This summer, five women of varying ages and backgrounds converged in the suburbs of Dallas to begin a whirlwind journey with seemingly one thing in common: they were finalists in the inaugural Stacy's Rise Project, a funding and mentorship program exclusively for female entrepreneurs in the food and beverage industry, given that female founders in the United States received only 2.3% of venture capitalist funding in the last year.
The group met again in New York City, all having earned $20,000 in business funding – but even richer after spending the last three months learning from top marketing, sales, innovation, R&D, and digital executives at PepsiCo and Frito-Lay. Fellow entrepreneur Padma Lakshmi, who helped select the five finalists from a pool of 400 applicants, brought the journey full circle when she announced Hakuna Brands Founder Hannah Hong of Los Angeles as the $100,000 grand prize Stacy's Rise Project winner.
A first-generation American and daughter of two entrepreneurs, Hong left corporate America to chase her own American dream when she and her best friend first created Hakuna Brands as a banana-based, non-dairy frozen dessert to answer their lactose intolerance.
In the spirit of furthering female entrepreneurs, Hong's win is also timed to Women's Entrepreneurship Day on November 19, an annual celebration dedicated to the recognition and empowerment of women in the workplace. This year, Stacy's is further celebrating by bringing a specialized line of Stacy's Rise Project-inspired packaging to store shelves.
Hong and her fellow finalists – Hannah Dehradunwala of Transfernation (New York, N.Y.), Pilar Gonzalez of Dip It by Pilar (Mission City, Texas), Kate Holby of Ajiri Tea (Upper Black Eddy, Pa.), and Michelle Liddle of The Perfect Granola (Victor, N.Y.) – concluded their mentorship program and put the finishing touches on their updated business plans in late October, inspired by the success of Stacy Madison who founded Stacy's Pita Chips and for which the Stacy's Rise Project is named.
With the culmination of the 2019 Stacy's Rise Project, the program has awarded more than $300,000 to women in the food and beverage industry to advance their business plans and, since May, has built an online community of more than 1,500 businesswomen via Alice, a leading online platform for women and other minority entrepreneurs. To join the conversation, visit stacysrise.helloalice.com or follow #RiseProject2019 across social media.