In many ways, Alina Morse is a typical 4th grader.
She loves to dance and sing around the house. She’s been known to spend her free time with a good book. She’s inquisitive and asks lots of questions about everything.
And with the help of her business consultant father, she’s created a line of lollipops promoting healthy teeth for children.
“It’s kind of in my blood,” said the 9-year-old from Wolverine Lake.
Alina is the inventor of Zollipops, a sugar-free lollipop containing sugar alternatives erythritol, xylitol and stevia. She said it helps freshen breath and balances the mouth’s pH, a measure of how acidic it is after eating.
“After you eat, your mouth is very acidic and your enamel is very soft, so if you brush your teeth right after, you hurt the enamel,” Alina said. “But if you have a Zollipop after a meal, which is a good time for it, it helps strengthen the enamel.”
She will appear on “Good Morning America” on Friday during the ABC show’s “Shark Tank Your Life” segment. She will present her product to FUBU founder and Shark Tank investor, Daymond John.
She came up with the lollipop idea one day after visiting the bank with her father. The teller offered her a sucker.
“My dad always tells me I shouldn’t eat candy because it’s bad for your teeth,” said Alina, who attends Scotch Elementary School in the West Bloomfield School District. “So I was thinking on the way home, why can’t we make a healthy sucker that’s good for you?”
A $7,500 investment
With a $7,500 investment, advice of dental professionals and help from parents Tom and Suzanne, Alina did just that.
“A lot of it is Alina’s tenacity. She doesn’t let go of things,” said Tom Morse. “She literally must have asked me a hundred times, when are we going to make these lollipops that are good for your teeth?”
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, tooth decay and cavities remain the most common chronic disease among children. It’s four times as frequent as asthma among adolescents 14-17. It’s also an adult problem: Nine out of 10 people over age 20 have some tooth decay.
Alina is already finding success with the multi-flavor lollipops. A bag of 15 sells for $6 at some area Whole Foods stores. She’s also selling on Amazon.com and OfficeMax.com.
Back home, Alina is taking the health aspect of her business even further: 10 percent of all money she makes will go toward oral hygiene programs in area schools.
“I want to teach kids about how important it is to brush your teeth, to keep your baby teeth and especially your grown up teeth clean and healthy,” she said. “You need to treat them like they will cry and have a huge fit if you don’t take care of them.”
The little girl has big dreams for her company and her product. One day, she hopes Zollipops will be included in all grocery stores, fast food meals for children or Lunchables, instead of treats like cookies or brownies. She also has plans to expand the product line to appeal more toward adults.
And of course, she hopes Zollipops will one day replace the sugary suckers at banks.
“I would love to see them giving away Zollipops, because that would be so much better for the kids’ teeth,” she said. “I want to see them have a clean, happy smile.”
Everyone in the family has helped, even Alina’s 5-year-old sister Lola who accidentally gave them the name when she mixed up the word “lollipop.”
But it’s her father that has really focused her energy and helped take her idea from dream to reality. He’s the one who put up the start-up capital, solicited advice from dentists on the perfect formula and found a Midwest manufacturer to produce the suckers. Alina worked with her dad to pick the flavors, the design and the packaging. She’s definitely taking the lead on marketing, though.
“With Alina, I’m kind of like her consultant,” said Tom Morse, who has advised manufacturers for years in his job. “I try to emphasize that the smartest people ask the best questions. I try to help her, just like like I would with a business owner, to ask the right questions.”
Asking questions is second nature for the girl who dreams of one day splitting her time between acting and owning her own business.
“As you grow up you tend to not ask as many questions as you do when you are younger,” she said. “I don’t intend to stop asking questions.”