Top Chef host Padma Lakshmi, who joined forces with Stacy’s Pita Chips to launch an all-female foodie entrepreneurship competition, recently announced the grand prize winner and gushed about her “delicious plant-based” brand of frozen dessert.
Hannah Hong, founder of Hakuna Brands, was named the grand prize winner of Stacy’s Rise Project, which supports women-owned businesses in the food and drink industry through funding and mentorship. Five finalists were selected from a pool of more than 400 applicants. Hong’s honor, which comes with a $100,000 prize, was announced this week.
“Be sure to check out Hannah’s delicious plant-based line of frozen desert (sic) featuring real fruit,” Lakshmi wrote on Facebook. “Congrats to Hannah and the other finalists — we can’t wait to see where your journey takes you next!”
Hakuna Brands, launched in 2016, offers non-dairy frozen banana treats. Founders Hong and Mollie Cha started the brand after discovering in their early 20s that they had become lactose intolerant.
Hong, whose immigrant parents are both entrepreneurs, credited Frito-Lay — which oversees Stacy’s Pita Chips, all underneath the PepsiCo umbrella — with helping her develop brand and marketing strategies.
The company “empowered me to more clearly articulate what’s unique and amazing about Hakuna Brands in a tangible, meaningful way for our customers,” Hong said in a statement. “The people I’ve met and everything I’ve learned will have a lasting impact on anyone who interacts with our brand and products for years to come.”
The four runner ups include founders of a food redistribution platform, a granola startup that helps the homeless, a tea company that supports women in Kenya, and a yogurt-based dip venture.
Each finalist received $20,000 and three months of mentoring from top marketing, sales, innovation, R&D and digital executives.
Lakshmi praised the winner and finalists for showing that women can build businesses that are worth investing in.
“The energy among these five women is palpable and now, fueled by this newfound camaraderie and the experience they’ve gained, I’m sure it won’t be the last we hear from any of them,” Lakshmi said. “They are an inspiration to not only other women who share a similar drive and passion to build something of their own, but to investors as proof that female entrepreneurs warrant consideration and funding.”