Featured Founder: Willie-Lionel Reed

Perform a Google search for “post-workout nutrition” and the top results will contain lists of generic, bland fare: Greek yogurt mixed with fruit, eggs, tuna atop wholegrain crackers, wheat pancakes without the syrup and the butter and the powdered sugar (i.e. pancakes without everything that’s so good about pancakes). Occasionally an expert, who doesn’t easily earn credibility when his name in this Men’s Journal article contains a hyperlink that leads to a defunct GoDaddy page, subverts conventional thought (and rational counter-arguments) as he proposes ice cream “can be beneficial up to two hours after a workout.”

But who cares if nutritionists have reached a consensus about what food best helps an athlete recover, if those who proselytize the healing effects of sweets have sketchy credibility, and if the science to support the argument for an athlete’s post-workout consumption of carbohydrates from glucose is flimsy?

Willie-Lionel Reed doesn’t care.

Since Reed started competing for Mississippi State University’s Track & Field squad, he has dusted the sand from his sneakers (he competed as a long-jumper), wiped the sweat from his face (he ran the 110m hurdles), and returned to his apartment where he squeezed, poured, and chugged ice-cold lemonade.

Reed says he could “go on all day” about lemonade’s potential health benefits, but competing across the southeastern United States during the spring and summer months justifies why this mechanical engineering student has kept his refrigerator stocked with this elixir of lemon juice and water and sugar. And despite Reed’s status as a fifth-year senior who is no longer eligible to compete for Mississippi State University’s Track & Field team, his apartment remains stocked with lemons and a juicer and a refrigerator brimming with bottles of his company’s namesake—Reed’s Lemonade.

Reed’s Lemonade didn’t always have nearly 1,000 Instagram followers and a dedicated consumer base in New Orleans, Reed’s hometown. Reed had been content to brew lemonade for himself and his friends and family. Then Mikaila Ulmer, a nine-year-old entrepreneur from Austin, TX, went on ABC’s Shark Tank, and the investors featured on the show provided her company— Me & the Bees Lemonade—with a $60,000 investment.

Inspired by Ulmer’s success, Reed started to sell his lemonade; however, he eventually recognized he wasn’t making enough money to turn his hobby into a viable business.

During the summer of 2018, it was Reed’s mother who prompted him to alter the business model. While visiting home during summer term’s July 4th break, his mother asked him if he had spent all his money buying supplies for his lemonade. His mother’s concern confirmed what he already had realized; he’d have to change how he priced his bottles.

“I wasn’t money-hungry or greedy,” Reed says.

He simply needed to set a price that was emblematic of his lemonade’s quality. No one wants to pay more for a product they are accustomed to purchasing for a set price (browse Twitter after Netflix announces a slight increase to its monthly subscription fee), so increasing the price per bottle encouraged Reed to offer his customers a variety of unique flavors.

About a month after the conversation with his mother, Reed flew to the Bahamas to escort his younger sister during her return to New Orleans. He spent his time in the Bahamas picking fruit from the groves. He scavenged for yellow lime, mango, and guava, but—due to importing laws in the United States—he wasn’t allowed to ship the fruits’ seeds home. He improvised by juicing the fresh fruit while in the Bahamas before bringing the juice home to make lemonades. His customers loved the limited-edition drinks. So Reed continued to squeeze.

After settling on a new pricing method and diversifying his product line, Reed started his fifth year at Mississippi State University. He concedes his studies to be a mechanical engineer may not instantly land him a gig at a prestigious engineering firm, so he’s spending his last year as a college student focusing on his business. He hopes to make Reed’s Lemonade his career after he graduates at the end of the Spring 2019 semester.

His partnership with the Center for Entrepreneurship and Outreach is helping him turn his hobby into a career. The E-Center’s PREP and ECAB boards funded Reed’s Lemonade, and Reed says the feedback he’s received thus far has helped him maintain his business’ success. He plans to submit a business plan to the VentureCatalyst’s IRC, and he believes executing his business plan will attract even more customers.

If the company’s customer base continues to expand—and if he can find a way to prevent his lemonade from fermenting without the use of unnatural preservatives—Reed’s Lemonade might appear on a Whole Foods shelf next to Ulmer’s Me & the Bees.

But until that happens, Reed will make his lemonade for himself and his community, and he’ll do so using the process he practiced and perfected during his time as a student-athlete. He’ll sit in his kitchen, strap on his headphones, and squeeze lemons (and blueberries and raspberries and mangos and just about any fruit imaginable) until he has juice enough to quench his customers’ thirst for all-natural, never-from-concentrate lemonade.  

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