As a young business owner focused on social entrepreneurship, Mikaila Ulmer is inspiring others with her success. In fact, the 15-year-old believes that her flourishing business, Me & the Bees, shows that the future is all about social entrepreneurs.
Mikaila spoke with Ramon Ray at the recent Survive and Thrive Growth Summit. Thanks to Dell, she tells her entrepreneurship and leadership story. She also explains the importance of her family, her new book, the Dell Women’s Entrepreneurship Network, and her advice to entrepreneurs both young and old.
From bee stings to buzzing business
Mikaila began by telling how Me & the Bees got started. That takes us back to when she was just four years old and she got stung by a bee, then got stung by another one less than a week later. She understandably got afraid of bees.
But with the encouragement of her parents, she learned all about bees and their importance to our lives. Mikaila then modified her granny’s 1940s lemonade recipe by sweetening it with honey and the rest, as they say, is history.
She says her family is very important to the growth of Me & the Bees. They are always supportive. More importantly, they help her learn things she needs to take the next step in her business.
They help her find out “How can I do this?” Even though her parents do not have any beverage experience, they have been with her all the way. Now she has a hive behind her, Mikaila explains.
The social entrepreneurship draw
Young entrepreneurs may not have an idea yet of what business they want to build. That’s okay, Mikaila says.
A lot of people are not instantly sure of what they want to do. That’s why she advises to try to see things from the perspective of other people. Try to think of problems others have. Then, think of how you can solve those problems or provide that need. This is why Mikaila thinks that the future of business is social entrepreneurship.
“I think the most successful businesses are ones that fix problems or like solve needs,” she says.
I think the most successful businesses are ones that fix problems or like solve needs
The next generations are looking for products that do good in the world, she explains. They’re looking at labels, comparing on websites, and making their decision.
“Start a company with a cause or a mission because social entrepreneurship I think is going to be the future,” she says.
The benefits are numerous, she says. Firstly, there’s a growing tide of conscious consumerism. And then, there’s increased awareness for your brand and more relatability.
Start a company with a cause or a mission because social entrepreneurship I think is going to be the future
“At least in my experience with Me & the Bees, I found that there's a lot more people who are eager to join the mission, who are eager to believe, who believe in your product, and who will support your company,” she says.
“It's just a lot easier to gain awareness about the brand and to get people interested,” she explains. “Also, it's something that you have in common. It's like, ‘Hey, I realize this is a problem, too. I'm glad that that's something we have in common, and I'm going to help you solve that, too.”
Mikaila has been smart about utilizing the support available to her in her business journey. There’s her ever-helpful family. She also leans on partners like Dell for boosts to her mission.
She says Dell carries her lemonade in its cafeterias in Austin. Just being able to demo her product at these cafeterias and seeing people excited about her work means a lot, she says.
Another thing that Dell provides is resources. They actually once surprised Mikaila, outfitting her office with equipment she needs.
And then there’s the Dell Women’s Entrepreneurship Network (DWEN). Mikaila says she started going to DWEN in 2016 and she can’t recommend it enough.
She speaks at Girls Track sessions for girls. She uses DWEN to network with other inspiring female entrepreneurs.
“I've met connections who I still am in touch with today even as I’m talking about this book and growing the company,” she says.
Mikaila says she has also learned about pitching, public speaking, and branding because of DWEN events.
Advice for young (and older) entrepreneurs
For those who may be hesitant to go into business because of their age, Mikaila has a message.
“If you have big dreams, if you want to become a changemaker, then I wouldn't – at any cost – put it off because I’m young. I think that's ridiculous,” she says. “Don't say, ‘Oh, I’m too young,’ because you can still learn no matter how young you are.”
She says that curiosity is something that comes naturally to people, especially kids. Her generation should also take advantage of the fact they were born into technology. Use that to gain an advantage, she explains earlier in the conversation.
“Don't wait it to make a difference just because you're young,” Mikaila says.
Don't wait it to make a difference just because you're young
As for older aspiring entrepreneurs, her advice is straight out her new book: Bee Fearless – Dream Like a Kid. That is, “Dream like a kid.”
“I think that if we all like dream like a kid when it comes to business…I think a lot more people put their dreams into action,” she says.
By dreaming like a kid, she says people need to focus on opportunities and really big goals and dreams. That’s opposed to giving more attention to the obstacles that may be on the way.
“I think the world would be in a much better place,” Mikaila says.
Mikaila’s tips for entrepreneurs young and old alike are:
- Build a business that solves a problem or provides a need. People are looking to support brands that are doing good in the world.
- Use the support that’s available to you. It may be from your family or friends, or from organizations, networks and events.
- Don’t let age stop you from building your business. Don’t say you’re too young and it’s never too late to start.
- Dream like a kid. Focus on your goals and dreams, instead of just the obstacles along the way.