When 16-year-old Ulmer was four years old, she asked her parents for a toy her cousin had. Her parents told her she could either do some more chores or find a way to earn some money to buy the toy. Soon after that, Mikaila said she saw a sign for a business fair and decided she was going to find something to sell. She pulled out one of her granny’s old, tattered cookbooks and found a recipe for honey-sweetened flaxseed lemonade. Me and the Bees’ signature lemonade was born, and Mikaila opened her first lemonade stand.
…if you can be sweet to the bees, they would be sweet back.
“I didn’t win any awards, but it was something that I would do once or twice a year,” she said. “I sold out pretty much every event I went to, no matter how much I made, how many lemons I squeezed.”
She had started reading about the bees that made the honey she was using and learned they’re not only great pollinators, they’re also facing alarming population declines.
“One of the things I really liked was telling people facts about the bees,” said Ulmer. “I learned that if you can be sweet to the bees, they would be sweet back. The lemonade was sweetened with honey, and I wanted the takeaway to be for people to be sweet to each other.”
At the age of 9, Ulmer took her brand — then known as Bee Sweet — to ABC’s investment pitch show, Shark Tank. She received a $60,000 investment from FUBU’s Daymond John. At 11, she received an $11M retail deal from Whole Foods.
In 2016, she started a nonprofit, the Healthy Hive Foundation, dedicated to saving the bees through research, education, and protection efforts. She envisioned “using it to actually start a bee aviary so kids can actually suit up, have a hands-on experience with bees and get more experience around them,” to find out why the bees are dying and how everyone can play a part to save them, she said.
But despite the tremendous amount of focus she’s shown to build her multi-million dollar lemonade enterprise, Ulmer said she’s still navigating the same questions, other teens, her age face. “My career choice changes like twice a week,” she laughed, when asked what she wants to be when she grows up. And she has no idea where she wants to go to college, though there’s no shortage of suggestions from well-meaning adults in her life and strangers alike.
“I’m interested in business and pretty good at marketing, and good at philosophy and ethics,” she continued. “But before I can say what I want to be, I want to make sure I’m trying different things, just to see if there’s something else I really enjoy or am good at. … I think it’d be really fun to be a serial entrepreneur.”
She’d like to go to college “somewhere outside of Texas,” for sure, and she’d like someplace with a diverse student population — not just in race, but in the country of origin — and one that prioritizes hands-on learning, she said. But the rest, she’s still figuring out.
She does know she’s passionate about collaborating with other people and working on teams. She describes herself as being “future-oriented,” optimistic, and a good problem solver. She likes learning new things and reading. And food and travel.
At her current school, a residential boarding school in Austin, she has the opportunity to learn alongside students who hail from countries such as Jamaica, Mexico, and Taiwan. She most enjoys cookbook swaps with her classmates that allow her to try new international dishes.
When she travels as a public speaker, her teachers, thankfully, accommodate her by letting her complete assignments in different formats to enable her the benefit of a global, experiential education.
For instance, in South Africa, she enjoyed learning the history of the country, learning about apartheid in the country where it took place. She enjoyed learning and going on safaris and learning about efforts to prevent poaching. “We couldn’t even take pictures of certain animals, because hackers could hack into your phone and learn about where you took the picture and where they could go to get the ivory,” she said.
“I notice how I can use different things that I’ve learned in school, in business and in my future, but I’m also more keen on what am I doing, and why am I doing this,” said Ulmer.You can follow Mikaila and the bees on her website. To see the full list of 2021 Innovative Leaders — click here.