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Katie Lefkowitz, a 2016 graduate of Harvard Business School, entered the New Venture Competition last year with her startup, Harken Sweets, but did not win. Undeterred, she re-entered the competition this year and emerged as the winner of the NY/Northeast U.S. Region. Ultimately, she became the Global Runner Up and Global Crowd Favorite in the 2024 Harvard Business School Alumni New Venture Competition Global Finale. Harken Sweets is a better-for-you candy bar company that is set to launch its all-natural, plant-based Harken bars in Walmart stores nationwide on April 1.

Lefkowitz’s background in equestrianism taught her the value of persistence, which has paid off in her entrepreneurial journey. Harken Sweets has seen early distribution through various retailers and its website, where the bars are sold in packs of 12 for $44.99. The bars come in three flavors, each containing high-fiber ingredients such as prebiotic tapioca, Fair Trade cocoa, oats, and plant-based proteins. Despite the rapid growth of the business, it remains an ultra-lean operation run by Lefkowitz and her husband, who recently hired their first employee to assist with the expansion.

The inspiration for Harken Sweets came from Lefkowitz’s personal experience of needing to increase her fiber intake due to a medical condition. She developed her own date caramel recipe, which led to the creation of a healthy candy bar with lots of fiber. While major candy bar manufacturers were not focusing on high-fiber ingredients, Lefkowitz found success in providing consumers with a healthier alternative through Harken Sweets. Influencers on TikTok showcasing customized candy bars with mix-ins further validated the demand for such products.

Participating in the Harvard Business School Alumni New Venture Competition helped Lefkowitz refine her idea and branding, ultimately contributing to the success of Harken Sweets. Ana Kertesz, Co-VP of Entrepreneurship at the Harvard Business School Club of NY, notes that being surrounded by daring entrepreneurs in the competition is energizing and fosters innovation. Mentoring has also played a significant role in the company’s growth, with Lefkowitz drawing on her experience as a COO at a better-for-you brand and receiving guidance from industry professionals like Gail Becker and Ana Kertesz.

Harken Sweets is targeting parents as an important market, as research shows that fiber is a macronutrient that many Americans, especially children, do not consume enough of. The company has already built a cult following through organic social media efforts and plans to expand its reach through new retail locations starting next month. With the launch of their plant-based candy bars in Walmart stores nationwide, Harken Sweets is poised for continued success in providing consumers with a healthier alternative to traditional candy bars.

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