It's called Stacy's Rise Project and it's here to give women business owners in the food and beverage industries expert mentorship – and a fat check.
Padma Lakshmi_Stacys Rise Project 1

Padma Lakshmi is no stranger to the food industry. You've watched her host nail biting episodes of Top Chef for the past 13 years, and you may have even read her memoir Love, Loss, and What We Ate. But now, Padma is taking her relationship with the food world to a whole new level with Stacy's Rise Project.

The project, spearheaded by the PepsiCo brand Stacy's Pita Chips, is on a mission to find five food or beverage business founders to mentor and fund over the next several months. Stacy's Rise Project plans to award each finalist $20,000, to grow their businesses. The kicker? Stacy's Rise Project is seeking women business founders only.

Padma, who's been mentoring several young women in her own life for the past decade, has signed on as a judge and mentor for the project. And after learning how impactful the project truly is, getting onboard wasn't a tough decision for the TV host.

"What's unique about this project is the nitty gritty. I think it's very concrete help you're getting," she says. "It's not just saying, 'oh, what a great idea, I hope you succeed.' It's giving [the finalists] money, it's giving them mentorship, it's giving them access to executives at PepsiCo across several brands who've been doing this for a long time."

Padma adds that finalists will also snag one-on-one time with Stacy Madison, the founder of Stacy's Pita Chips, and a wealth of professional advice on how to ensure their businesses thrive, even after the competition ends.

"[Stacy's Rise Project] is the thing I never had," Padma says. "I would've killed to have applied for a grant of $20,000, but more importantly, I would've given tooth and nail for the mentorship, the face time with professionals in the industry who have already done what I want to do. That stuff is really invaluable."

So, how exactly does one enter to win such an incredible prize? It's easy – entrepreneurs can head to, fill out the application on the website, and upload a one-minute video that explains their company's history, why their products or services are unique, and their intended use of the funding prize. From there, the judging panel (which includes Padma!) will select five finalists who will complete a 3-month mentorship phase. Stacy's Rise Project will then award one of the finalists an additional $100,000 to further their business.

While applying for the competition is a breeze, standing out from the rest of the applicants is another story. Luckily, Padma already knows what she wants in a winner.

"I'm looking for a person who is so tenacious and ambitious and passionate," she explains, "but has also done the down-and-dirty, not-glamorous work of being thorough about the cost involved, about the man hours – woman hours, in this case – and about what it takes to scale that business."

But for Padma, Stacy's Rise Project is more than just a contest – it's a message.

"I hope that it motivates more young women to trek out on their own and realize their ideas," she says. "It's easy to have the best recipe for a chip or a dip or an energy drink. It's another thing entirely to have that be a viable, profitable business."

The Stacy's Rise Project application period closes June 21st. Visit for more information on the competition and to apply.