Episode 119
August 16, 2022

From Scare to Scale

with Denise Woodard, Founder and CEO of Partake Foods

About this episode

Denise Woodard joins the show today to chat about her journey to becoming the Founder and CEO of Partake Foods, a food company that specializes in selling delicious cookies that are gluten-free, vegan, non-GMO, and free of the top 14 allergens. In this episode, Denise shares her journey from growing up in North Carolina, to working at Coca-Cola, to experiencing an allergy scare with her daughter, which motivated her to create an allergy-friendly food brand. We talk about the three stages of the CEO role, how important a supportive founder network is, and the mental shifts she's had to make as an entrepreneur.

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In This Episode You’ll Hear About:

  • (1:06) Partake Foods, launched in 2016 and backed by celebrities, including Rihanna and Jay-Z, Partake is a food company that specializes in selling delicious cookies that are gluten-free, vegan, non-GMO, and free of the top 14 allergens.
  • (2:45) What it was like growing up in North Carolina as an only child with an African American dad and a Korean mom, and learning about entrepreneurship from her father
  • (4:52) Some of her first jobs through high school and college, from serving, working in retail, and why she chose to go to school to be an orthodontist 
  • (7:30) Why she decided to change her major in college and wound up getting a job at Phillip Morris and eventually moved over to FedEx and Coca-Cola, learning about the importance of process
  • (9:51) How having an allergy scare with her daughter during her first birthday gave her the idea for Partake
  • (11:40) How she got started with Partake by entering a pitch competition and winning
  • (18:40) The beginning stages of fundraising, and making their way into retailers like Whole Foods and Wegmans
  • (22:00) Some of the challenges faced in fundraising, and the advice she has for learning how to comprehend the investor lingo
  • (30:20) What she does on the really hard days, and 
  • (33:14) The three stages of the CEO role that change as the business grows, and what she’s learned from it 
  • (42:20) Some of the mental shifts she’s had to make in being an entrepreneur
  • (46:00) Some of the really unique partnerships they have with Sesame Street, American Airlines, and more to come
  • (49:08) The final advice she has for aspiring entrepreneurs, 

To Find Out More:



“The idea for Partake was born out of my frustration and disappointment as I shopped for products that she could safely eat, that tasted good, that had ingredients that I felt good about.

“I wanted to create a brand that was cool enough that people without food allergies would want to eat.”

“I started thinking about if I'm gonna leave a career I love I need to make sure I have manufacturing, product development,  a place to make this, and that I know how to make this at mass scale so that I feel comfortable leaving my career.”

“Initially we were a self-funded self,-distributed cookie company, which meant I was selling products out of my car to natural food stores in the New York market, and I was bootstrapping it with my own personal savings.”

“It was really important for me to have an understanding of the penny by penny finances of the business.”

“Build a founder community. It's hard for anyone unless they've been on this journey, to understand what it's like and the good things and the bad things that come along with it.”

“Growth is great, but with it comes challenges”

“People want to feel valued and respected and they want leaders who tell them the truth and who are vulnerable.”

“You're so in the weeds and in the business that you know it better than anyone else does. I think you start to feel when you need to make those shifts.”

“Sometimes the best leaders are servant leaders.”

“Remember that your journey is your own and it's okay to start small.”

“I would also suggest that people don't wish away the journey, which I'm very guilty of. When I was selling cookies out of my car, I couldn’t wait to get into Whole Foods, and then I couldn’t wait till we get into Target, and I didn't savor those moments. When they're gone, they're gone. You get to experience that national launch once, you get to experience the first launch once. So savor those moments because that's the whole journey is the destination.”

Read the transcript

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