The Stacy’s Rise project will fund and mentor five female entrepreneurs hoping to make it in the food and beverage industry.

By Bridget Hallinan
Updated May 14, 2019

For the third year in a row, the Stacy’s Rise project is working to provide mentorship and support to women in the food industry. In 2017, Food & Wine Best New Chef Stephanie Izard partnered with the program to provide guidance to women enrolled in the International Culinary Center’s (ICC) Culinary Entrepreneurship Program; this year, Top Chef host Padma Lakshmi will work with Stacy’s Rise, an initiative from Stacy's Pita Chips, to help fund and mentor five female entrepreneurs. Female business founders reportedly only receive two percent of all venture capitalist funding, and the project is determined to fix that disparity.

“We’re all born, hopefully, with a desire or passion to do well in a particular area,” Lakshmi told Food & Wine. “But we’re just not born with a set of information instantly input into our brains. Having somebody who’s been there, has more experience, has gone through some of the issues in their early stages of business development that you’re going through now, it’s a great resource to have.”

This year’s program has expanded into a partnership with Alice, an online platform that helps match mentees and mentors. To participate, female entrepreneurs can enter for the chance to win $20,000 each and access to a three-month mentorship program—five finalists will be chosen. Lakshmi, who will be on the judging panel, says she’s really looking forward to meeting the contestants. Some of the most rewarding time in her life has been spent mentoring young women and seeing them grow. When she reviews the entries, she’ll be looking for something she hasn’t seen before.

“Anyone can tell you what they hope for their business, but not everyone can tell you how to get there,” she said.

Credit: Kelly Sullivan/Getty Images

In order to apply, four criteria have to be met. Your company needs to focus on a food and beverage-related product or service; you need to have already sold said product, with an annual revenue between $25,000 and $2 million; your company needs to be female-founded (at least 50 percent of the founding team); and you have to be willing to participate in the Stacy’s Rise mentorship program. (You can’t be enrolled in another accelerator program at the same time.)

Applications opened on May 9 and close on June 21, and on July 19, the five finalists will be announced and receive $20,000 each. A few weeks later, the mentorship program begins on August 1, where finalists will meet with industry experts and have access to virtual training and support via Alice. Once the mentorship program ends on October 31, a grand prize winner will be announced on November 19—Women’s Entrepreneurship Day—and receive an additional $100,000 to help grow her business.

Outside of this program, however, there are plenty of other ways to support female business owners. Lakshmi said we need to research the people behind the products we buy—which, granted, takes a little extra proactivity, but it's important. “I’d rather buy a bag of Stacy’s Pita Chips than Trader Joe’s pita chips,” she said. “Because I know I’m supporting someone who started from the ground up, really believed in what they were doing, and made a success of it. I want to see more companies that are female-led, because it’s also a great example to my daughter when she opens our pantry.”