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When Mikaila Ulmer was 4-years-old, she was stung by two bees in just one week! This incident inspired her to research more about honeybees, leading her to discover how important they are to our ecosystem. From there, she experimented with her grandmother’s flaxseed lemonade recipe, and thus, Me & the Bees Lemonade was born in 2009. It’s been a little over a decade since Mikaila became the queen bee she is today, cultivating her "hive" with an incredible social and environmental impact. Her lemonade is sold in over 3000 stores nationwide, and she actively works to solve four of the UN Sustainable Development Goals: Zero Hunger (2), Responsible Production and Consumption (12), Life on Land (15), and Reduced Inequalities (10).
Me & the Bees sell ready-to-drink 12 ounce lemonades in five different flavors. The packaging uses 100% recyclable materials. The product's ingredients are rooted in a secret recipe from her grandmother. It includes healthy ingredients such as flaxseed, but the recipe has been altered to use honey. With help from her family, this lemonade was transformed from just an idea to a product being distributed in stores, such as Target and Whole Foods, across the country. As a small business, this was not an easy feat as corporations such as Coke and Pepsi dominate the beverage market. Regardless, the product has been extremely successful as it is sold in 3000 stores in all fifty states across the United States. This was possible with the help of Shark Tank's Daymond John, who invested in the company in 2015.
Even though the product itself is impressive and is made with healthy ingredients, the product and company’s main goal is to save the bees. In our interview, Mikaila stated that there are currently six employees at Me & the Bees, keeping business in the family with Mikaila's mother as CMO and father as COO. They are able to keep their business small while marketing and distributing their product nationally with the help of various partners, opting to outsource many functions of the business. In 2016, with sights set on saving the bees, Mikaila and her family decided to start a nonprofit called The Healthy Hive Foundation. A portion of profits from Me & the Bees Lemonade is funneled to The Healthy Hive Foundation, supporting beekeepers, funding scientific research, and helping to protect bees and their habitats.
The impact of bees on our agriculture, biodiversity, and the overall food chain is immense. The product's impact on a larger level than just saving bees, as their donations help to combat climate change and to help bees be able to continue pollinating our crops. On top of all of this, Mikaila is reducing inequalities by providing more opportunities by educating children to be able to be entrepreneurs and accomplish their own goals to save the future.
As mentioned, the birth of Me & The Bees lemonade began with Mikaila’s interaction with bees as a child. As her research and fascination around bees began, her family encouraged her to participate in the Acton Children’s Business Fair and Austin Lemonade Day. Her understanding of how important bees are to our ecosystem has grown with age. There is a misconception that only honey bees are responsible for pollination, however, this is not the case. Mikaila told us, “we want to help both honey and native bees. By doing this we are... avoiding increased food prices, maintaining the biodiversity we enjoy in crops while keeping those prices low, and increasing food reliability” (Ulmer, 2021).
Austin Lemonade Days were started to encourage young children to learn about business operations. For many, it is the first time they have a hands-on opportunity to be exposed to entrepreneurship practices while also having this dedicated day to bring communities together. In addition to selling lemonade, Mikaila has also published a book, Bee Fearless: Dream Like a Kid, with an accompanying workbook to help other young people start small businesses. The book is part memoir and part business guide—all referring back to universal lessons that many entrepreneurs face in their endeavors. She believes that entrepreneurial thinking is invaluable and applies to so many aspects of life that can set a person up for success while making a positive impact:
"Me & The Bees is only touching the surface of things we need to worry about [in terms of problems happening globally ]. Especially last year, I realized we are doing a lot more than just saving the bees. All of this is interconnected and I’m doing a lot more when ‘saving the bees’ than I initially thought" (Ulmer, 2021).
Me & the Bees has an incredible impact on people, the environment, and society. When it comes to the environment, Me & the Bees helps the world by having sustainable packaging. According to UN data, the global material footprint increased by 70% between 2000 and 2017, and 1 million plastic drinking bottles are purchased every minute. Mikaila realized that single-use plastic is not a sustainable packaging method for drinks, which is why she decided to package the Me & the Bees Lemonade with 100% recyclable glass bottles. This innovation is tackling the United Nations SDG 12 which consists of ensuring sustainable consumption and production patterns.
Me & the Bees also has a huge influence on the environment and protecting Life on Land (15). In our interview with Mikaila, she talked about how climate change is affecting the duration of seasons. This has led to a decrease in the population of bees, as bees can only pollinate during certain seasons. In Texas during February, there was a 70% decrease in honey production due to winter storm Uri and drought conditions in early spring. Me & the Bees is has a positive impact on bees and honey production by donating a portion of their profits to her nonprofit, aimed at saving bees and combating climate change. The Healthy Hive Foundation is saving the bees through research, education, and protection. In terms of research, the nonprofit researches ways to save bees and the impact that climate change has on bees (like the impact of California wildfires on bee population). When it comes to education, they teach workshops and classes to people interested in learning more about bees and protecting them. And in terms of protection, they aim to create new habitats for bees by donating hives to families in developing countries (through Heifer International) and beekeeper organizations (like Detroit Hives).
In addition, Me & the Bees is also tackling UN Goal 2 of Zero Hunger, which helps both the environment and people. Bees are really important to our food chain. According to Mikaila, “bees contribute over 18 billion dollars to the agricultural economy annually” (Ulmer, 2021). The company is trying to help save honeybees and native bees, which help pollinate 90% of our crops including apples, cranberries, blueberries, cherries, pumpkins, and even chocolate. Bees not only help keep the biodiversity that we enjoy in our crops, but they also help reduce the cost of these crops which in fact benefits people. With crop variety, we can avoid what happened during the Irish Potato Famine.
And last but not least, Mikaila is helping people by teaching social entrepreneurship which relates to the UN goal of reducing inequality. Ever since Mikaila was in middle school, she has done workshops about social entrepreneurship and financial education for kids. She has traveled all over the world to teach entrepreneurial thinking, which is valuable because it gives children an experience they can be inspired from to start their own sustainable business. Additionally, she has also funded a bee apiary in Austin, Texas so kids could go and take beekeeping classes to learn how to save honeybees.
Me & the Bees found whitespace in a category dominated by Coke and Pepsi. By aligning her company with values and goals related to sustainability and creating a positive impact on society, Mikaila sets her business apart from other lemonade and beverage brands. When she sells her product, she isn’t just selling a bottle of delicious lemonade, she’s selling her story—an inspirational tale of a young entrepreneur who is leaving the world better than she found it. During our interview, Mikaila mentioned that she receives incredible support from her community and other businesses, simply because they believe in her mission. Tackling these four UN Sustainable Development Goals sets Me & the Bees apart from their competitors, showcasing to the world that businesses can be a force for good. These innovations benefit the business by differentiating the brand and creating a thriving community that her bee-lievers can buy into.
It is not hard to see how this company is benefiting both society and the environment as the main purpose, saving the bees, is essentially in their brand’s name. However, Me & the Bees has done so much more. When it comes to their emphasis on Life on Land (15), Mikaila has emphasized an innate “link between biodiversity and climate change” in her interview. It is a chain reaction that, if not taken seriously and acted upon as soon as possible, could prove to be detrimental to our society and planet. By creating a product that emphasizes the care for an insect that is such an essential part of the ecosystem, Me & the Bees is doing work that starts at the root of the problem and has such a vast impact. This also impacts us humans and so many other species as without honeybees and other species of bees, we could see a decline in our food chain, reduction in biodiversity, and so many more detrimental things that could impact how we function as a society.
Mikaila Ulmer, CEO
Me & the Bees Lemonade is a social good lemonade company that provides quality beverages to consumers while simultaneously working to provide education and resources that benefit saving the bee populations. CEO, Mikaila Ulmer, started Me & the Bees at the age of 4 and has since built a "hive" of incredible social and environmental impact