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How PepsiCo is Helping Female Founders Find Funding in Food & Beverage

April 23, 2021
PepsiCo’s Devaunshi Mahadevia talks about how WomanMade and the Food For Good Program are helping to fight childhood hunger while also supporting women-led small businesses.

On today’s episode, we’re talking with Devaunshi Mahadevia, Director of Global Marketing for SunChips and the Global Lead on WomanMade, about how PepsiCo’s WomanMade program is supporting the economic advancement of women in the food system. We cover a lot of ground in a short amount of time, including why programs like WomanMade are needed, how it’s helping female food founders, as well as how PepsiCo’s Food For Good Program is helping to fight childhood hunger while also supporting women-led small businesses.

Enjoy the episode.

Transcript for the Podcast

Erin: Devaunshi, welcome to the Food for Thought Podcast. It's great to have you on today.

Devaunshi: Thank you so much for having me, Erin. I've been so excited about this conversation.

Erin: I'm familiar with the WomanMade program, but in case our audience is not, could you explain what it is and how it came about?

Devaunshi: WomanMade is a platform that unites PepsiCo's efforts to support the economic advancement of women in the food system. Through this initiative, we harness the collective power of our brands, our foundation, our partners, and our employees to positively impact women in agriculture, women in supply chain, and, of course, women who are launching food and beverage brands every single day. A big part of this platform is the WomanMade community that we founded with a partner called Hello Alice. This now has 4,000 members and here we're able to provide access to tools, resources, funding, mentorship, and network-building to help female founders grow and scale their businesses.

I'd love to tell you a little bit about how and why WomanMade came about. Our story really began at the end of 2018 when we first became aware of what's now a commonly used data point. Only 2.2% of venture capital dollars go to female founders and only about 0.2% to diverse female entrepreneurs. But despite those shocking statistics, according to data that we've pulled from various published reports, just last year in the U.S. more than 1,800 women-owned businesses were launched every single day and 64% of those were launched by women of color.

Today, women-owned businesses are growing two times faster on average than all businesses nationwide, and they continue to fuel our economy. They're also two times more successful than those founded by men, returning 78 cents on the dollar as compared to 31 cents. And lastly, 4 out of every 10 businesses in the U.S. today are women-owned. I mean, it's incredible how much women are able to do with such limited resources. Isn't it? And that's what got a number of us thinking, you know, what might the world look like if women were given the same opportunities as men? What can we do as a company to shift this current reality into one that we want to see? And how do we, in some small way, help level the playing field and advance gender equality in entrepreneurship? We felt like we had a real opportunity there to help and realized that we also had all of the resources that are needed to make a real difference. And that's how WomanMade was born.

Erin: One of the topics I cover a lot on Food Processing is female-founded businesses, and, in particular, how they're launched and funded. From where you are with the WomanMade program, can you speak to some of the issues women face when it comes to launching their businesses?

Devaunshi: According to a recent article just published by Harvard Business Review, only 12% of the decision-makers in the boardrooms of VCs are women. Meaning that most investment decisions are made and controlled by men. And let's face it, men aren't always able to understand or address problems or gaps in the marketplace that are identified by women. So, the lack of the venture capital industry results in it being very, very difficult for women to raise capital. And I think that is one of the biggest issues that female founders face. Another issue is that women often let modesty guide them when talking about their accomplishments and while might think, "Okay, so what's wrong with that?" they are sometimes perceived as not being confident enough when they go in to pitch their businesses. And lastly, research also shows us that women don't have the same access as men to an ecosystem of mentors who can offer support, the networking opportunities that can open doors, and the tools and resources that are needed to launch and sustain successful businesses.

Erin: Speaking of mentors, I know that early-on in the program, five female entrepreneurs were paired up with mentors. This has since evolved into a space where women can seek out advice and mentorship on the WomanMade platform. Can you explain what that platform is and why it's so important, especially for the female founders?

Devaunshi: Absolutely. So, the WomanMade platform launched in May 2019 and is dedicated to giving female founders peer-to-peer mentorship while providing resources like monthly subject matter expert sessions, coaching video calls, small business certification webinars, COVID-19 response checklists, Ask Me Anything sessions with PepsiCo experts, and so much more. Over the last couple of years, we've been instrumental in helping launch the Stacy's Rise Project, the WomanMade Expo West Funding Challenge, and the Pitch Competition as well. And for all those initiatives, female-founded businesses were awarded grants to support their growth.

Erin: I want to shift gears a little bit to what you're working on in 2021, the Food for Good and WomanMade partnership. Can you elaborate a bit more on what that is?

Devaunshi: Absolutely. This is such an exciting partnership for us, Erin. PepsiCo's Food for Good program and WomanMade came together to fight childhood hunger while supporting women-led small businesses. In this initiative we're searching for female-founded food businesses to feature their healthy products in nutrition meal packages that are delivered to kids in need through Food for Good. Founders who participate also gain access to our WomanMade community that we just talked about.

Erin: Can you speak a bit about how the COVID-19 pandemic played a part in the need for this, or perhaps more importantly, why is this program needed as much as it is right now?

Devaunshi: As a result of the COVID-19 crisis, 1 in 6 children are in a state of food insecurity and 1 in 4 women face the risk of leaving the workforce. Recognizing these devastating impacts, Food for Good and WomanMade saw an opportunity to come together to fight childhood hunger while supporting women's economic empowerment. Food for Good has been on the front lines of the hunger crisis since their founding, I think, which was in 2009 and they expanded their operations since the pandemic to deliver over 18 million nutritious meals to communities in need in 2020 alone. A key part of our partnership is that applicants must also be able to have a social impact through their business. A key part of this partnership is that applicants must also have a social impact through their businesses. For example, we partner with Michele Liddle, the founder of Perfect Granola to source products for our shelf stable breakfast kits. Perfect Granola donates 5% of their profits to homeless shelters, food banks, and non-profits. So, that's a very important part of, you know, the partners that we're going to bring in to the Food for Good and WomanMade new platform.

Erin: That's great. And for anyone listening, how can people get involved in the Food for Good and WomanMade partnership?

Devaunshi: Food for Good encourages female-founded food and beverage companies to submit an application to be a part of this initiative. Those interested can apply through the WomanMade Hello Alice community or on foodforgoodmealsolutions.com.

Erin: We have both men and women that listen to the podcast and I'm sure someone will ask, is it limited to women only or female-founded companies only? Can any company be a part of this?

Devaunshi: Food for Good and WomanMade application process is open to women and female-founded food and beverage businesses only. Anyone who applies to this program will also gain access to the tools and resources provided by the WomanMade platform. But yes, Erin, this is specifically for female founders.

Erin: In case anyone listening has not heard what we're talking about, if someone wanted to learn more about the program, the Food for Good program, the WomanMade program, how could they go about doing that?

Devaunshi: So, those interested in learning more about the Food for Good program can visit pepsicofoodforgood.com. And those interested in the WomanMade program can check out womanmade.helloalice.com.

Erin: Thank you, Devaunshi, for being on the podcast today. We covered a lot in a short amount of time, but I'm excited about what you're doing and what your teams are doing. And it has been an absolute pleasure to have you on the podcast today.

Devaunshi: Thank you so much, Erin, for having me. The pleasure was all mine.

About the Author

Andy Hanacek | Senior Editor

Andy Hanacek has covered meat, poultry, bakery and snack foods as a B2B editor for nearly 20 years, and has toured hundreds of processing plants and food companies, sharing stories of innovation and technological advancement throughout the food supply chain. In 2018, he won a Folio:Eddie Award for his unique "From the Editor's Desk" video blogs, and he has brought home additional awards from Folio and ASBPE over the years. In addition, Hanacek led the Meat Industry Hall of Fame for several years and was vice president of communications for We R Food Safety, a food safety software and consulting company.

About the Author

Erin A. Hallstrom

Erin Hallstrom oversaw our digital content strategy for the Food Processing brand from 2008-2023. She is now the Associate Director of SEO Strategy for Endeavor Business Media, where she holds technical certifications in both website analytics and search engine optimization. Most recently, she was named the 2022 Marianne Dekker Mattera Award Winner

About the Author

Dave Fusaro | Editor in Chief

Dave Fusaro has served as editor in chief of Food Processing magazine since 2003. Dave has 30 years experience in food & beverage industry journalism and has won several national ASBPE writing awards for his Food Processing stories. Dave has been interviewed on CNN, quoted in national newspapers and he authored a 200-page market research report on the milk industry. Formerly an award-winning newspaper reporter who specialized in business writing, he holds a BA in journalism from Marquette University. Prior to joining Food Processing, Dave was Editor-In-Chief of Dairy Foods and was Managing Editor of Prepared Foods.