Female Founder Series: Denise Woodard, Founder & CEO of Partake Foods

Partake Foods was created because of a mother’s love and her can-do-anything spirit. Female founder of Partake Foods, Denise Woodward, shares how her upbringing has shaped her determination to create a healthy, allergen-friendly snack for her daughter and other families. 

Culturally you’re Korean and African American, what were important lessons you learned growing up about your heritage?

I was able to thankfully pull things from both of my parents. My dad is African American, and I think this is true across many cultures, but family is so important to him. I learned at a very young age family means just more than your immediate family. I saw my mom’s family, who’s Korean, disown her when she married my African American father. His side really welcomed her and brought my mother in. My mother also yearned for her Korean culture and thankfully we lived in a community with lots of Korean people. She made a new family with our neighbors, church members, and other people in the community. I learned family can mean whatever you want. 

Being a hard worker is also something ingrained in both cultures. Both of my parents taught me that being a woman and a person of color, I have to work twice as hard as some of my counterparts. I saw my parents work really hard without ever complaining. Now, with my daughter who has food allergies, I wasn’t just going to complain. I didn’t like the food options that existed, so I thought what can we create that meets our needs.

Growing up in a mixed-house, were there cultural pressures or expectations?

Thankfully there wasn’t. Growing up in a military community, there were a lot of people who travelled the world. There were also a lot of mixed kids, so it was normal where I grew up to be biracial. As an adult now, it’s interesting towing the line of not being Korean enough or Black enough, but thankfully while I was growing up, I was just me. I was really able to appreciate both sides of my heritage. 

How has your background shaped your views of the business industry?

Seeing my dad go from a truck driver working for someone else, to owning his own company with a fleet of trucks and having employees - showed me that you can start at the bottom and make it. With that, you also have to be willing to do the grunt work and dirty work in the beginning because that’s how you understand the business. As painful as it was for me to learn all the details about accounting and supply chain, it’s made me a stronger leader. I understand what my team is going through and I can also see through bs when we’re talking to third party consultants because I’ve done the work myself. 

Since I was little, my dad also used to say, treat the janitor with the same respect as the CEO. I think that’s a really important lesson I try to instill in my daughter. It doesn’t matter someone’s job title or background, be a kind human who treats everyone with respect.

What type of challenges have you faced as a female entrepreneur?

Being an entrepreneur in general is challenging. As a woman, a lot of the challenges, especially during this covid-lifestyle, come from being a mom. My husband is an amazing partner and helps a lot, but there’s still a lot that falls on me. Managing a business, homeschooling my daughter, cooking, cleaning, and making sure everything gets done is and always challenging. 

Another factor in being a woman, when we were going out to raise money in the early stages, most of the investors were men. I felt a lot of the men didn’t relate to what I was doing. Even if they had a child with food allergies, their wives were more involved with the doctor’s appointments and grocery shopping. There were a lot of times I felt the men didn’t relate to me or understand the value of our brand the way that women did. 

How are you keeping the balance between being a mom and managing a business during this time?

It’s just a huge, messy melting pot. I appreciate this time though. Because there isn’t any balance, I get to spend a lot more time with my daughter. Although it’s exhausting, I enjoy it. 

How can we better support female business owners?

Be intentional - understand who you’re buying from and what the company stands for. Really seek out female-founded companies and if you’re a brand, look to collaborate with other female-founded companies. Then use your platform to elevate those brands. 

What has been the most surprising aspect of starting Partake Foods?

How hard it is - it has pushed me to my brink. Everyday I’m dodging landmines and putting out fires. Regardless, it's been really fulfilling and I can’t imagine doing anything else. 

What is the best advice you’ve received?

Just get started. People get so caught up in making a big splash and want everything to be perfect. Just get started, because as you continue to grow and put a product or service out into the marketp, you’ll get consumer feedback, which is the most important thing. From there, you can make changes. 

What women are inspiring you right now?

Sara Blakely and what she’s built with Spanx is absolutely incredible, considering she bootstrapped the brand. She also put together a grant for other women founders, and doing so she’s supporting and elevating other female entrepreneurs. Sara Blakely is definitely one of my biggest girl crushes. 

What do you hope to inspire in your daughter and young women?

For my daughter, the idea that if you have a problem, solve it rather than complain about it. Also, whatever you want to build, you can. The world is your oyster. 

For other female founders, anyone can do this. It’s all about passion, willingness to learn, and willingness to fail. 

What did you think about the Qi Alchemy’s herbal pearls?

I liked them! Drinking the pearls as tea was a really nice morning ritual to start the day. It was a nice non-caffeinated pick-me-up in the morning.

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