Editor’s note: This story was originally published in April 2016. We’re republishing it because “Shark Tank: Greatest of All Time,” featuring some of the show’s younger contestants, aired Feb. 26, 2020.
A sixth-grader from Austin, Texas, landed an $11 million business deal in April 2016.
Mikaila Ulmer is the unexpected entrepreneur behind BeeSweet Lemonade. She’s also a public speaker and philanthropist — and, did we mention, an 11-year-old middle-schooler?
Her business has everything you could ask for: an innovative product, inspiring story, a strong environmental and social mission — and the most adorable boss ever.
“I work on the business after school, after I do my homework, and on weekends and during spring breaks,” Ulmer told NBCBLK.
How a 4-Year-Old Launched What Became a Multi-Million Dollar Business
When she was four, Ulmer’s family encouraged her to make a product for the Acton Children’s Business Fair.
While she was brainstorming, she was stung by two bees in one week and became terrified of them. Her mother encouraged her to turn her fear into an education, so Ulmer studied the dreaded insect — and became fascinated.
She learned bees were headed for extinction and wanted to do something about it.
Ulmer’s “Great Granny Helen” had also recently sent her a 1940s cookbook, which included a recipe for flaxseed lemonade.
Ulmer decided to create a lemonade business and sweeten her lemonade with honey instead of sugar or artificial sweetener. It would be healthier, save the bees and support beekeepers.
BeeSweet Lemonade donates a portion of its profits to organizations fighting to save honeybees, which pollinate the crops making up about a third of American food groups. Their extinction would threaten those crops, worth about $15 billion each year.
In addition to the lemonade business, Ulmer leads workshops on how to save honeybees and participates in panels about social entrepreneurship.
And she says she’s helping her friends start their own businesses.
“What makes me very proud is that she is not only a smart entrepreneur but she’s a good person and she’s kind to people,” Ulmer’s mother told NBCBLK.
“That’s more important than business.”
The $11 Million Whole Foods Deal
After perfecting and selling her lemonade for four years from a lemonade stand and at youth entrepreneurial events, Ulmer took BeeSweet Lemonade to the big leagues.
She was on ABC’s “Shark Tank” at the age of nine — and received $60,000 from FUBU CEO Daymond John. After its initial success, BeeSweet landed a deal with Whole Foods to sell the lemonade in some regional stores.
Shortly after, while receiving an award at South by Southwest, Ulmer announced an expanded distribution deal through United Natural Foods — worth $11 million!
BeeSweet Lemonade is now distributed in more than 1,500 supermarkets across the country. Pretty sweet!
Dana Sitar (@danasitar) is a former branded content editor at Codetic.