Frito-Lay tackles ‘horrifying’ gender-based investment disparity with WomanMade challenge

By Elizabeth Crawford

- Last updated on GMT

Source: Getty
Source: Getty

Related tags Expo west Frito-lay Pepsico

Frito-Lay hopes to chip away at some of the inequity that female entrepreneurs face with the launch of a live pitch slam at Natural Products Expo West that will give 10 women a chance to win $100,000 in grants to support their companies.

Frito-Lay’s vice president of transform brands and portfolio innovation Ciara Dilley said the idea for PepsiCo’s inaugural 2020 WomanMade Expo West Challenge, which will take place March 6 from 7:30-9:30 PT in the Marriott Convention Center, came after she spoke with female entrepreneurs in the better-for-you snacking space at Natural Products Expo West last year and “realized the shocking struggles and statistics that represent their journey as female founders.”

She explained that only 2.2% of all venture capital funding invested in 2018 went to female-founded companies, even though research conducted by Mass Challenge found that these businesses, on average, return more than two times as much per dollar invested as those founded by men.

“The 2.2% is just so enlightening because it says so much about the overall struggles of female founders and that female entrepreneurs face across the board in different industries. I think it highlights the fact that women are not gaining access to financial support to grow their businesses, which is horrifying in this day and age, especially considering that women are creating businesses at an incredible rate,”​ Dilley said.

One reason for this discrepancy is that VC teams often lack diversity and therefore may not understand the value of a pitch that is based on a female-founder’s personal insights and experiences, said Dilley.

“It is not a black and white issue, but a lot of the businesses women are bringing forward are based on their insights, their tensions and their needs. For example, a few years ago a woman founded a business that was like an Uber for afterschool pickups … and when she went to present to VC after VC after VC,”​ they didn’t understand the need for the service because, as mostly highly educated men, they didn’t have to worry about afterschool pickups, Dilly said.

She added that many VC firms are trying to diversify their teams so that they can better understand the diversity of ideas that come to them.

Another reason that women may not be capturing as much investment funding as men is that they tend to lack the same confidence as their male counterparts and therefore might not be as aggressive in seeking funds or arguing their case, Dilley said.

The WomenMade Expo West Challenge seeks to address both of these factors by offering winners both no-strings-attached grants and confidence-boosting support through the WomanMade Community on Alice, as well as tickets to Alice’s Business for All conference sin 2020.

Three will take home grants, but everyone can win

As part of the challenge, 10 finalists from a pool of more than 100 applicants will pitch their business plan for five minutes to a panel of industry experts at Expo West.

To qualify, each company needed an annual revenue of at least $500,000  and to prove that their products were rooted in true consumer insights. They also needed to be purpose-led with a mission to make the world a better place, Dilley said.  

Finalists for WomanMade challenge

The 10 finalists of the inaugural WomanMade Expo West Challenge are:

Sashee Chandran: ​founder of Tea Drops, organic shaped teas that dissolve instantly in hot water and generate 20% less waste than traditional tea packaging.

Nydia Shipman​: co-founder of The Worthy Company, the first plant-based, all-in-one snack bowl made for on the go.

Kate Flynn​: co-founder of Sun & Swell Foods with a mission of making healthy, on-the-go snacking more accessible.

Jessica Levison​: founder of Peekaboo Ice Cream, a certified B Corporation designed to deliver indulgent ice cream with hidden veggies that can’t be seen or tasted.

Cecilia Panichelli​: co-founder of Cocina 54, heritage-inspired empanadas made from scratch with fresh vegetables and antibiotic-free meats.

Brooke Rewa​: founder of Goodmylk, the first company to scale homemade-quality plant-based milks without the use of binders, gums, fillers or preservatives.

Rana Lustyan​: founder of Edoughble, small-batch, 100% safe to eat cookie dough with premium ingredients.

Allison DeVane​: founder of Teaspressa, an all-natural organic tea designed to replace espresso with the health benefits of tea and the same caffeine content as coffee.

Katie Jesionowski​: co-founder of My SuperFoods, nutrient-dense snacks using superfoods that are traditionally not found in kids snacks, while being mindful of growing allergy concerns.

Jill Robbins​: founder of Homefree, a certified B Corporation that makes allergy-friendly treats with a strong commitment to environmental and social responsibility.

The top three winners of the challenge will take home $50,000, $30,000, and $20,000, respectively.

But Dilley hopes that all the companies that pitch – and attend the event – will win by connecting with the “really high profile people from the retailer world, influencers and from the VC world who will be in attendance,”​ she said. “We’re really hopeful that they will be able to have conversations with these women.”

She also said she hopes that the women attending and participating in the pitch will find comradery that will help them build their businesses and advance their careers.

“As I walked the halls of Expo last year, the messages I got from women time and time again is … I would really value learning from other women and other people in the same situation. How do I find my gang or that group of people who would rally me and keep me going in the hard times,”​ Dilley said, adding that she wants this pitch to provide that connection so more women can find their “gangs” and help lift each other up.

On that note, Dilley acknowledged that Frito-Lay and PepsiCo are able to pull off the pitch in part because of their “gang,” or partnership with Hello Alice, an AI enabled platform that supports diverse entrepreneurs and offer women female founders, free of charge, resources and content about making it as an entrepreneur.

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