How a West Bloomfield student founded a successful business — at age 9

Parents are always telling their kids to not eat too much candy. It was no different for Alina Morse. When she was 7 years old, she remembered those words of wisdom from her parents when a bank teller offered her a lollipop. She asked her father, “Why can’t we make a lollipop that’s actually good for your teeth?” 

She started doing research and couldn’t find the healthy candy she had envisioned. But it was when she went to talk to her dentist and dental hygienist that she found the missing pieces.

“We asked them about what ingredients we should use in our products and we finally came to the conclusion with Xylitol and Erythritol, which have tested greatly as products on their own but recent studies have shown that together they're actually even more powerful," Alina says. "They're both natural ingredients, natural products that are good for your teeth.”

During her research she discovered that tooth decay was the single greatest epidemic facing kids and they “realized that this could be our mission: helping kids and trying to defeat tooth decay.”

She invested $7,500 of her savings and her dad matched her investment to start Zollipops, a name coined by her younger sister. The product is natural, gluten-free, dairy-free, vegan, and non-GMO.

The company launched in 2014 and a year and a half later it became a profitable company. Since then it has sold 10 million Zollipops. The product line now includes Zolli Drops and Zaffi Taffy, all of which can be found on Amazon and retailers such as Whole Foods, Kroger, and Walmart, where Zollipops was recently added to the Oral Health section.

Alina is now 12 and a seventh-grader at Abbott Middle School in West Bloomfield. She also launched a social impact component to the business, 250,000 Smiles. Ten percent of profits and 250,000 Zollipops are dedicated to support oral health education in schools.

Between school, dancing and singing (two of her favorite activities), and running her business, Alina has a full schedule but took some time to answer some of Metromode’s questions.

How many employees do you have?

We have five employees [at the Zollipops office in Commerce Township] but with our plant we create almost 1,000 jobs, workers who make them, ship, and pack.

How many hours a week would you say Zollipops takes of your time?

35 to 40 percent of my time.

How are you utilizing that time?

In the morning, my dad briefs me on what's going on and things I should know about. We also work on sales and marketing. I personally work in product development a lot and we do trade shows, we go to meetings, sales calls, and things along those lines.

What were some of the challenges you faced launching your company?

Definitely one of the challenges we faced was that I am a kid and lots of people don't think kids can do what adults can do. But … if it's something we're really passionate about and it's something we really want, we can do anything — especially if we ask the right questions and we are persistent and tenacious.

How did you win over the doubters?

I have won over a lot of people with the fact that I am a kid and I do have to go to school and I have less experience in the field. But I believe that I can do anything if I put my mind to it and also you really want people to believe in you.

What is your favorite Zollipop flavor?

I like all the flavors but I'm partial to the orange.

Was it a hard sell in the beginning, telling kids “here is this healthy lollipop and it has ingredients with names like Xylitol.” Did you find kids were like, “What is that? I don't want to eat that.”

Well, we did lots of tests with real kids and with some of my friends and we found that kids actually can't tell the difference between our Zollipops and a normal lollipop ... it's a healthy choice but also a delicious choice that parents will like and say yes to and kids will love them. It's really a win-win for everyone.

Tell us about 250,000 Smile Initiative, your nonprofit program for schools.

[Teachers and principals] can sign up [on] and we can have Zollipops sent to schools and classrooms ... We give Zollipops to schools because we want to support oral health education in schools because it's really important to take care of your teeth. You have your smile forever and it's one of the first things people see about you. If you smile at them, it makes them feel good about themselves and other people want to smile at other people. It's just a domino effect of people smiling and people being happy so it's really important for kids at a young age to take care of their smiles.

Do you want to launch other businesses? Has this inspired you to become a lifelong entrepreneur?

I definitely have lots of ideas on other useful products to help families and help kids because that's really what I like to do in business: I like to try to help people I can relate to and people all over the world. I want to study business and sales and marketing, and I think being a CEO is really rewarding because you really feel pride in helping people and changing their lives for the better.

Is that your career goal being a CEO?


Read more articles by Dorothy Hernandez.

Dorothy Hernandez lives, eats and writes in Detroit. Her areas of interest and expertise include food, community, and entrepreneurship.
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