Investing in women entrepreneurs is good business. Resilient in the face of obstacles, women tend to reinvest in their own businesses and communities at higher rates than their male counterparts. Moreover, women who excel to be leaders in their fields are potential catalysts for overall economic growth. As the Stacy’s Rise Project™ tenet states: When one woman rises, we all rise.
Inspired by Stacy’s® Pita Chips founder Stacy Madison, whose eponymous snack company was acquired by PepsiCo in 2006, the Rise Project is dedicated to helping women grow their businesses through funding, mentorship and community. Created to honor Madison’s own entrepreneurial journey from humble beginnings to running a multimillion-dollar brand, the Stacy’s Rise Project has provided more than $1 million in grant funding since its launch four years ago, as well as has paired female founders with PepsiCo executives for personalized business advice and guidance.
“It’s because of [Stacy’s] story and her journey, and what she shared with us about the challenges and the barriers that she’s faced, that allows us to support other founders like her,” says Stacy’s marketing director Tionna Cunningham. “She is a central figure to our whole story, constantly providing us with perspective. It brings such authenticity to this brand and this work.”
Perhaps most importantly, through the Rise Project, participating entrepreneurs have formed a support network which, alongside the added exposure they receive across Stacy’s social platforms, panel participations and media coverage, elevates them both personally and professionally. The results are indisputable, from businesses gaining distribution to founders being able to solve professional challenges based on their newfound networks.
This year, as a new extension of the project, Stacy’s produced “RISE,” a short film that aims to generate even more exposure for the brand’s commitment to supporting women entrepreneurs. Presented by Hello Sunshine, the film focuses on three previous beneficiaries of the Stacy’s Rise Project: Jocelyn Ramirez, Maria Jose Palacio and Sajani Amarasiri.
The film is helmed by award-winning director Nisha Ganatra, who, when presented with the project, felt compelled to participate based on the grim statistics for capital going towards women-founded businesses. “I knew that I needed to be a part of getting the word out about the Stacy’s Rise Project’s support of women entrepreneurs and the incredible businesses these founders are launching, running and growing,” she says. “It’s important that we all use the resources to lift up women like this, whether it be through storytelling, as in my case, or providing financial support, mentoring and fostering an entrepreneurial community, like Stacy’s has.”
Although Ganatra’s professional path differs from the women she encountered through “RISE,” she immediately felt her own life mirrored in that of the three founders. “Pursuing all of your dreams, be they motherhood, art, your own business [and] all of the above at the same time, is a challenge that we all share,” she says. “When I saw Maria raising her young kids with a packed schedule, I could relate. When I saw Sajani doing every stage of her company jobs at once — developer, creator, packager, shipper and promoter — well, every indie filmmaker out there knows that game. And the inspiration all the founders got from their parents — Jocelyn and her closeness with her mom — is something that is always guiding me in my life.”
The seven-minute short film explores the day-in, day-out situations the founders face. “Portrayals of entrepreneurship in social media can often make it look easy, fun and all upside, but, in reality, the heart of a successful business is long hours, sacrifice, and hard work,” explains Ganatra. “At times, the experience can be lonely, thankless, and frustrating, but in the end, incredibly rewarding.”
In the making of the film, the director was joined by a mostly female crew, including author, poet and performer Rupi Kaur, director of photography Emily Topper and editor Eleanor Infante. Kaur is an international bestselling author of four books, including the global sensation “milk and honey.” She has sold over 11 million-plus books in over 42 languages and graces stages globally on sold-out tours; a poetic theatrical experience interlaced with her own touch of stand-up. Her work encompasses love, loss, trauma, healing, femininity and migration.
For Cunningham, seeing so many women reflected in high-level positions throughout the project was a source of pride. “It’s the world that we envision when we think about equity in this space, and about opportunity being given,” says the exec.
Cunningham describes the on-set experience as nothing short of inspiring. “It’s impossible to walk away not feeling like you’re making the world a better place,” she says. “I think back on this idea that resonates in the story, about reaching to your roots. For me, that’s reflecting about my own ancestors and the journey that they had, the difficulties that they faced, the insurmountable odds and the atrocities that they experienced so that I’d have a chance to be successful. To then be in a position to pull up a chair next to me for someone else is just the most rewarding experience of my life.”
The film will be showing at the Stacy’s Roots to Rise Market at the Sundance Film Festival, a sponsorship initiative that will showcase products from past and present Stacy’s Rise Project winners, as well as a panel discussion featuring the creators of “RISE,” women in film and entertainment, and founder Stacy Madison.
Ganatra hopes the film will inspire other women to follow in the footsteps of the founders recognized by the Rise project. “With all the inspiring, leading-by-example stories across all of the founders in the Stacy’s Rise Project, not just the ones in this film, I know that there is something special that Stacy’s Pita Chips is supporting,” she says. “I hope that this film will be seen by talented entrepreneurs who are inspired to make their business dreams come true in the same ways as Maria, Sajani and Jocelyn have, lifting up their communities and making their families shine.”
To watch “RISE” and learn more about the Stacy’s Rise Project, please visit stacysrise.com.