Never underestimate the ability of mothers to move mountains. Denise Woodard was enjoying the security of a corporate job at Coca-Cola, and had no real desire to ever leave…until her daughter came along, that is. Around Vivi’s first birthday, she had a major allergy scare, and the family discovered she couldn’t eat tree nuts, eggs, bananas, or corn (a surprisingly tough one to work around!)
After implementing all sorts of diet restrictions, and stocking up on whatever allergy-free treats were available on the market, Denise realized that safety came at the expense of a whole lot of fun. She also saw how many social events—from birthday parties to holidays to simple after-school get-togethers—heavily revolved around food, and she didn’t want her daughter to be “the kid with the lame snacks.”
Drawing on the entrepreneurial spirit inherited from her parents (even at Coca Cola, she always had side hustles) Denise entered a local Jersey City business competition called the Rising Tide Challenge. She walked away with seed capital to start an allergy-free cookie company, and was officially inspired to fly the corporate nest!
Denise may have experienced the sweet taste of success right out of the gate, but that didn’t mean things were destined to be easy. She exhausted her savings, sold her engagement ring for half of what it was worth, and was rejected during fundraising 86 times. Which brought Denise face-to-face with the fact that while the fastest growing group of entrepreneurs in this country are black women, they receive less than 1% of funding.
Just as she was on the brink of being unable to take another no, Denise got one very important yes. Make that a $1 million dollar yes from Jay-Z’s Marcy’s Venture Company, which was all the dough that Partake needed to slip into high gear!
Nowadays, Vivi is definitely the cool kid, sharing her allergy-free but unquestionably delicious snacks on a nationwide scale. But Partake is less about what they take away (nuts, egg, dairy, soy, artificial flavors and preservatives) than what they give back. Amongst many other philanthropic endeavors, the company is a founding member of Food Equality Initiative’s 7% fund, working to ensure that families in need have access to the food and education they deserve.
Denise Woodward and her advocacy-minded cookie company are baking new ground in a really big way.