Mikaila Ulmer may be just 14 years old, but she knows a thing or two about business. The young CEO founded her Me & the Bees Lemonade business when she was just four years old, and over the past decade has sold 1 million bottles across 1,000 stores in the U.S., including Whole Foods and, as of this month, Macy’s.
The “Shark Tank” success, who scored a $60,000 investment from Daymond John in 2015, has also established herself as a voice of guidance for others, regularly speaking at entrepreneurial summits and even introducing former U.S. president Barack Obama at The United State of Women Summit.
That’s no easy feat for a teen still completing her studies. Yet, according to the Gen Z influencer, it’s proof to others that age should not be a barrier.
“No matter how old you are, you always have something to learn. And no matter how old you are, you always have something to teach,” Ulmer told CNBC Make It. “That’s something I always remember, whether I’m speaking to 15 or 15,000 people,” she said, before presenting a “Finance 101″ workshop to female founders at the Dell Women’s Entrepreneur Network (DWEN) in Singapore.
“When you have a big voice, make sure that you give others a voice behind you, and that you’re not only growing yourself but helping others grow and giving your expertise to others,” she said.Of course, that confidence didn’t always come easy to the young entrepreneur. Ulmer admitted to getting “nervous” when, at the age of eight, she starting leading workshops for older school kids.
But, it’s something she learned from the bees that have been so integral to her lemonade business.
“If you look into a beehive, they’re all working very closely together, it’s usually jam-packed, and they communicate, they’re always communicating, they’re always working together, they never put one bee to a job,” she said.
Ulmer started her lemonade business when, at the age of four, she was stung by two bees in one week. Rather than be scared, she was encouraged by her parents to learn more about the insects and their important role in the food cycle.
At the same time, Ulmer’s family received a cookbook from her great-grandmother, and discovered an old recipe for flaxseed lemonade. Ulmer decided that if she could make the lemonade with honey bought from local beekeepers, she could do her bit to help the bee population.
That fall, Ulmer’s mom and dad suggested she make the lemonade for a children’s business competition in her hometown of Austin, Texas. The product was a hit and, with that, Me & the Bees Lemonade was born.
Ulmer has since been expanding the business with the help of her parents, themselves business school graduates. Me & the Bees Lemonade recently launched a new line of beeswax-infused lip balms and, separately, in 2017, Ulmer launched her own non-profit — The Healthy Hive Foundation — to conduct research, education and protection projects for honey bees.
Me & the Bees Lemonade continues to donate 10% of all profits to bee conservation groups. But she isn’t stopping there. In between her studies, Ulmer spends her time managing her business, traveling for speaking engagements and thinking up new product ideas. She also recently signed a deal to co-write a book for young entrepreneurs.
“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,” said Ulmer.
“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,” she added.