Vegan Pitch Competition VWS Records 25% Increase in Women of Colour Founders

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VWS Pathfinder, the world’s first pitch competition dedicated to female vegan founders, has seen a 25% increase in women of colour founders this year. Announcing the five finalists for the upcoming contest, organisers Vegan Women Summit (VWS) said it was “thrilled” to be supporting a more diverse and inclusive food tech and sustainable startup industry. 

VWS Pathfinder, the world’s first vegan female pitch competition launched by VWS last year, has just announced its finalists for the upcoming 2021 contest. Set to take place on October 29, the live pitch competition will see five female founders showcase their food tech solutions in front of an investor jury for a chance to win the $50,000 prize package. 

25% rise in women of colour founders

Notably, this year’s applications saw a significant increase in the number of women of colour vegan founders. 75% of those who made it into the semi-finals were women of colour, representing a 25% increase year-on-year. 

“We are thrilled to continue building a diverse future of food and beyond at VWS Pathfinder,” shared VWS founder Jennifer Stojovic, who added that the figures were “no surprise, considering Black women are the fastest-growing group of founders in America.”

VWS Pathfinder 2021 Finalists.

The five female plant-based founders who made it into the finals include Enrica Arena, co-founder of sustainable material firm Orange Fiber based in Italy; New Zealand-based precision fermentation dairy startup Daisy Lab’s CEO Irina Miller; and co-founder of Indian alt-milk startup Alt Foods, Sweta Khandelwal. 

Jessica Schwabach, CEO of Sundial Foods; and Kesha Stickland, CEO of the Mushroom Meat Co., both US-based companies developing plant-based meat alternatives, also made it as finalists. 

Commenting on the international reach of the finalists this year, serial food tech investor, IndieBio co-founder and Wild Earth CEO Ryan Bethencourt said: “The global scale of innovation in the food tech and animal alternatives industry is absolutely incredible. I am so impressed with the vast amount of women innovators building and scaling new businesses all over the world and am excited to see our finalists pitch live at VWS Pathfinder.” 

Vegan women entrepreneurs ‘unapologetically’ disrupting food

Sharing more about the experience of participating in VWS Pathfinder and standing as one of the finalists, Miller of Daisy Lab said that it was a unique opportunity to “enter the room and say proudly: Hi, I am a vegan female entrepreneur and I want to change the world,” and that “here, I can unapologetically do just that.” 

“As a female-founded and led team, Vegan Women Summit presents a great opportunity for us to be in a room with like-minded, mission-driven individuals and teams,” added Schwabach of Sundial Foods. 

The finalists will be pitching their solutions, from climate-friendly fabrics to healthy vegan food, in front of a live jury featuring prominent investors from around the world. Some of the supporting VCs include Stray Dog Capital, Veg Capital, and KBW Ventures. Leading vegan female founder pioneers like Miyoko Schinner of plant-based cheese brand Miyoko’s Creamery and Dr. Sandya Sriram of Singapore cell-based seafood company Shiok Meats will also be speaking at the summit to share their insights. 

Speakers joining VWS Pathfinder 2021.

Last year, VWS Pathfinder saw finalists present sustainable concepts across a variety of industries from all over the world, including Shanghai-based peanut protein chicken startup HaoFood and Algaeing, the Tel Aviv company creating algae-based biofibres, which went onto win the competition. 

Organiser VWS, which has recently partnered up with food tech giant Impossible Foods to launch a separate initiative to spotlight women pioneers in alt-protein, says its ultimate mission is to create a more inclusive and diverse founder ecosystem. 

In a gender inequalities survey conducted by VWS, nearly half of female founders interviewed said they have had to face gender bias during fundraising, with over half reporting difficulties in finding a mentor. 


All images courtesy of VWS.

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