Creating a Buzz
At 14, Ulmer is a seasoned pro in entrepreneurship, having started her company, Me & The Bees Lemonade, when she was a little over four years old. Her subsequent success, pitching her business on the television series “Shark Tank” at age nine, appearing on ABC-TV’s “Good Morning America,” and meeting then-President Barack Obama, is Exhibit A that “age ain’t nothin’ but a number.”
Ulmer is the founder and CEO of Austin, Texas-based Me & The Bees, which produces a natural lemonade with flaxseed and sweetened with honey that’s been flying off the shelves of Whole Foods Market, Wegman’s, Gelson’s and other retailers. The award-winning lemonade recipe was inherited from her great-grandmother Helen who sent the Ulmer family a 1940’s heirloom cookbook, which included her special recipe for Flaxseed Lemonade.
Ulmer’s family had encouraged her to enter the Acton Children’s Business Fair, a children’s business competition. But, she was struggling to come up with a business idea. Then, the cookbook arrived. So she considered starting a lemonade stand. But, another event occurred that influenced her decision, as well.
“That same summer, I got stung by two bees in one week. I was terrified of the bees, anything that buzzed. So my parents encouraged me to do some research. And in doing that research, I found out how incredibly important pollinators they are, and that they’re also dying at an alarming rate. I learned that they pollinate one in every three bites of food we eat, and that year 40 percent of beekeepers reported a dead hive. And I was like, ‘Okay, they’re dying and they need to be saved, because they’re important. How can I help save them?’” she recalls.
Ulmer decided to combine the two ideas and sweeten her great-grandma Helen’s flaxseed lemonade with honey instead of sugar. A portion of the proceeds she received from the lemonade would be donated to help save the bees.
In addition to her appearances on “Good Morning America” and “Shark Tank,” in the past 10 years, the self-described “social entrepreneur, bee ambassador, educator, philanthropist, and student,” has been named one of Time magazine’s 30 Most Influential Teenagers, and featured in Teen Vogue, Ebony, Oprah magazine, the “Today Show,” “20/20,” and many others.
Her appearance on “Shark Tank,” in 2015, resulted in a $60,000 investment from businessman and FUBU Clothing Founder Daymond John. In 2016, Ulmer inked an $11 million deal with Whole Foods Market to carry her lemonade. The next year, several former and current NFL players invested close to $1 million in her company.
To date, Me & The Bees Lemonade is stocked in more than 500 stores across the U.S. and sells 360,000 bottles each year.
How does an adolescent garner so much publicity and support for a fledgling company? Relentless marketing, that’s how.
“My first marketing was when I started the lemonade stand–I made posters. So I would get some markers, get some big poster paper, and I’d just say on my sign that I donate, and I’d draw some bees,” she says.
Eventually, her mother, D’Andra, created an Instagram account, where Ulmer actively engages her more than 25,000 followers with videos, photos of her media appearances and the occasional recipe. As her Instagram account has grown, she’s spread her influence to other social media platforms and technology giants.
“We are partnering with different technology companies like Facebook and Microsoft, and they’re doing short films, documentaries, saying how they support entrepreneurs and that they’re supporting my company and how I’m using their technology to run the company,” she shares.
As part of her marketing, Ulmer travels to several tradeshows, including ExpoWest and the National Minority Supplier Development Council Conference and Business Opportunity Exchange and she’s often amused by the reactions she gets. “Most of the times when I walk up to a booth or start talking, they’re like, ‘Oh, are you a future entrepreneur or a future CEO?’ And then they look at my badge and go, ‘Oh, so are you currently a CEO?’ And I answer, ‘Yeah, I have a lemonade company,” she says. “It’s great seeing the reactions. But, I’m thinking, ‘Wow, there could be so many other kid entrepreneurs, especially kid entrepreneurs that look like me that can [be] just as successful as I [am].” And I think that’s important. I think that we need to realize that you don’t have to wait, and you don’t have to look a specific way.”
At 14, Ulmer faces some of the same challenges other CEOs face but there are slight differences, like balancing running a vibrant company with school work and extracurricular activities such as tennis and volleyball.
“I need to make sure that I’m running the business and making sure everything’s going smoothly — doing well in school, being a regular 14-year-old girl and having fun, and [playing] sports and making sure I’m healthy. So it’s a lot of work to make sure that I have time to do everything. [I] also need ‘me’ time, too. So that is one challenge that I have every day, but a good calendar is working for us to make sure that everything’s balanced and that I have time to do it. So that’s really important.”
With so much success under her belt, it’s easy to forget that this mature-beyond-her-years powerhouse still has a lifetime ahead of her to continue to make her mark.
“I recently started my own non-profit called the Healthy Hive Foundation. And I’m hoping to help educate, fund important honeybee research, and to ultimately protect the bees through technology and partnering with companies,” she says. “Personally, [also] get through high school and college. I want to study probably marketing, something in the marketing realm because that’s what I’m more interested in. And I’m also hoping to be not only an entrepreneur but also a serial entrepreneur. When I get enough capital from that I’m hoping to invest in other minority-run companies.”
Those may seem to be lofty goals but coming from Ulmer, they’re definitely bee-lievable.