Denise Woodard is the Founder and CEO of Partake, a line of nationally distributed allergy-friendly snacks inspired by her daughter’s experience with food allergies. Launched in 2017, Partake’s first product — 10 flavor varieties of delicious, nutritious, allergy-friendly cookies — can now be found in more than 6,000 retailers including Target, Sprouts, and Whole Foods Market. In December 2020, the company closed a Series A round of funding led by investors including Rihanna, CircleUp Growth Partners, FF2032 and Marcy Venture Partners. Of the $7.5 Million Denise has raised, more than 50% has come from Black investors. In January 2021, Partake released a 5-in-1 Baking Mix followed by a Brownie Mix in February—both are available on partakefoods.com. Prior to launching Partake, Denise spent a decade in consumer packaged goods at various Fortune 100 companies and is the first Black woman to raise more than $1 Million publicly for a CPG food startup.
Why did you start your business?
When my daughter, Vivienne, had just turned 1 we found out that she had a number of food allergies. Shortly after, our babysitter, Martha mentioned that Vivi's diet had become very boring. I noted how frustrating it had become shopping for her because the snacks on shelves were made with terrible ingredients, or didn't taste good, or BOTH! I also shared how concerned I was for Vivi's future playdates and birthday parties because she would need to eat the "allergy kid" foods. She looked at me and told me to "Do something about it!" I realized in that moment that I could. So, I did! And that's how Partake was born.
What has been the best part of your entrepreneurial journey?
A highlight, and one of the things I miss most about the world being open, has been meeting customers face-to-face at grocery stores and small food trade shows. Hearing their stories of how our products have really helped them, getting an opportunity to talk through their thoughts on the products or what they're still missing or would like in the future, all of that was so personal to me and was a great way to stay connected to reactions and feedback. I'm excited to get back to that when it's safe to do so.
How has working from home impacted the way you work and live? What does balance mean to you in this new normal?
I've worked a majority of my career with a flex schedule from home, so I have a good work-from-home routine. What has been very different is also having my daughter, who's just turned 6 and is in kindergarten, at home sporadically doing virtual school and Outschool from home while I'm juggling calls and emails and running a company in growth-mode and leading a team that is also totally remote.
There is no balance right now. It's just the strange reality of what all of this is. It's important for us all to give ourselves and those around us some grace. We're all doing our best through this period.
How do you stay motivated and overcome challenges?
I see an opportunity to really create a positive impact with our products for those who otherwise wouldn't have delicious and safe snacks made with high-quality ingredients. There's also a larger impact our company can have for those living with food allergies and food insecurities, and there's a real vision I have for helping diversify the food & beverage industry. I also have a lot of people who believe in me. From my family and friends to our investors to my team, I feel the support of those cheering us on. Lastly, Vivienne has seen me building this company for her entire life. The idea that if she can dream it, she can do it, and the fact that I get to model that for her—the hard work, the rejection, the success that comes through perseverance when you know you're doing something with potential—that in itself is enough to get me out of bed each morning.
What are some rituals you’ve adopted to practice self-care around the home?
Almost every morning, even if the weather isn't ideal, I get outside and take a walk. Whether I'm catching up on calls or taking a few moments for myself, I start my day with fresh air and a clear list of what I'm going to try to accomplish in the day.
Who is a female founder you admire and why?
Ayesha Curry is doing the work while raising a family, and I admire both how she’s building her businesses and giving back. The values she’s putting forward with Sweet July and her 501c3, Eat. Learn. Play., are closely aligned with what we’re trying to share at Partake.
What’s one thing in your home you can’t live without during quarantine?
Do yoga pants count?
What advice do you have for female entrepreneurs or working women during this time?
Know your numbers. Know how your business provides value and know your customers. Break your goals into meaningful steps. Get ready to hear "no." Entrepreneurship is not glamorous. If you know you have a winning business, and you're seeing meaningful sales and growth, stay the course. In the beginning, Partake was self-funded and self-distributed. I quit my corporate job to grow Partake full-time, and that required doing everything from selling my engagement ring to driving around to local natural food stores with cookies in the back of my car in the beginning.