Be Rooted in Purpose: Meet Denise Woodward
Meet Denise Woodward
Denise is the Founder and CEO of Partake, a line of nationally distributed allergy-friendly foods 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 7,500 retailers including Target, Trader Joe's, Kroger, Whole Foods Market and more. 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, a Blondie Mix in June and a Pizza Crust Mix in September—all 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.
What about being a black creator/entrepreneur is special to you? I
t's not just about what I'll create for my family, or future generations, that wasn't previously there. That's important, but my work is more than that. It's about what I can create in real time to impact so many others—policies, opportunities, exposure—that didn't exist yesterday. Representation matters. I bring my unique experiences as a Black and Asian American woman into everything I do. I've been in many decision-making rooms with homogeneity knowing what richness diverse perspectives could bring to those spaces. I guess you can say, like Maya Angelou did so flawlessly, "When you know better, you do better."
What does being rooted mean to you?
Kat Cole, former President of Focus Brands, spoke with our inaugural class of Black Futures in Food & Beverage Fellows and shared the advice “Don’t forget where you came from, but don’t you dare ever let it solely define you." When I think of being rooted, I think of my family and how they have shaped who I am. I think of the 364 days a year my father (a retired military, entrepreneur, truck driver) worked and how those experiences define all facets of my life—notably who I am as a leader and business owner.
How have you stayed motivated to overcome challenges?
Partake is very personal to me. I am a food allergy mom and experienced firsthand an immense amount of frustration because of the lack of allergy-friendly food products available to my daughter that we actually want to eat. When I face challenges—which as a small business founder come daily—I think of how heartbroken she was when she wasn't able to confidently and safely participate in events that included food or my never ending anxiety about her food allergies, and I want to solve those problems for my family and the millions of other families living with food allergies.
Where do you find inspiration?
I find inspiration from our customers, my team, and my daughter.
Why do you feel it is important to support students attending HBCUs?
In my experience in corporate America, I was frustrated by the lack of Black people in leadership roles, and when I went to hire for Partake, I was frustrated by very homogenous applicant pools staring back at me as I built out the team. I felt compelled to do something about it, which is how the Black Futures in Food & Beverage fellowship was born. So many HBCUs have been consistently underfunded and under resourced, and it is my intention to bring education, access and social capital to selected fellows who are interested in learning more about or working in the consumer packaged goods industry.
Instagram handle: @denisegwoodward @partakefoods
To support Black colleges, Be Rooted will be giving 10% of our sales during the week 2/20-28 to the Thurgood Marshall Foundation.