Alina Morse is both an ordinary and extraordinary high school freshman.
The 14-year-old is your typical young student – she loves hanging out with her friends, cheerleading, and always has her phone on hand. But all that phone time is spent for a good reason. Unlike most of her peers, Alina is running a business that she is the CEO of – the sweets empire, Zolli Candy.
While most parents would ask their kids to stay away from candy because of what it can do to their teeth, this company’s treats are both sweet and good for your teeth – a combo that we don’t see too often.
Alina’s candies are sold in about 25,000 major retailers across the country, including Walmart and Walgreens. The company’s first ever product is the Zollipop, and it is now the 3rd best selling lollipop on Amazon. They taste like how a regular candy would, but they are sugar-free and made with low-calorie alternatives like xylitol and erythritol.
The young CEO’s business is booming. Inc. ranked Zolli Candy as one of the year’s fastest-growing private companies. Just last year alone, it earned an estimated $2.2 million in profits.
Despite her huge success, Alina says that she is just like your average teen.
“I am just a tenacious person that loved candy,” she told InsideEdition.com.
Alina is definitely no freshman when it comes to entrepreneurship. In fact, she came up with the idea for healthy lollipops when she was just 7 years old. It all started when she and her dad, Tom Morse, went on a trip to the bank. When the teller offered Alina a lollipop, her dad said no, warning her of the dangers of consuming sugar.
When they got out of the bank, Aline asked Tom: “Why can’t we make a lollipop that’s good for you?” – a question that her dad wasn’t able to answer.
Once they got back to their home in Wolverine Lake, Michigan, Alina searched YouTube for tutorials on how to make candy. Once she knew how to, she got to work in their kitchen table, replacing the unhealthy ingredients with ones that were beneficial.
Alina also sought the help of various local dentists and hygienists, who the freshman said were “crucial” to her company’s huge success.
“They suggested erythritol and xylitol [instead of sugar]. After researching them, I included those ingredients in the Zolli formula,” she said.
After a two-year trial period, Alina used $3,750 of her savings – plus a match from her family – to have Zollipop manufactured professionally. At the early age of 9, Alina pitched her first product to Whole Foods, which agreed to sell the sweet treat.
“We just didn’t think it was going to be this big,” Alina’s mom, Sue Morse, said. “We just thought,’OK, sure, we’ll support it.’”
Currently, Zolli Candy is composed of a staff of ten people, and their headquarters is located in Commerce Township, Michigan. There are also dozens of others across the country who assist in the day-to-day operations of the business. Alina even has her own publicist, Klint Briney of BRANDed Management, who started working with her when she was 9.
Despite having so much on her plate – sales meetings, trade shows, and even giving a TEDx talk – Alina remains a full-time student. She does her homework wherever she can – at home, in the Zolli Candy office, or at the airport when she’s on a business travel. Alina says that balancing her work as CEO and school can be tough, but the support that she gets from her family and her staff gets her through.
“Her day is like every kid in America: She gets up, she goes to school, she works hard in her classes,” Tom said.
One of the biggest obstacles that Alina faces is proving to other business professionals that she was a serious entrepreneur.
“It’s difficult occasionally when I walk into a meeting and people kind of give you the ‘who’s she?’ kind of look, because I’m a kid running a company and people tend to be pretty skeptical about that,” she said. “It does kind of shock some people.”
But they soon realize that they were wrong to doubt her.
“I’m like, ‘Give me 10 minutes.’ I’ll talk and [they’ll] realize I know my stuff,” she said.
When Alina came up with the idea for Zolli Candy, she had the intention of making sweet treats for kids that will help improve their dental hygiene. And the company stayed true to its core mission – 10% of its profits go to supporting oral health education in schools. Alina also started the Million Smiles Initiative, in which free Zollipops are distributed in schools to teach children about the importance of oral health.
Alina’s ultimate goal is for Zolli Candy to become the number one best selling treat in the country.
“Alina empowers and inspires a lot of people,” Tom said. “She really teaches that kids can do anything and she’s living proof.”
“Alina always recites Tom’s advice to her: Work hard, try, believe and never give up,” Sue added.
For now, there is still one thing that holding back this unstoppable lady – the lack of a driver’s license.
Are you curious about what a young CEO’s day looks like? Then watch the video below.