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People Underestimated Her 'Sweet' Idea, and She Took Advantage of It — All the Way to $125 Million in Annual Sales and a $360 Million Exit Tara Bosch faced certain challenges as the young woman founder of SmartSweets. Her next venture, Bold Beginnings, is all about making it easier for the women who come next.

By Amanda Breen

Key Takeaways

  • Tara Bosch's SmartSweets, launched in 2016, grew out of a conversation with her grandmother.
  • Adopting a "take the whole platter" mentality and seeing challenges as opportunities helped pave the way to her lucrative exit.
  • Now, she's behind Bold Beginnings: the program for "women under 30 with big ideas" that's doing what most incubators don't.
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Courtesy of SmartSweets
Tara Bosch

Growing up, Tara Bosch's grandmother was her "best friend in the world," and enjoying candy together was one of their favorite pastimes.

But, by the time she was in her late 80s, Bosch's grandmother said she regretted consuming so much sugar over the years because of the impact on her body. The conversation made her granddaughter think: Well, why can't you feel good about candy?

Bosch recognized an innovation gap in the candy space, and she wanted to fill it. So, in 2016, at age 22, she founded the Vancouver-based low-sugar gummy and hard company SmartSweets, which uses no added sugar or artificial sweeteners and relies on fruit and vegetable juices for color.

In just four years, SmartSweets was on track to exceed $125 million in annual sales — then was acquired by TPG Capital for $360 million.

But Bosch had to navigate the specific challenges that came with being a young woman entrepreneur from the start, and the experience inspired her latest venture: Bold Beginnings, the program for "women under 30 with big ideas," which brings women from across North America together to share their visions and gain critical support.

Related: New Yorkers Are Helping Ray's Candy Store Stay in Business

Entrepreneur sat down with Bosch ahead of Women's Equality Day to hear about the key mindset shifts that powered SmartSweet's success, and how they're informing her approach with Bold Beginnings.

"We promise ourselves we're always going to take the whole platter and not hesitate."

One of the first lessons Bosch learned over the course of her SmartSweets journey? Don't hesitate when it comes to going after what you want — just "take the whole plate" instead.

Shortly after Bosch started SmartSweets, she participated in an accelerator program. At the end of the kickoff event, she and the only other woman in the cohort found themselves staring at a leftover platter of sandwiches. They were living the "broke" startup life and wondered if it would be okay to take a couple of them home.

But while they hesitated, not wanting people to think them "rude" or that they were taking what wasn't theirs, Bosch and the other woman watched a man walk up and take the entire platter.

"We looked at each other and were like, 'Okay, we promise ourselves we're always going to take the whole platter and not hesitate' — because [it's] those small, seemingly insignificant moments that make such a difference," Bosch recalls.

Related: The Key to Starting a Business? Just Deciding to Go For It.

All too often, that moment of pause translates into a missed opportunity, Bosch says. According to the founder, the only time you should take a breather is when you're thinking big — but only so you can think even bigger.

"Everything in life normalizes," Bosch explains. "When we had 1,000 retailers, that felt like a really big target. Then when [we had] 5,000, then 100,000. And I learned that the mind is truly the only thing that's limiting you from creating what you are looking to create in the world and what that vision's impact holds."

Courtesy of SmartSweets

"I tried to [think of] challenges as opportunities hidden in disguise."

Bosch likens startup life to "rolling a giant ball up a hill that could come down and crush you at any moment in time" — all while holding onto the belief that your vision matters. But seeing "challenges as opportunities hidden in disguise" helped Bosch push on during SmartSweet's early days.

One of SmartSweet's biggest challenges came just three weeks before launch, back when the company was called Stevie Sweets (after the sugar substitute Stevia). The manufacturer pulled out, and others willing to sign on had much higher minimums, so Bosch spent the day before Christmas cold-messaging investors on LinkedIn in a bid to get the necessary capital.

Although many of them responded, no one was biting — and some investors said the brand's name didn't resonate. That's why Bosch changed the company's name to SmartSweets, which "ended up being the biggest blessing in disguise," she says.

Related: 3 Ways Your Obstacles Are Your Biggest Blessings | Entrepreneur

Bosch also recalls being written off as a young woman entrepreneur in the "fun" candy industry. Sometimes that manifested in patronizing language, like when people called SmartSweets "really cute" or a "sweet idea," but other times, it was even more explicit and tangible, like when Bosch tried to get funding.

"I had a clear forecast, and when I was talking to investors, they'd be asking for so much detailed information, whereas my male counterparts who were raising on pre-money valuations and had no actual sales were getting investors to say 'yes,'" Bosch says.

But Bosch considered being underestimated just another opportunity to continue with her "head down like a bull and let the results speak for themselves." It was also a "good filter" to distance herself from people who wouldn't have served her as partners, she says.

"Bold Beginnings really exists to empower women to know that they're infinitely capable."

Bosch's experience as a woman founder is powering her next venture, Bold Beginnings. She says the idea for a program where women could share their visions and feel supported was inspired by her battles with "self-doubt" and "imposter syndrome" over the years.

Well into her career, Bosch recalls still feeling uneasy, unsure how to inspire the "amazing" and "smart" people she was charged with leading in Zoom meetings during Covid. She wondered: Am I the only one feeling these feelings?

Of course, she wasn't: A 2020 poll from KPMG found that of 750 high-performing women just below C-level across various industries, 75% of them had experienced imposter syndrome over the course of their careers.

"Bold Beginnings really exists to empower women to know that they're infinitely capable and to normalize those feelings and equip them with the meaningful support and peer group to have on their journey with them," Bosch says.

Related: 4 Strategies to Empower Women in the Workplace | Entrepreneur

The forthcoming project is like other incubator programs in that it will "equip [women] with the knowledge to bring your business to life and to the next stage" — but it stands apart for its attention to "the experience that comes with being a woman entrepreneur in today's world," Bosch says.

The program is open to women under 30 living in North America. Online applications are open through the end of the month, and those selected will be notified in the first week of September ahead of the inaugural program in October. All women who participate should leave with knowledge and support, but one lucky winner will also depart with $25,000 to help bring her vision to life.

"If you just continue to put one foot in front of the other every single day, you'll absolutely get to where you are meant to go, and we will be there alongside you to support you and be an anchor for you in that," Bosch says.

Amanda Breen

Entrepreneur Staff

Senior Features Writer

Amanda Breen is a senior features writer at Entrepreneur.com. She is a graduate of Barnard College and received an MFA in writing at Columbia University, where she was a news fellow for the School of the Arts.

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