Celebrity Health: Jay-Z Invested In This Female-Founded Business: Here’s How She Grew Her Company

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Celebrity Health: Jay-Z Invested In This Female-Founded Business: Here’s How She Grew Her Company

Celebrity Health:

Celebrity Health: denise woodward

Denise Woodard

Credit: courtesy of Partake foods

When rapper Jay Z’s fund Marcy Venture Partners invested $1 million in Partake, a black-owned, allergy-friendly snack company, something happened. Business rose 3,000% and website traffic increased 150%. The major investment allowed Woodard, a former Coca-Cola executive, to start hiring her first full-time employees. She’s been invited to attend a major natural food summit hosted by Kroger in August, one of the nation’s largest retailers, while keeping up with Partake’s consumer demand. She started Partake in 2016 and has already hit several home runs. As a woman of color, Woodard has moved forward fast in just a few short years. Yet she has experienced setbacks and challenges and shares the resources she used to gain momentum in a competitive food industry. 

Maryann Reid: What kind of resistance have you experienced whether it’s based on being a woman of color or something else that prevented you from fully participating in an opportunity?

Denise Woodard: I’d read so many stories of how difficult it is, specifically for women of color, to raise venture capital, but I did not have an appreciation for what a feat it is, until I went through the fundraising journey myself. Despite our early traction, my background in consumer packaged goods, and the financial health of our business, I have a spreadsheet of 86 ‘no/not right now’ responses I got from potential investors.

I think it was for a plethora of reasons: investors thinking we were too early, not understanding our brand proposition and the competitiveness of the industry. But because capital is so critical to growing a mass market consumer brand, it was necessary for us to raise money. I’d already emptied my 401(k) and sold my engagement ring, so there was nothing left for me to invest personally. As a first-time founder and woman of color, continuously walking into rooms of people who did not look like me, who had no experience with food allergies, and who responded to my pitch with blank stares, definitely shook my confidence to the core. Ultimately, I feel thankful for those nos because we found an ideal partner in our current investor group. But it was definitely frustrating and discouraging at the time and made me question if I should be doing this.

Reid: Many female brands that make the media are beauty or fashion oriented. What’s your biggest piece of advice for women of color who want to get into the food space? 

Woodard: So many large retailers, like Kroger, Target and Walmart, are actively seeking minority and women-led brands, so use that to your advantage, in terms of special programming and events. Also, network like crazy. I find that in the food space, other founders and industry professionals are so generous with their time and advice.

Reid: What was your first year starting Partake like?

Woodard: Long and hard, but fulfilling. I created the LLC for Partake in June 2016, and for the first year, I worked full-time at Coca-Cola while waking up early and staying up late every single day to develop Partake. I needed to find a food scientist to help improve and scale our formula, a manufacturer that could safely and reliably make the product, and develop packaging and the brand ethos. Once I left Coca-Cola in August 2017, with a storage unit full of cookies to sell, I took to the streets of New York City and approached local stores, selling the product, taking orders, and doing store demos. I spent nine months doing that before we brought on our first chain, Whole Foods across the southwest.

Reid: What advice do you have for women of color who have a unique or interesting idea?

Woodard: Because support, both emotionally and through social capital, is so important in the entrepreneurial journey, I would suggest seeking out a safe community built to support women of color—whether that’s a local organization that meets in person. In the New York City area, I love Mater Mea, which is dedicated to supporting African-American moms in their journey or following a community, like the one Blavity has built, or even listening to a podcast, like Side Hustle Pro that tells the inspiring stories of African-American female founders.

Reid: Who have been influential models or mentors?

Woodard: I actually don’t know her, but Nancy Twine, the Founder of Briogeo is definitely an influential model of mine. She started the company while still working full time in banking, has an amazing and effective product line and has continued to stay true to her brand and her identity as a woman of color. I also really admire Carla Vernon, the President of the Natural & Organic group at General Mills.

Reid: When asked about your ethnic background how do you handle that in a business meeting? Do you lead with it or let others ask?

Woodard: Because a large part of the brand right now is me and my family, I lead with it. I view my identity as a woman of color as a strength and use that to express to retailers how we are able to authentically appeal to a consumer group

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