Would You Work for a 13-Year-Old Entrepreneur?
At first, Mallory Kievman appears to be an average eighth grader. Her favorite subjects are language and science. When not in class, she enjoys soccer and distance running.
Here's where Mallory differs: her list of extracurricular activities also includes owning a business. And this ain't no little lemonade stand.
Mallory is the creator of Hicuppops, a lollipop designed to--you guessed it--stop cases of the hiccups. The candy is more than just a novelty item: it was named the innovation with the greatest patent potential at the 2011 Connecticut Invention Convention, and, this summer, Mallory will work with MBA candidates from the University of Connecticut who will consult her on how to bring this new product to market.
A 13-year-old entrepreneur may make some smile, but veteran businessmen insist that this is more than just a cute story. Mallory's father, Adam Kievman, says Hiccupops has received customer, investor, and distributor inquiries from around the globe. Danny Briere--the founder of private-public initiative Startup Connecticut and a liaison to Startup America--says that the company has received so many distribution requests from stores that if Hiccupops were available for distribution today, the company would immediately be cashflow positive.
"The thing I love about it: I deal with start-ups all day long, and there are many that have a window of six months, or a year, or two years to make their money and that’s it. Then they’re obsolete. You can see this being around for decades,” Briere says.
Briere first met Kievman at the 2011 Connecticut Invention Convention, which was held at the University of Connecticut. The convention--a competition among tens of thousands of Connecticut grade schoolers--was all abuzz about Hiccupops. After being awarded the CIC equivalent for "best in show," Hiccupops applied for a patent (which is still pending).
If filing a patent application and turning an idea into a business sounds like difficult work for a girl who isn't even in high school, it is. Mallory admits she's received a substantial amount of business guidance from her father, Adam, who is a human-resources executive at a pharmaceutical company.
Still, Mallory can take credit for all the research-and-development. She began making the product in her kitchen in the summer of 2011, she says. After several bouts of the hiccups, she starting researching rumored cures, and found that apple cider vinegar, sugar, and lollipops worked best. Mallory then amalgamated them into a single piece of candy.
"I knew from experience by that point that no one wants to drink apple cider vinegar straight from the bottle," she says. "Combining apple cider vinegar and sugar into a lollipop would make it more tolerable."
Hiccupops has recruited the help of Fiona Posell and her marketing firm, Produce Communications. Posell, who helped launched the food product POM Wonderful, will receive some equity--the amount is undisclosed--in exchange for her work.
Hiccupops will also be aided by UConn business students this summer. Using an introduction from Briere, Hiccupops began talks with Christopher Levesque, executive director of the University of Connecticut's Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation after its win at the innovation competition. On a recent Thursday, four MBA candidates from the center met with the young business-owner to begin a summer-long project in which they will consult Hiccupops on how take its remedy from the Kievman kitchen to store shelves. (Hicuppops is careful not to call itself a "cure" due to possible FDA scrutiny.)
"We're not working on this because it's a 13-year-old with no self-confidence and think it’s just a good marketing ploy," Levesque says. "This is something that has some real gravitas to it."
Levesque adds that the product's low production costs and wide distribution potential give the company a great opportunity to be successful.
But with Mallory returning to school and Adam to his job as director of talent acquisition at Alexion Pharmaceuticals, Hiccupops will need a new CEO in autumn. None has been identified yet.
One thing's clear: The winning candidate will need to be comfortable taking cues from a high school freshman.