When Denise Woodard's young daughter developed food allergies, she couldn't find healthy snack options that her daughter would also find appealing. So she made them herself.

Denise launched  Partake Foods while she was still working full-time in sales for Coca-Cola. A crowdfunding campaign in October 2016 provided Denise the capital for initial certification and trial production runs, and then she hit the pavement. Using her experience in sales, she loaded up her backpack with samples of her product and visited area grocery stores to explain why they should carry her snacks.

Her scrappiness paid off--Partake is currently available in 65 stores in New York City and New Jersey, in addition to Amazon.com and Partake's own website. Denise will hit another major milestone this Spring when her products launch in Whole Foods. Denise is currently Partake's only full-time employee, and she has some words of wisdom for other founders flying solo or that have small teams.

Project Entrepreneur: What inspired you to start your business?

Denise Woodard: My daughter, Vivienne, is nearly three years old and suffers from multiple food allergies: corn, cashews, pistachios, eggs, and bananas. When I couldn't find convenient meal and snack options that met her dietary restrictions and my nutritional standards but still tasted good, I started Partake--an invitation for her and anyone on a restricted diet or looking for better for you snack options to fully partake.

What's been the biggest challenge you've faced so far?

Balancing it all! For the first year of Partake Foods (pre-launch), I was still working full-time at Coca-Cola. It was really difficult to manage getting Partake off the ground while being a mom, wife, friend, and having a career. I'm now working on Partake full-time, but with such a lean team (I'm the only full-time employee) and lofty goals, it's a mad dash every day to get as much done as possible.

What's been the greatest reward?

I was demoing my product in-store the other day, and a woman literally told me that I'd changed her life. She has multiple food allergies and was so thankful to have a product that tasted great and was safe for her to eat. That's why I'm doing this--to remove any stigma from "allergy-friendly food." I want to create great-tasting, better-for-you meal and snack options that happen to be allergy-friendly.

What is the biggest thing you'd like to see changed in your industry, and how are you working toward making that change happen?

I think there's often a "health halo" that's given to products that are gluten-free or vegan, but in reality, those labels don't automatically mean healthy. At Partake, we are working to make better-for-you gluten-free and vegan products, but also working to educate consumers about the benefits (and sometimes disadvantages) of the common ingredients they see in gluten-free and vegan products.

Who or what motivates you to keep going, even when things get tough?

My daughter. As she gets older, I see firsthand how many social events, from play dates to birthday parties to science projects at school, are centered around food. It's so important to me for her to have safe, tasty snacks that she can enjoy and feel proud to share.  

Studies have shown that food allergies are linked to elevated social anxiety and fear of social rejection and humiliation in children, and if the little piece I can do to improve that statistic is make cookies and snacks, I will [keep] making cookies and snacks!

Can you provide a few updates on what's new with your business since you attended the Project Entrepreneur Intensive in April 2017?

Since attending the PE Intensive in April 2017, I'm proud to share that we launched Partake Foods to 65 stores in the New York City market, as well as Amazon and the Partake Foods' website. We plan to expand distribution in the Northeast this year, as well as launch in Whole Foods' Southwest Region.

What's one piece of advice you'd give to another entrepreneur just starting out?

Don't be afraid to meet new people or to share what you're working on. I feel like I've met more people in the past 18 months I've been working on Partake than I'd met in my previous 18 years of life. I [also] find that I meet the most helpful people in oddest of ways--including in a coffee shop line, or through a friend of a friend of a friend.

People [tend to be] supportive of those who are stepping out on a limb and following their entrepreneurial dreams and genuinely want to help, so don't be afraid to say hi, or speak up, or share what's going on with your business (the good & the bad). You never know from where your next investor, tip or recommendation is coming!

This article originally appeared on the Project Entrepreneur website and has been condensed for clarity.

Published on: Jan 31, 2018