Social Impact

Helping women rise to new heights

Photos of female entrepreneurs for WomanMade PepsiCo Initiative Photos of female entrepreneurs for WomanMade PepsiCo Initiative
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The WomanMade platform was created with one objective in mind — to help women in the food system recognize their full potential by getting the support they need to grow their businesses. Through this platform, we do more than write checks, we harness the collective knowledge of PepsiCo employees to help female chefs and founders launch their tastiest ideas.

When PepsiCo bought Stacy’s Pita Chips in 2005, the brand was worth $65 million. You’d never guess that its founder, Stacy Madison, had to use her credit cards and a loan from her parents to get the brand off the ground. Like so many female entrepreneurs, Stacy found that banks and venture capital firms weren’t willing to invest in a woman’s business.

PepsiCo launched the Stacy’s Rise Project to level the playing field and help women like Stacy in the culinary world. By raising money through corporate grants and the sale of limited-edition pita chip bags, Stacy’s Rise was able to send budding female chefs to the International Culinary Center and fund female empowerment initiatives. And the project just kept growing (see timeline below).

But it was just a drop in the bag, so to speak. In 2018, data collected by Pitchbook showed that only 2% of venture capital funding went to female-founded businesses and only 0.2% went to female founders of color.

Stacy Madison speaking to female entrepreneurs for WomanMade PepsiCo Initiative

Stacy Madison in a roundtable discussion with other female entrepreneurs in the food industry

As a female business owner who has experienced the challenges and journey firsthand, I recognize the importance of empowering women

Stacy Madison

founder of Stacy’s Pita Chips

“The data was shocking and made us stop and think about how we could shift this reality; be a part of the change that we wanted to see,” says Devaunshi Mahadevia, director of global marketing & innovation for SunChips/Sunbites and global lead on WomanMade at PepsiCo. In an attempt to harness their collective passion around this area, they convened a three-day meeting in 2019 to figure out how PepsiCo could do even more to closing the gender investment gap.

Their solution was WomanMade, an initiative that unites PepsiCo’s efforts to support the economic empowerment of women. “We saw this as an opportunity to positively impact the lives of women in the food system: from female farmers to women in supply chain to female entrepreneurs who are launching their own food and beverage businesses,” says Mahadevia. “The efforts would be widespread, and in partnership with PEP Foundation, supplier diversity, procurement, venturing and brands, among others.”

To directly address that 2% statistic, they wanted to expand on Stacy’s Rise, but that would lead to something much, much bigger.


Building on Stacy’s Rise

“At the meeting, we spent a lot of the time talking about how to expand the Stacy’s Rise project as part of WomanMade,” says Lucie DuFour, associate marketing manager, Stacy’s Rise Project. “And we decided to launch the first-ever Rise Project Mentorship Program, which is essentially an accelerator program for female-founded small businesses.”

What’s unique about this project is the nitty-gritty … it’s giving them access to executives at PepsiCo across several brands who’ve been doing this for a long time.

Padma Lakshmi

Stacy’s Rise Mentorship judge (as told to Food & Wine)

The program paired up five female food and beverage entrepreneurs with PepsiCo mentors who could help each one jump the early hurdles of starting a business. The mentors showed them how to navigate marketing on social media channels, craft their sales pitches and work on supply chain logistics. “And when we got the feedback from our colleagues on their mentoring experience, they said it was the absolute highlight of their week,” Dufour adds. “Working with the founders brought so much meaning and purpose to their jobs.”

Group photo of female entrepreneurs for WomanMade PepsiCo Initiative

Finalists for Stacy’s Rise Mentorship Program with founder Stacy Madison

It was clear that their fellow employees wanted to do more. And the WomanMade team wanted to let thousands of female entrepreneurs, not just a few, have access to PepsiCo mentors, subject matter experts and network-building. And, so, the WomanMade Platform was created.

The WomanMade Platform: 2000 Founders and Counting…

The WomanMade platform launched in May 2019 on and provides resources like monthly subject matter expert sessions, coaching video calls, small-business certification webinars, COVID response checklists and, of course, AMAs (“Ask me Anything sessions”) with founders like Stacy Madison. Members of these communities are cooking up all kinds of products from frozen veggie pods to crystallized teas.

“I’m really proud to say that in just one year we’ve organically grown the community to more than 2,300 female entrepreneurs,” Mahadevia says.

Screenshot of website for female entrepreneurs program, WomanMade PepsiCo Initiative

The homepage for the WomanMade platform on

The team has been able to harness the brain trust of PepsiCo employees and partners to directly address the founders’ needs. “We ask members of the community: ‘What are your burning questions? Where are you struggling?’ ‘Where do you need help?’ Then we look for the experts within the walls of PepsiCo who can help address these challenges,” Mahadevia says. “What is so encouraging, is that over the last few months itself, we have had over 100 employees sign up to get involved.”

The range of recent speakers on the WomanMade platform runs across all divisions, from a global marketing executive who did a “How to Build Your Brand” session to a supply chain engineer who answered questions about the shelf stability of different ingredients. A recent AMA with Hannah Hong, founder of Hakuna Brands, and Nancy Rooney, vice president of customer marketing for PepsiCo, on how to pivot your food and beverage business in response to Covid-19 had dozens of members in attendance.

“It’s been so rewarding to see the impact our lean team (and PepsiCo at large) has been able to make in such a short time. So many women are getting access to and benefiting from these pools of knowledge,” she says.

The list of PepsiCo employees signing up to help just keeps growing. “Two of our employee resource groups, Women of Color and Women’s Inclusion Network, have already started putting a list together of all the people who want to be mentors,” Dufour says.

At the end of the day, the team is thrilled that so many of their colleagues want to go the extra mile to mentor female founders, but they are not surprised. As Mahadevia puts it, “What I love about PepsiCo is our people. And the fact that we have so many passionate, brilliant minds that are willing to go beyond their day jobs to create change within the company and outside.”

And as the WomanMade Platform grows, all those extra miles can drive up that statistic.