entrepreneur

Photo Credit: Charlotte Carpenter | Daily Texan Staff

Getting stung by a bee was the best thing that ever happened to 10-year-old entrepreneur Mikaila Ulmer. 

Mikaila is the founder, owner and CEO of BeeSweet Lemonade, an Austin-based, family-run lemonade company that donates 20 percent of its proceeds to organizations who help save honeybees. The company’s motto is “Buy a bottle, save the bees!”

“It makes me feel very special that I own my own business, and I’m only 10,” Mikaila said. “I get to go to really fun, fancy events, and I get to stay up late at them.”

When bees stung her twice in one week six years ago, Mikaila said she began researching bees to gain a better understanding of how they work. That same week, Mikaila started experimenting with her great-grandmother Helen’s 1940s flaxseed lemonade recipe in preparation for Acton Children’s Business Fair, an event in which kids are encouraged to launch their own startups by running a booth to sell a product they created.

Mikaila said her newfound passion for helping honeybees drove her to tweak her grandmother’s recipe to use locally sourced honey as a sweetener.

Lemonade sales were good, so Mikaila continued to sell her drinks at youth entrepreneurial events until the owner of East Side Pies, an Austin-based pizza company, suggested she bottle it. Mikaila agreed and moved the lemonade production from her family’s kitchen to a small commercial kitchen.

Today, BeeSweet Lemonade sells 12-ounce bottles of freshly squeezed lemonade with flavors such as original mint, ginger, prickly pear and iced tea. They can be found in Whole Foods Market and several small businesses around Austin, including East Side Pies and Wheatsville Co-op.

Mikaila’s mother, D’Andra Ulmer, deals with the company’s marketing. D’Andra said the business belongs to Mikaila and that her role is mostly supportive.

“It’s her business,” D’Andra said. “It really is. She started it in kindergarten, and she worked hard, and now that [the lemonade] is sold at Whole Foods, it wouldn’t be fair to take her business away from her.”

Journalism senior Mikayla Martinez began her internship at BeeSweet two years ago, acting as D’Andra’s right hand. Martinez’s involvement ranges from writing public relations pieces to testing new flavors. She said everything she does — and everything anyone does — must first be approved by Mikaila.

“D’Andra has always emphasized that [everything] has to come from Mikaila,” Martinez said. “Mikaila has to have a say in everything.”

Mikaila’s main duties range from holding workshops on how to save honeybees to coming up with new flavors. Mikaila said she usually deals with BeeSweet-related work after school, but her mind is always on the clock.

“I made up the prickly pear [flavor] while I was at school doing my math homework,” Mikaila said.

Last month, “Shark Tank,” a reality show on which entrepreneurs present business ideas to a group of judges who decide whether they want to invest, featured BeeSweet Lemonade. Daymond John, one of the show’s judges, agreed to invest $60,000 in BeeSweet for a 25 percent stake in the company. Mikaila accepted his offer.

Mikaila said she has high hopes for the company’s future. She said she looks forward to continuing to be the owner of BeeSweet, expanding the company into the snack realm with cupcakes and starting a clothing and home goods line.

“I want a BeeSweet Lemonade line, like the Hello Kitty line,” Mikaila said. “I want BeeSweet everything.”

Daymond John, investor on Shark Tank and creator of FUBU, speaks at the Union on Tuesday evening about entrepreneurship as part of a lecture series that the Texas Cowboys hosts.
Photo Credit: Daulton Venglar | Daily Texan Staff

Daymond John, a successful entrepreneur and investor who gained fame on the hit television reality series “Shark Tank,” spoke at the University on Tuesday, giving students advice on a successful entrepreneurship model.

Learning business basics at universities such as UT is vital to an entrepreneur’s ability to stay successful, according
to John.

“People always ask me — should you get a higher education?” John said. “The fundamentals of business are always worth it because it’s so hard to [be successful], but it’s 10 times harder to keep [that success]. I hope I reinforce a lot of the lessons the professors are teaching.”

John’s appearance was part of the Texas Cowboys Lectureship series. John focused his talk on his rags-to-riches story of starting FUBU, his clothing line he founded in 1992, and also spoke about business points he learned from trial and error during his career.

In his speech, John emphasized the importance of paying attention to the appearance students present through their social media profiles and discussed the value students can gain through branding themselves. 

John fit the Texas Cowboys’ mold of core values that the organization wants to highlight, according to Wes Cole, communications studies and human relations senior and who is on the lectureship committee for the organization.

“I think his story is one of hard work,” Cole said. “He followed his dream, and I think that’s something that every college student can benefit from hearing.”

Cole also said John’s message impacts many students at UT because of the University’s large business footprint.

“UT business is very driven at this school, so we knew it would be a big draw to have Daymond here,” Cole said.

Having a successful and famous entrepreneur on campus gives students a model to follow as they navigate their
college years, business freshman Madison Beltran said.

“[John] gives valuable lessons to people who don’t know if they will do well in their career,” Beltran said. “His advice is not just beneficial to business majors but all students here who are all trying to figure out how be successful.”

Photo Credit: Victoria Smith | Daily Texan Staff

If you’re a student entrepreneur and it’s your first time going to South By Southwest Interactive, deciding where to go and with whom to awkwardly network can be challenging. The Daily Texan combed through hundreds of events and opportunities and compiled a list of the best SXSW Startup Village events to attend if you’re interested in starting a business. Good luck, you go-getter, you.

Launched From a Dorm Room

When people talk about young startups, a few famous CEOs — Mark Zuckerberg, Steve Jobs or Michael Dell — are bound to come up in the conversation. The one thing they all have in common: They are college dropouts. Student entrepreneurs from Yale will give advice about balancing school with managing a business and discuss how going to college while developing a startup can be both overwhelming and advantageous. The lecture will cover what it takes to create a successful startup and whether dropping out is some sort of prerequisite. The presentation takes place Friday.

Young Millennials: Entrepreneurship for a New Era 

Maybe you have an amazing idea that could revolutionize the tech industry, but you don’t know how to convince financial backers of its potential. This session will prepare young entrepreneurs for the business industry by teaching techniques for getting big investors on board with newer startups. 

Take these strategies back home with you, and maybe you’ll have luck convincing some future financial investor. Better yet, use your networking skills wisely and meet a seasoned business leader during the session. The presentation takes place Saturday.

How Universities Can Create More Startups

Whether you’re a Longhorn or an Aggie, encouraging your university to engage with student-led business ventures is a way to get yourself a successful platform for entrepreneurial growth and innovation. Alumni of the NYU Summer Launchpad, a 10-week summer program, will share their experiences in the program and explain how it prepared them for the positions they are in today. 

The NYU program seeks to help students launch their own startups by providing business and creative support. A presentation about the program will take place Sunday.

Longhorn Startup Showcase

Do you like competition? Check out Longhorn Startup Showcase, in which UT students pitch their business ideas in front of a panel of judges who could potentially fund their proposals. The panel will select five finalists, and the competition culminates with an intense Q&A session between the students and the judges. 

If you decide to participate next year, the publicity alone could connect you with someone interested in investing. The presentation takes place Monday.

Having a game plan in place before heading to SXSW Interactive distinguishes you from other first-timers. Attending these events could potentially be the gateway to meeting the right person, sparking a groundbreaking idea or encountering your next business partner. Tread with confidence because now you know where you’re headed. 

Photo Credit: Thalia Juarez | Daily Texan Staff

The path of an entrepreneur can be very risky to undertake, said Tim League, founder and CEO of Alamo Drafthouse Cinema.

League, who spoke Wednesday at the AT&T Executive Education and Conference Center, described the hardships of breaking into the entrepreneurial world at a talk that was part of UT Entrepreneurship week — a series of lectures designed to encourage students to develop their own businesses.

“You have to be prepared for the absolute worst — like bankruptcy, losing all your relationships and completely ruining your reputation.” League said. “Yeah, if you’re not comfortable with that, pick a different career path.”

An important rule for young entrepreneurs is that they be frugal with expenses, which includes self-education to save on expenses, League said.

“In the early days, instead of spending $20,000 on a lawyer, we learned to do contracts on our own,” League said. “It is possible, and vital, to learn any trade as an entrepreneur.” 

League pursued a career in engineering before he leased a movie theater at the age of 23 with no prior business knowledge. The theater failed after two years, but it provided an entrepreneurial education, League said.

“My wife and I spent $5,000 a year total on personal expenses,” League said. “We literally lived behind the big movie screen, and we would shower in the mop closet.”

After this, League moved to Austin to open Alamo Drafthouse Cinema. He revolutionized movie theaters by providing an eclectic movie selection and a dine-in experience, interview conductor Nick Spiller said. 

Promoting innovative ideas and programs is a key to success, according to League. He said an example of this would be showing international movies that would otherwise not have an American release.

“I worked at the Alamo Drafthouse, and we had a program that featured Asian films once a month,” finance sophomore Johnny Vo said.

The dine-in experience is a key feature of the Alamo Drafthouse, an idea that was rooted in entrepreneurial curiosity and willingness to find inspiration anywhere, according to League.

“My wife and I spent our honeymoon spying on a movie theater that partnered with restaurants,” League said. “We liked that as a distinguishing factor.”

When they attempted to get a wine license, they discovered there is a manner of discrimination against young entrepreneurs that is very rampant.

“I looked too young, so I had to hire a middle-aged white guy in a suit to get the license. Then, I had no problem,” League said. “You have to accept this discrimination is there — just learn to play it.”

Daniel Heron has no interest in being a commercial cook. The UT alum and Austin-based entrepreneur believes that food goes beyond the industry — it is a platform for different cultures to connect and understand each other.  

Heron is an instructor at Austin-based Cooking Up Cultures, a nonprofit that offers a fusion of language and cooking classes. These classes allow participants to learn a language in a kitchen environment, using food as a way to understand the basics of a language quickly.

When he studied at UT, Heron co-founded The Food Lab, a UT think tank that generates awareness about food systems, food justice issues and food politics. He also created the UT Food Studies Project, which allows students to focus on how food can be used to control nations and how to think about food from different angles.

Heron, who considers himself a food-loving global citizen, said he first discovered his passion for languages and culture during his time in Latin America. 

“From my experience in Brazil, in poverty, some of the foods that we eat in abundance and with ease here in the U.S. can be really used as a method of helping your brain deal with your economic status,” Heron said.

Heron is also the brainchild behind a monthly soup party called “Global Soup,” which he said he started to celebrate Austin’s diversity. Each month, Heron and the team at Cooking Up Cultures choose one language and cuisine to highlight, and a local chef prepares a soup based on a recipe from that chosen culture.

This month, “Global Soup” celebrates Latin American culture with chefs from Austin’s El Naranjo restaurant cooking a black bean soup with pasilla de Oaxaca chiles. The soup party will be Sunday at in.gredients, an East Austin zero-waste microgrocer.

“We wanted to do more outreach events,” Cooking Up Cultures founder Casey Smith said. “Even if you don’t want to sign up for an entire class, you can still experience the cross-cultural influences through one monthly event.”

Currently, Cooking Up Cultures offers language learning classes in English and Spanish with “Cooking Up Arabic” beginning in May and other classes in French, Russian and Chinese that will be launched soon.

“We have so many languages in the world today, so we were thinking about which ones we are were going to focus on,” Heron said. 

Smith and Heron decided that the easiest way to choose the languages they wanted to offer would be by choosing the six official languages of the United Nations.

Food, for Heron, is a way to overcome the common fear of other cultures.

“Moving to Texas was a radical change for me,” Heron said. “I was an obese person for most of my childhood. I knew my mom wasn’t going to cook for me anymore. Once I began cooking, I started seeing the world through the lens of food, in everything that I did. I now want to use food as a platform to build community and bridge cultures.”

Immersion-styled language learning is what makes “Cooking Up English” and “Cooking Up Spanish” a fun experience, according to Heron. “This way, no matter where you are at, you are always going to get something out of it,” Heron said.

The five-week classes have been structured to allow people to start learning recipes from day two of the class. Participants are discouraged from translating from English or Spanish to their native languages and are allowed to do so only when they truly do not understand what the instructor is asking them to do.

Spanish instructor and Cooking Up Cultures board member Adriana De La Cuadra said the whole idea of the class is to learn as you go along.

Cuadra, an Austin entrepreneur, is also co-founder of Lista, a web application to make it easier for people to cook at home.

“Language brings you closer to cultures,” Cuadra said. “The combination of cooking and language classes brings out the complexity of a culture through cooking.”

Alejandro Weibel, Dakota Gordon, Ian Beckcom and Andrew Miller formed Homeroom, a company that runs an online learning management system, as part of the 1 Semester Startup class.

Photo Credit: Elisabeth Dillon | Daily Texan Staff

Two weeks ago while staying up late cramming for a test, finance senior Ian Beckcom wished he could talk to somebody about the questions he had before he took the exam the next day.

Beckcom said he wondered what it would be like to chat with professors and fellow students while he studied and why there was not already a technology to meet this need. His answer reminded him of why he and three other classmates decided to form Homeroom, a software company that runs an online learning management information system similar to Blackboard.

Beckcom and his team were one of the 20 teams that presented a 5-minute company investor “pitch” to a crowd of more than 200 students, professors and local entrepreneurs at the 1 Semester Startup “Demo Day” showcase Thursday night. 1 Semester Startup is an interdisciplinary course that began this semester and allows undergraduates with startup companies to gain first-hand experience in running and developing successful businesses.

Engineering professor Bob Metcalfe, finance professor John Butler and computer science specialist Joshua Baer lead the class. Baer said the class consists of 75 enrolled students from across all majors and 25 mentors from the Austin entrepreneur community.

“The biggest value comes from bringing experienced mentors to spend time with the students,” Baer said. “Some of this you can’t get from textbooks.”

In order to be a mentor, entrepreneurs need to have started one or more startup companies. Students meet with mentors once a week to convey updates, challenges and progress.

Baer said along with the mentorship program, the professors wanted students to take care of their health and focus on their planning, writing, speaking and selling skills. He said engineering and computer science students are not usually taught the latter three skills.

Russell Hinds, a managing partner at RSH Ventures, mentors Beckom and the group behind the Homeroom startup. Hinds said he loves working with the group because there’s a lot of passion but not a lot of business sense of what might be important to an investor.

“With students, a little bit of advice goes a long way,” Hinds said. “It’s amazing what you can accomplish in this special environment. It’s a spiritual getaway for an entrepreneur, doing more than what they expected in a short period of time.”

Computer science senior Andrew Miller, also a part of Homeroom, said the team is working to develop a beta version of Homeroom and has professors and students that have agreed to try the program out once it is finished.

“The fact is that this class is a set up, it’s low risk, ” Miller said. “If we fail we’re not $50,000 in debt.”

Miller said if the company does not work out, there would always be next semester for more opportunities.

Rudy Garza, an investor at G-57 Capital, said he saw three student pitches he would follow up on and potentially invest in.

“As far as students startups go, it’s interdisciplinary and that’s monumental,” Garza said. 

Printed on December 2, 2011 as: Students gain experience by pitching companies

[Updated at 10:08 p.m. on October 28: name correction]

After her first trip to Chiapas, Mexico, entrepreneur Susan Jaime decided she didn’t want to just start a coffee shop. She wanted to transform the whole coffee industry, an admittedly big feat considering the fact that coffee is the second-most traded commodity in the world, Jaime said.

Jaime said what she saw during that first trip “put a lot on [her] heart.” She met a coffee grower forced to feed her hungry children newspaper soup and a man begging her to buy his coffee beans so that he didn’t have to leave his family to get a job in the U.S.

“It’s amazing how you see once you start to look into coffee [trade] that you will experience the same thing that we did when we first traveled over there,” Jaime, owner of Ferra Coffee, said.

For an industry that raked in nearly $15.4 billion worldwide last year, Jaime said growers are getting shortchanged. For a pound of coffee worth $1.39 on the New York Stock Exchange, growers are likely to get 5 to 9 cents, with middlemen pocketing the difference, she said.

“Usually, [growers] get about a 70 percent lower price than they would get from a direct relationship through the roaster,” Jaime said. “So basically, they did not earn enough money even [to make a profit].”

Jaime said the problem is that a majority of the growers don’t understand the international markets, production costs or what their coffee is actually worth.

“Middlemen work like loan sharks,” Jaime said. “Growers will ask [the middleman] for a loan so they can get money for the next harvest, and then he’ll say, ‘Sure not a problem, and we’ll just take that loan out of your next harvest.’ So it is a cycle that they go through, and they never get enough money for their subsistence or their survival or even to run their business correctly.”

Jaime said after realizing this problem, she had to put herself in a situation to help these growers. She now travels to countries such as Guatemala, Colombia and Mexico teaching growers how to make a profit without going through a middleman.

“The first thing we tell [growers] is you need to understand your business,” Jaime said. “And for you to be able to do that as a grower, you need to be able to understand your product.”

Marketing lecturer Elizabeth Danon-Leva said that coffee businesses such as Starbucks are beginning to help growers.

“[They’re] saying we can still make money and we can still increase our sales and improve [growers’] life and have a sustainable product that is here tomorrow,” Danon-Leva said.

Jaime says that consumers can join the cause by buying “relationship coffee,” a certification meaning that the grower has a direct relationship with the roaster.

“If you as a consumer take such a powerful commodity such as coffee, buy that coffee at an adequate price but also understand what is behind that cup and who is behind that cup. Then you would see a lot of change,” Jaime said.

Elben Shira, senior computer science major and self-proclaimed coffee addict, said he doesn’t usually think about where his coffee comes from but thinks Jaime’s work is “cool.”

“If I want to buy coffee that is better, I need to believe that it is,” Shira said. “If I can trace where the bean came from, I would be more motivated to buy those beans than just a bag with a Fair Trade logo on it.”

Printed on Tuesday, October 25th, 2011 as: Entrepreneur aims to brew coffee with shot of ethics

Isaac Barchas, Director of the Austin Technology Incubator, speaks with Randall P. Baker, Principal of Puravida Ventures, after the Student Entrepreneur Acceleration and Launch. Tuesday was the Decision Day, when five student entrepreneur teams made the “go” or “no go” choice for their businesses.

Photo Credit: Emilia Harris | Daily Texan Staff

UT student entrepreneurs presented the results of their eight-week-long summer business-building program at the Austin Technology Incubator on Tuesday.

The Student Entrepreneurship Acceleration and Launch is a program that gives entrepreneur groups connected to the UT community a chance to figure out what milestones need to be reached for their business plans to succeed, said Austin Technology Incubator assistant director Kyle Cox.

The incubator is part of the research arm of the University and has hosted this program for the past three years to provide entrepreneurial groups with industry mentors that act as advisers as well as a work environment within the incubator, Cox said.

“We give them a taste of the real world,” he said.

Of the five teams hosted this summer, three decided to go ahead with their idea, one decided to defer a decision until a future date and another decided not to continue their project.

Vecturalux was among the groups that decided to go forward, designing a project called ParaLux to deal with increasing bandwidth strain on wireless networks by increasing the effectiveness of signal detection in fiber-optic cables, said Vecturalux chief commercial officer and business administration graduate student Matthew Clayton.

“We will be able to provide a superior product and remain competitive in price,” Clayton said.

PHeir Health decided against continuing their project because it wouldn’t have been competitive with similar companies. They developed mobile medication administration software designed to oversee nurses and help reduce medication errors at nursing homes, which result in 30,000 injuries and 25,000 deaths annually, said team member and business administration graduate student Sidney Allen. However, they realized their product was not unique and would cost too much while generating too little profit, said team member Thomas Allen.

Starting a company while being a student is a unique opportunity that needs to be taken advantage of, said Q Beck, co-founder of Famigo, a company that has continued to operate after participating in a different incubator program in 2009.

Beck said students can receive a lot of help from people in the industry and can afford to be bolder in their enterprises because people in the industry won’t be too harsh on them.

He said that if students were committed to their projects and took advantage of any offer, then building a company would be better than accepting a job.

“Be in it for the long haul. It’s a long road but it’s great,” Beck said.

Austin entrepreneur Sarah Vela has established a way for social media to do good through her online company HelpAttack! by combining the use of platforms such as Twitter with the act of making charitable donations.

HelpAttack! is a website where Tweeters can pledge 5 cents or more for every tweet made in a 30-day period to any of the 5,000 nonprofit organizations listed on the company’s database. At the end of the 30 days, the Tweeter returns to the website, pays the amount generated by the activity and can commit to a longer period.

Currently the facility is established for Twitter, however, Vela said the plan is to utilize Facebook next and other social media in the future. She said people are increasingly tracking their activities online, be it counting chores, calories or fitness activities. This “idea of life streaming” allows HelpAttack! to benefit.

“If you can count it, you can pledge it,” Vela said.

Vela said the usual model of nonprofits sending out requests for sponsorship donations could be revamped to make the request into the support itself.

“What if that was turned around and instead of always asking, you were just giving, simply by being online,” she said. “Instead of always sending out a tweet [asking for support], the tweet itself was the support.”

Vela was heavily influenced by her politically active parents who regularly supported a number of nonprofits. Her parents made donations solicited through the mail, though she said people don’t respond through snail mail anymore because they live online and want to be reached online.

When situations are not related to a dire event such as a natural disaster, it can be hard for nonprofits to get a response, a problem they have been trying to solve for some time.

“This is hopefully a solution,” Vela said. “You can decide which causes are relevant to you and can make giving to them integrated into your everyday activities online.”

The website went live on Aug. 21, so it is in its early days with plans for expansion.

“We are a boot-strapped company ... self-funded through friends and family,” Vela said.