Interested in starting your own entrepreneurial journey in food and beverage but unsure what to expect? Then read up on our interview with Denise Woodard, Founder and CEO of Partake Foods, located in New York, NY, USA.
What's your business, and who are your customers?
Created in 2016 when my daughter was diagnosed with multiple food allergies, Partake offers a selection of delicious, allergy-friendly products, including crunchy and soft baked cookie flavors, a line of baking mixes, and a pancake & waffle line in Confetti and Classic flavors. All products are certified gluten-free, non-GMO, vegan, and free of the top 9 allergens (wheat, tree nuts, peanuts, milk, eggs, soy, fish, sesame, and shellfish). The products are made with better-for-you ingredients and offer a variety of flavors that those with and without dietary restrictions can enjoy.
When I first started Partake, I thought I was our audience—allergy moms needing a safe snack solution. But, from hundreds of food demos, consumer shows, and sampling, I got to know other consumers, like those seeking gluten-free, non-GMO, and vegan products. My favorite feedback is from those who shared the product with their family and friends that don’t have the food restrictions they do and got the feedback that they “couldn’t believe” what they tried was [vegan, gluten-free, and allergy-friendly]. When our pizza crust launched, we heard from a number of people who hadn’t been able to have pizza in a long time, and we gave them “pizza night” again. Bringing folks back the food they love and can now safely enjoy is purpose-driving.
Tell us about yourself
Shortly after her first birthday, my daughter Vivienne was diagnosed with multiple food allergies. When I couldn't find solutions that met my nutritional standards, safely satisfied her taste buds, and would allow her to confidently and happily snack amongst her friends, I left my career at Coca-Cola and got started on Partake Foods.
For me, the inspiration behind Partake is very personal—my own daughter benefits greatly from this company's products, and knowing that I'm building something that I feel good about giving her and other people like her is very motivational. Also, I'm proud of the example I set that when you have a problem, you work to solve it for yourself and others and that with hard work and passion, you can positively impact others' lives. I think one has to have a mission and purpose that is bigger than you to keep going on the tough, unglamorous road that is entrepreneurship.
What's your biggest accomplishment as a business owner?
There have been so many pinch-me moments to date! Seeing our products on Target shelves across the country for the first time was very meaningful. But it always feels wonderful when a customer shares where they spotted us!
What's one of the hardest things that come with being a business owner?
Though Partake has grown significantly since our seed round, getting to that point was not easy. Prior to that, a Black woman hadn't raised more than $1M publicly for a packaged food company. Breaking that glass ceiling required that I dig deep as I went through 86 "nos" before hearing "yes" from Marcy Venture Partners—who has since turned into a trusted and often-relied strategic partner. Though that period of my life was challenging and stressful, it was absolutely the most satisfying because it solidified for me that I was on the right path.
What are the top tips you'd give to anyone looking to start, run and grow a business today?
The business advice I’d give to fellow entrepreneurs just starting out would be to know your why, understand the financial metrics of your business, value progress over perfection, and specifically to the Black community, I’d say that your particular lived experiences are what make you unique—that’s an advantage, not a weakness.
Where can people find you and your business?
If you like what you've read here and have your own story as a solo or small business entrepreneur that you'd like to share, then please answer these interview questions. We'd love to feature your journey on these pages.
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