur Mikaila Ulmer, the founder of the Me & The Bees lemonade company, who became one of the youngest self-made millionaires in the country at the age of 11. She had the world buzzing when the then-pre-teen inked an $11 million distribution deal with Whole Foods before turning double digits.
The young business owner, who is about 55 years younger than the average millionaire in the nation, was inspired to start her company when she was just four-and-a-half in 2009, after stumbling onto her great-grandmother’s 1940 flaxseed lemonade recipe given to her family.
Another happenstance, fundamental to her success story, was when the dynamo was stung by a bee twice, prompting her to include an additional honey spin into the mix, enter the concoction into a local kids entrepreneurship fair, and parlay family tradition into a lucrative business, landing her in the 8 percent of all those making seven figures who identify as descendants of slaves.
The CEO and founder says on the product’s website that she became scared of bees after being stung initially, but after some research she overcame that fear and used it as fuel for her future.
Ulmer’s company’s infancy story revealed some fundamental traits many successful business sharks have: displacing fear with proactivity, relying on her support system to help with decisions about her future, and following a natural intuition. For the young girl, this meant embracing the bees.
“I decided to give her beloved lemonade a new twist by adding honey from bees, instead of only sugar,” she said. “That’s how Be Sweet Lemonade was born.”
Her fearlessness is captured in her 2020 book “Be Fearless: Dream Like A Kid” with G.P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers. Part memoir, part business guide, the book is said to share “her personal journey and special brand of mindful entrepreneurship and offers helpful tips and guidance for young readers interested in pursuing their own ventures.” The book received rave reviews from the New York Times.
Now BeeSweet Lemonade can be found in Whole Foods, Target, Costco, Kroger, Publix and many other top market chains. She is currently in 1200 plus stores in seven different states. Her company also has struck up deals with corporate brands to be included in their businesses for clients and staffers, counting Microsoft and the Hyatt hotels as her first non-retail contracts.
The teen has found herself included as one of TIME Magazine’s Top 30 Most Influential Teens and counts former president Barack Obama and former first lady Michelle Obama as fans.
Ulmer doesn’t do it alone. Her father, Theo Ulmer (chief operating bee), and mother, D’Andra Ulmer (chief marketing bee) are hands-on. Her dad serves as the head of operations, production scheduling, and inventory, while her mom is concentrating on building the lifestyle brand.
“One of the biggest challenges that we face over the past 10 years is really funding the growth,” Theo shared in 2020 in a promotional video for Microsoft.
This led the family business, with Mikaila at the core, to the hit ABC show “Shark Tank.” Upon hearing her pitch when she was 9 years old, Shark Daymond John jumped on board to help with the cash and the mentorship to push the brand to its current success.
An awed John spoke about his young protégé, saying, “From running a multimillion-dollar business to making time for her schoolwork, Mikaila will awaken the go-getter in you.”
Additional research informed Mikaila early on that bees are endangered, despite the fact that “one-third of the foods consumed by humans rely on pollination,” she added the idea of “buy a bottle, save a bee,” into her model. This led her in 2016, to create a charitable component to her brand, launching the Healthy Hive Foundation, a nonprofit to which she donates a percentage of her lemonade sales to help save the bees.
“Starting a lemonade stand, I was dreaming big. I was dreaming like a kid of how I can use this lemonade stand to change the world or how can I help save the peace through that,” Mikaila says on the mini-doc profile “We Who Hustle.”