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Stacy’s Rise Project: A funding initiative to support women entrepreneurs

The topic of supporting women entrepreneurs is top of mind for many.  The World Economic Forum cited World Bank saying that although women’s entrepreneurship is growing, obstacles remain and men continue to outnumber women 3-1 in business ownership. Luckily, initiatives exist to help women entrepreneurs rise up with access to funding, mentorship, and resources. 

One of these initiatives is the notable, Stacy’s Rise Project – which is open to applications until Friday, October 28th, 2022. Launched in 2019, the Stacy’s Rise Project has supported many women along their entrepreneurial journeys. For the first time, the initiative is being extended to Canada. The extension comes with an opportunity for women entrepreneurs to apply for a $15,000 CAD grant along with expert mentorship. 

Notable Life had the opportunity to sit down with two Stacy’s Rise Project representatives: Jess Spaulding, CMO of PepsiCo Foods Canada, and Alison Kirkland, CEO of Women’s Enterprise Organizations of Canada (WEOC).  

Jess, Alison, and the Notable Life team dove into the current state of women’s entrepreneurship, how the Stacy’s Rise Project provides support, and the importance of mentorship and community.

Ali: First things first, tell our readers a bit about yourselves and your backgrounds! 

Jess Spaulding: I’ve been a proud member of the PepsiCo team since 2009, working on the Marketing team across various U.S. food and beverage brands and, this past year, I started in my current position as Chief Marketing Officer of PepsiCo Foods Canada. In previous years, I had the pleasure of acting as a judge of the Stacy’s Rise Project in the U.S. and have seen firsthand the incredible, talented, and driven women this initiative has supported and the immense opportunity it has provided to past U.S. recipients. Having been a part of this initiative in the U.S. I am thrilled to be a part of the team bringing it to Canada for the first time. 

Alison Kirkland: I was named the inaugural CEO of Women’s Enterprise Organizations of Canada (WEOC) in 2019 and am proud to lead an organization that supports the innovation, creativity, and spirit of Canada’s diverse women entrepreneurs. Alongside our members, we continue to seek ways to support their success, which is integral to the recovery and growth of our national economy. Prior to my work with WEOC, I spent a decade as a certified small business counsellor, and I have 20-plus years of experience in communications management.

What is the Stacy’s Rice Project and what value is it bringing to Canadian women? 

Jess: The Stacy’s Rise Project first launched in the U.S. in 2019 with the goal of supporting women entrepreneurs who are experiencing a lack of resources needed to help bring their business goals to fruition and rise to their full potential. 

This year, we’re delighted to extend this initiative to Canada, bringing Canadian women the opportunity to apply for a $15,000 CAD grant and access to a once-in-a-lifetime mentorship opportunity with PepsiCo Foods Canada and Frito-Lay leadership. 

Through this initiative, our aim is to support women entrepreneurs by providing them with the chance to access invaluable insights from successful industry experts and to build a community with like-minded, inspiring, and passionate entrepreneurs.

Have there been any specific experiences with mentorship, community building, or networking that have personally helped you both progress in your careers? 

Jess: I’ve been incredibly fortunate to have a tremendous support network throughout my career, both personally and professionally.  There have been a few opportunities in my career where my mentors and sponsors have encouraged me to take on a new challenge or turn down an opportunity when I needed the push.

Alison: For me, there hasn’t been a monumental experience that has impacted my career but rather interaction with and observation of many different people in a variety of situations over time. Mentorship, networking, and community building occur in both formal and informal settings. Listening is key. Taking note of stories, experiences, and introductions offered by others is vital for career development.

What’s the current state of women’s entrepreneurship in Canada right now? 

Alison: In Canada, there are over one million women entrepreneurs, but many of these women face barriers to proper funding and mentorship, which limits professional growth. Across the country, women-owned businesses receive an estimated 4% of venture capital funding so we know there is a lot more work to be done to bring us closer to gender equality and ensure women entrepreneurs have the resources to rise to their full potential. 

What unique barriers are women entrepreneurs facing? 

Alison: There are many barriers that disproportionately impact women entrepreneurs. To name a few, how we measure innovation and economic impact in entrepreneurship tends to focus on the technology and manufacturing sections, where women are largely absent. Their contributions to the sectors where women are more prevalent like food, health, beauty, and culture, often get overlooked. 

Additionally, how we define “entrepreneurship” continues to be a barrier as women entrepreneurs are more likely to be self-employed (not incorporated) which means they are unintentionally excluded based on the eligibility requirements of many existing programs that cater to incorporated small and medium-sized enterprises. 

For these reasons, along with many others, it’s integral that programs like the Stacy’s Rise Project support women entrepreneurs and bring us closer to gender parity in the entrepreneurial ecosystem. 

Where’s Canadian women’s entrepreneurship heading and what do we have to do to get there? 

Alison: Through a recent WEOC survey we found there was a great sense of optimism about the future amongst Canadian women entrepreneurs, with many believing that they will still be in business in five years. 

There are a lot of actions we can take to help make this optimistic viewpoint a reality. This includes making the resources available to women entrepreneurs known to them. There are so many incredible initiatives like the Stacy’s Rise Project that provide opportunities for mentorship, community, and funding, and the more women entrepreneurs know how to access the support available to them, the more we can band together to help them rise. 

Can you share some past success stories from the Stacy’s Rise Project? 

Jess: Since launching in the U.S. in 2019, the Stacy’s Rise Project has supported over 50 women founders and provided over $450,000 (USD) in grants. A couple of the past recipients include:  

  • Sajani Amarasiri, an immigrant entrepreneur and founder of Kola Goodies which makes botanical-rich, delicious, superfoods and tea latte blends to boost well-being with ingredients sourced directly from South Asian farmer collectives. 
  • Jocelyn Ramirez, who founded Todo Verde, a business creating culturally relevant plant-based Mexican food experiences through premium seasoning for home cooks,  a published cookbook, and catering for the Los Angeles community. 

These recipients have seen tremendous success since their experience with the Stacy’s Rise Project and are representative of the type of success stories we hope to foster as we extend this initiative into Canada. 

This year, the project will be debuting a short film at the Sundance International Film Festival that features four past Stacy’s Rise recipients. You can view the trailer here. This film is in celebration of women entrepreneurs and the stories of their heritage, struggle, and success as entrepreneurs. 

We know how important it is to bring to light the resilience and fortitude needed to propel us into the future. 

Where can readers learn more or get involved? 

Jess: From now until October 28, 2022, Canadian women running small businesses can visit to apply and learn more. 

Alison Osborne

Alison is an experienced marketer passionate about podcasting, content marketing, wellness and travel.