This young entrepreneur is taking a shot at shaking up the beverage industry

Ball-O-Shot beverage
Thomas Lymburner, right, proudly showcases a Ball-O-Shot bubble at an event.

Next time you’re out and about looking for a bar shot or a bottle of water, you might be offered a safer, more eco-friendly option: a liquid-filled bubble made of edible algae.

At least, that’s what Thomas Lymburner and his team at Ball-O-Shot are hoping.

The 17-year-old from Gatineau began his entrepreneurial endeavours in high school, reselling beverages and snacks to his classmates. Inspired by his aunt, a business owner and entrepreneur, Lymburner said he always knew he wanted to be self-employed.

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“I had a hard childhood, so I was never at the house, always outside or at friends’ places … But I could see my aunt working and I’d spend days with her at work and I was so used to just being around entrepreneurship,” he explained. “I had stars in my eyes.”

Toward the end of high school, he took a trip to the store to “look at the competition” in the drink market and think about how he could be creative with a new business venture.

“I saw the drink market was very competitive, with everything from Gatorade and Red Bull, to just plain water bottles, so I knew it had to be very different — both inside and outside,” he said.

Inspired by his favourite beverage, bubble tea, and its tapioca pearls, Lymburner began experimenting with alternative drink containers.

“I thought, these bubbles are so good, why not make a bigger one? After some research, I realized there was a lab in 2016 that made bubbles like this, but you couldn’t eat it, you snipped it and threw it on the ground,” Lymburner explained. “That made no sense, so I thought, if we can make bubble tea edible, surely this can be better.

Lymburner approached his friend, Mikael Bouchard-Green, now a co-founder, with his idea. “At first he looked at me wide-eyed, but then he said, ‘Let’s do it.’”

The result of Lymburner’s imagination, his team’s dedication and “hours and hours and hours” of online research was realized this past spring when the first Ball-O-Shot was born.

In March, the Ball-O-Shot team began by “showing off” the product at science fairs and events. The drinkable bubbles made their first commercial appearance in May at a music festival, where more than 8,000 units sold out in less than an hour.

Thomas Lymburner, right, poses with a marathon runner and their water-filled Ball-O-Shots. Photo provided

“It was insane and that was our proof of concept,” said Lymburner.

Ball-O-Shot soon signed a contract to appear at a marathon and get the word out about the product. At the beginning, Lymburner said, “there was no discussion about replacing the water stands.” But when the stands ran out of water cups for the participants, Lymburner said, “It was our time to shine.”

“People would run by and grab one and they could eat the bubble or they could throw it on the ground … and it just went amazingly.”

This summer was spent travelling across the country in a van, from Vancouver to Halifax, selling Ball-O-Shots at events and festivals. The bubbles vary in size and thickness and clients can request any liquid beverage as a filler, though water is the default, Lymburner explained.

The edible membrane of the bubble is made of a gluten-free, organic, algae-based substance that can either be eaten, much like the pearls in bubble tea, or discarded. Because the algae is biodegradable, it dries up in the sun, “like paper.”

“In less than a few days, it’s gone,” Lymburner said. 

While water was the initial filler, the bubbles can contain all kinds of liquids and offer a biodegradable alternative to the discarded plastic bottles and metal cans that litter the ground after outdoor festivals and events.

Alcohol vendors have also expressed interest due to the “added security” of the bubbles, Lymburner said.

Ball-O-Shots can be filled with any liquid — including vodka. Photo by Ball-O-Shot

“If you’re in a bar or nightclub, you can’t lace (the bubble) or put drugs in it, because the pressure is too high,” he explained. “We tested it and, even if you try to put something in a needle through it, it just explodes.”

The Ball-O-Shot business model offers options for clients, from setting up a stand to sell independently, to providing a quota of bubbles to distribute at a designated event.

The Ball-O-Shot team has already been the recipient of several awards, including recognition as both the local and regional winner of OsEntreprendre and the regional winner of Gatineau’s Défi48 competition, as well as awards from the Quebec Biologist Association and the Order of Chemists of Quebec. 

Current and past clients include the City of Gatineau; sports events company Bouge Bouge, which hosts events across Ottawa and Quebec; and several bars and events in Montreal. The team has hosted and sponsored events in Ottawa, including a pop-up party in June at Mavericks on Rideau Street.

While the business is new, Lymburner said there is growth coming with a relocation from Ottawa to Montreal and a subsequent expansion, which is already underway.

“There’s so much more opportunity there. We’re presently manufactured in a warehouse rented from a high school and it’s all regulated, but we need more space,” he said. “Another big reason is right now everything is made by hand and artisanal, our team does it all, but we’re working on a machine that will make 6,000 units a day. Because right now, we have more demand than we can keep up with.”

Lymburner plans to expand the team, he explained. Currently, only four employees: Lymburner; co-founder and chief of production Bouchard-Green; an engineer dedicated to product production and manufacturing the new machine; and a manager of the Montreal operations. 

“When we first started, I made the mistake of having a lot of people on the team. We had 10 people and they weren’t putting in all the effort. Altogether it looked like a lot, but behind the scenes, they were putting in minimal effort,” he said. “I went through a cleanup and made the team smaller and now they know what they’re doing.

“But now, I’d like to have over 20 people by the end of 2025. When we first launched, we made 5,000 units over six events in 27 days. But they were minimal events and if we’d had the machine and a bigger team we could have done so much more.”

While the last few months have been about investing in the company, Lyburner said the forecasts for the new year are optimistic.

In one of the more conservative projections, Lymburner calculated $144,000 in possible earnings in the bar market alone — that’s if less than 10 per cent of Montreal’s bars sold the product at a very conservative price. 

But possibly the most rewarding of the experience so far has been watching his vision come alive, Lymburner said. That, and meeting Olivier Primeau, the CEO of Midway Group, an entertainment group that hosts some of Quebec’s largest music festivals and events.

“We met Olivier and he tripped out, he said he wanted (Ball-O-Shot) in his festivals. He’s my longtime idol and it was so heartwarming,” said Lymburner. “It’s amazing because we’re all so young. It’s a long grind, but we’re ready.”

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