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Jan. 30, 2024

Student view: Sweet, sweet early success

Alina Morse is a first-year finance student in the Broad College of Business, pursuing a minor in entrepreneurship and innovation. She is a recipient of the Schaberg Entrepreneurship Scholarship and is part of the program's second cohort of scholars within the Residential Business College. As the founder of ZolliCandy, the fastest-growing zero-sugar candy company in the United States, she continues to make her mark.

For as long as I can remember, I have been passionate about business and, more specifically, how it can impact the greater good globally. At age 4, my father read me the book "Rich Dad, Poor Dad," by Robert Kiyosaki. This incredible piece of literature changed my perception of business by combining the ideas of innovation and philanthropy to influence change.

At age 7, I came up with the idea for my now Inc. 5000 company, ZolliCandy. I wanted to eat candy without my parents saying “no.” However, with some research, I learned that tooth decay was the single greatest epidemic facing kids in America, according to the Surgeon General. I knew my idea could help people, so I dedicated my life to founding and developing my products and business. I didn’t have a traditional childhood, with my extracurriculars comprising R&D, buyer meetings, interviews and travel. This became evident when I was tasked with deciding whether to attend college!

With my father being an MSU alum, I have grown up attending football and exploring campus, but I had never considered that MSU would be the place for me. That is, until I met the individuals at the Burgess Institute for Entrepreneurship and Innovation. Upon learning about the vast resources and opportunities for people like me, I knew this was the place where I could take my career to the next level. Being surrounded by instructors and mentors well versed in the real world of entrepreneurship is so impactful, but what I have been the most excited about thus far are the connections I have made with fellow student entrepreneurs who understand the hardships of pursuing both paths. With the support of the Burgess Institute and other entrepreneurship-centered groups, I have had the opportunity to mentor and be mentored in my short time at MSU.

As a young woman founder in an industry dominated by legacy brands and traditionalists, finding individuals I could relate to had been challenging. This is why the entrepreneurial ecosystem at MSU and the community of entrepreneurs, national and worldwide, is so important to me — all entrepreneurs have fundamental things in common that allow them to endure such a risky and stressful venture. I find solace in these similarities and value the connections I have forged in this ecosystem. In addition to my nonprofit that supports oral health and entrepreneurship education in schools across America —The Million Smiles Initiative — I am dedicated to giving back to the entrepreneurial community that has embraced my venture.

At the end of the day, I am an 18-year-old university student juggling and balancing the social, emotional and educational challenges just like any other teenager. I see my time at MSU as a great opportunity to network and a place to make lasting connections with my peers. I always say I’m like Hannah Montana: I truly get, “the best of both worlds,” being an entrepreneur while pursuing my academic career. I feel very fortunate to have the unique opportunity to do both.

The future of Zolli is nothing less than sweet — pun intended — with expanding product lines, exponential growth across all channels, international distribution and accolades across our portfolio, I am so thrilled to see what the future has in store, and, more importantly, see how many smiles we can create along the way.

This story originally appeared on the Burgess Institute for Entrepreneurship and Innovation website.

Photo ©2023 courtesy ZolliCandy

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