By Julia Szabo
Battling a serious illness changes a person forever, for better and for worse. On the plus side, a health crisis can set an entrepreneurial spirit on a mission to make a difference. In the words of Kathy Giusti, founder and chief mission officer of the Multiple Myeloma Research Foundation, “I never thought I’d be an entrepreneur until I was told I only had three years to live.” A renewed resolve to succeed is not only good for one’s well-being, it can be great for business, and might even change the world—as these entrepreneurs learned.
Lori Levine is a pro at thriving after illness: Always keeping fit and active, staying positive even while hospitalized, the CPA beats health challenges with the same disciplined savvy she applies to accounting. Three times she faced down a rare, potentially fatal condition that spontaneously collapsed her right lung. Twelve years after the lung condition was finally resolved with surgery and hormone therapy, she went in for a routine mammogram and sonogram. Even the bad news she got—cancer in her left breast—couldn’t slow her down.
Commuting between her Long Island home and NYU Langone Perlmutter Cancer Center in Manhattan, juggling client calls with doctors’ updates, she powered her way through exhausting radiation treatments with a purse full of energy-boosting protein bars, and wound down before bed with two squares of dark chocolate. After she kicked cancer, “I decided to clean up my act,” Levine says. “One of the few things I could control is what I put in my body. So I went to a nutritionist and got into the best shape of my life.” Pointing out the toxic ingredients in Levine’s go-to energy bars, the nutritionist also laid down the law about the sugar content of her nightly snack. Now, what would satisfy her sweet tooth? How could she safely treat herself?
The dilemma was not lost on her husband, Scott, also a CPA with an MBA, who undertook a labor of love: After researching healthy, delicious ingredients, he concocted a virtuous treat recipe that really hit the spot—peanut butter, cacao, chia seeds, flaxseed, organic plant-based protein powder, and other nutritionist-approved ingredients, all rolled up into bite-size balls that Lori says she took “everywhere I went. I loved them. They were perfect. Wish I could’ve had them during radiation!”
By the summer of 2020, Scott had resolutely perfected the recipe—“He got the sugar down, plus no salt, no soy, no GMO”—and the Levines were no longer giving away their scrumptious snacks; they were doing business as Scott’s Protein Balls. In two flavors, Peanut Butter Cacao and Snickerdoodle (with almond butter), “It was blowing up,” she says. “People were posting on Instagram, holding up their empty bag with a sad face.” Three more equally addictive flavors were added: Java Peanut Butter, Brownie Batter and Confetti (f.k.a. Funfetti, complete with sprinkles that contain no trace of chemical color). And then came the couple’s short, sweet appearance on Good Morning America, as part of a feature on breast cancer-inspired businesses.
“We got a thousand orders that morning alone. Scott calls us accidental entrepreneurs. Every day, we just look at each other. It’s crazy—we’ve rarely met a person who doesn’t love at least one flavor. Our customers range from 2 to 92. I’ve had therapists tell me they’re getting their patients with eating disorders to eat better.” Now, she adds, the goal is “to get out of the production end and hire a company to make, roll, package and ship them; Scott should be doing business at the back end, and I should be doing sales and marketing. I want to get us into more places, grow the brand and reach more people who need healthy snack alternatives—especially anyone going through treatment for breast cancer.” scottsproteinballs.com