The yearlong initiative aims to address inequality – especially rife in the culinary field, where women hold less than a quarter of leadership positions.
According to All Raise, an organization supporting women and minorities in securing venture capital, nearly three-quarters of US-based venture capital firms do not employ any women investors, and only 11% of firms with a fund size above $25m employ women as decision-makers.
Potential applicants must have an annual revenue between $25k and $2m. Five finalists – to be announced in July – will receive $20k and the opportunity to be mentored by a PepsiCo executive and the eponymous snack brand’s founder, Stacy Madison.
The grand prizewinner will receive an additional $100k. Food entrepreneur and TopChef host Padma Lakshmi will lead the judging panel.
"Establishing a successful food and beverage business venture requires relentless diligence and determination, which is especially true if you are a female founder,” she said.
“As an entrepreneur who overcame many obstacles through the years, I know how important it is to have access to resources and a strong network of mentors and peers alike to help you overcome the inevitable growing pains.”
Lakshmi will be joined by Sean Kelly, co-founder and CEO of SnackNation, a snack-delivery subscription service; and Elizabeth Gore, president of Alice, an online community and resource center for female entrepreneurs.
Gore said this initiative is essential to creating ‘a more inclusive ecosystem’ of business owners.
“The bottom line is that supporting women entrepreneurs is also good business," she said.
“One of the most effective ways to help more women entrepreneurs reach higher levels of success is to get capital and mentorship in their hands because we receive only 2% of venture capital and only 16% of conventional business loans,” she told BakeryandSnacks.
A brief history of Stacy’s Pita Chips
Madison started her eponymous snack company in Boston in 1998, after finding an audience for pita chips she sold from a snack cart.
In 2005, PepsiCo geared up to buy the brand, whose sales approached $60m.
PepsiCo continues to produce the chips in the original manufacturing facility in Randolph, Massachusetts.
All applicants, regardless of whether they are selected as finalists, can take advantage of PepsiCo’s WomanMade Community, an online forum for female business owners to share resources and advice.
"Alice and Stacy's Pita Chips are both women-founded companies, so we understand first-hand the challenges women entrepreneurs face in building high-growth businesses, and we also understand that it is possible with the right resources in hand,” added Gore.
Disparity in numbers, but not grit
The gender gap in funding between men and women entrepreneurs is what compelled Stacy’s to develop the grant program, Ciara Dilley, VP of marketing, told BakeryandSnacks.
“Women have always embodied the same capabilities, courage and grit as their male counterparts to operate successful businesses,” she said.
Yet they have not received the same financial support, though more women own businesses today than they did fifty years ago. According to Women’s Business Enterprise National Council, women today own 40% of US businesses, compared to less than 5% in 1972.
“We believe the economic empowerment of women is the single most powerful contribution we can make to advancing female equality,” said Dilley.
PepsiCo, which paid $250m for Stacy’s in 2006, will announce the winner on November 19 – Women’s Entrepreneurship Day.