Marissa Bronfman has always considered herself to have an entrepreneurial and passionate spirit. As the founder of turmeric blend company Shot of Gold, she is no stranger to the hard work that goes into building a business—especially as a female in the male-dominated food industry.
So, when the COVID-19 pandemic threatened to destroy everything she had worked towards, she leaned into her media and journalism background to begin an interview series, “Womxn Supporting Womxn in Food.”
She wanted to share the stories of Canadian women in the food industry and by summer 2020, Bronfman had featured almost 40 women. When the Black Lives Matter movement rose to prominence, she was faced with an unfortunate truth.
“I took a look at our series and I said, ‘Oh my God, our series is almost entirely white women,’” said Bronfman.
Given the relatively wide reach she had built in the food industry, Bronfman was shocked at how limited her network actually was.
She decided to ask all of her connections whether they knew of any BIPOC women food entrepreneurs. Through meeting and having conversations with founders across the country, she learned of the unique struggles that BIPOC food entrepreneurs face.
“After a lot of hard work and a lot of conversations, we achieved over 40 to 45 percent BIPOC representation [for Womxn Supporting Womxn in Food],” said Bronfman. “And I recognized the possibility to do so much more.”
Bronfman decided to create We Are Womxn, a non-profit organization that aims to empower Black, Indigenous, LGBTQ2S+, and Women of Color entrepreneurs in the food industry in Canada.
The organization kicked off with a box filled with food products from 15 women-founded companies for International Women’s Day and is continuing to grow with mentorship and grant opportunities and by partnering with the Canadian Women’s Chamber of Commerce, the National Aboriginal Capital Corporations Association, and BlackNorth Initiative.
Overall, Bronfman hopes We Are Womxn will help generate digital-first opportunities for early-stage entrepreneurs who are often underrepresented in the food industry.
“We position ourselves as helping the inspiration stage,” said Bronfman. “So we’re looking to empower and help BIPOC and LGBTQ2S+ women in Canada that have a dream or they have an idea, or maybe they’ve started something very small, and we want to help get them to the next level.”
For this week’s Women Who Lead spotlight, Bay Street Bull spoke with Marissa Bronfman, Founder of Shot of Gold and We Are Womxn, about supporting and uplifting underrepresented women in the food industry, being an active ally and creating We Are Womxn’s first grant opportunity for an Indigenous woman food entrepreneur.
From the interview series to grants and mentorships and even a box filled with products from BIPOC and LGBTQ2S+ women in the industry—how did it all unfold?
I think everything we’re doing is really holistic. We put together the box as a symbol of our mission and the work that we want to do and are going to be doing. We Are Womxn is helping women, and specifically, BIPOC and LGBTQ2S+ women in our first year, build what we call “pandemic-proof” businesses.
Even before COVID-19, we knew if you weren’t using e-commerce, you were in trouble. And I think the pandemic really solidified this need to focus on direct to consumer and online. So, that’s what our focus is. What’s more perfect than a subscription box or a box of incredible products made by women that can arrive at your door?
As you said, in this first year, We Are Womxn will be focusing on BIPOC and LGBTQ2S+ women. But when beginning this journey, you realized your interview series, Women Supporting Women in Food, featured mainly white women. How did it feel when you realized that and what steps did you take to make sure there was better representation?
The whole world is waking up to the realization that things have been unequal for a long time. And in many ways that we haven’t noticed, or we haven’t known, or we haven’t learned about. So, it’s been a lot of learning for me. I also feel hugely grateful that there are so many new people in my life! We Are Womxn has brought me together with so many women that I wouldn’t have otherwise met—thank you, Zoom—to have really open and honest, thoughtful conversations that are hard but are also necessary.
When I had that realization last year, I started reaching out to women saying, do you know, Black women in the food industry? Can you connect me? Do you know Indigenous women in the food industry? Can you connect me? So there was this process of expanding the network that was very meaningful.
In building We Are Womxn, I thought about what our mission would be out of the gate. Is it all women? Is it only underrepresented women? How do you quantify who’s deserving? After many conversations and reflection, I thought that there is an opportunity in Canada and this moment in the world where I think the most appropriate thing to do is to focus on underrepresented women.
And building on that. What does it mean to be an ally to you?
Allyship involves listening, learning, unlearning, amplifying the voices and work of others, and creating opportunities for them.
What is it like partnering with the Canadian Women’s Chamber of Commerce, the National Aboriginal Capital Corporations Association, and the BlackNorth Initiative to push We Are Womxn’s mission forward?
I feel so grateful, so lucky, and so happy. My whole working life, and I’m sure forevermore, I never want to reinvent the wheel. So many people and so many organizations are already doing incredible things. How can we come together? So that’s one part: stronger together. And the second part goes back to your other question related to allyship and focusing on underrepresented women. I am not an underrepresented woman and so I knew that it was very important that We Are Womxn partnered with people and initiatives with people that were underrepresented or that were focused and had the expertise, otherwise, there would be a disconnect. So, I’m grateful for all those partners. And like I said, we’re stronger together.
The box that was sent out had items from 15 different founders. How did you choose who and what to include?
In addition to the food industry usually focusing on white men, we’re usually looking at a Toronto-focused or an Ontario-focused approach when there is so much more to Canada. So, we knew that we wanted to try and represent different provinces and territories. So, I reached out to some new friends of mine who I’ve met thanks to Women Supporting Women in Food. Also, thanks to our Indigenous partner, NACCA, we were able to use its network and had several conversations with Indigenous women across the country who ended up having products in the box. We had put a map on the inside and you can see we’ve gone coast to coast! So, we chose products through my network and our Indigenous partner’s network.
Another cool thing about the products in the box is they also represent a wide spectrum of businesses. Some of the products are from women that have just started their business, who make items on the weekends and hand-deliver their product. Then, we also have Richa Gupta, from Good Food for Good, and Susie York of Love Good Fats, which did $50-million in revenue last year! So, our box not only represents women from across the country but also women from across the development stage of business.
Will you be creating more boxes with more products?
I’ve always had this idea of the box being a bigger thing—and COVID-19 has made it so much more important to understand how you can reach your consumer without the middleman. We had an incredible reception to the box, from the women who have received it and also people asking where they can buy it. So, it’s a TBD, but we definitely are thinking of what’s next.
In addition to the boxes, you have a grant and mentorship program. Right now, you have one specifically for Indigenous women in Canada. How will that be working?
We position ourselves as helping the inspiration stage. So we’re looking to empower and help BIPOC and LGBTQ2S+ women in Canada that have a dream or they have an idea, or maybe they’ve started something very small, and we want to help get them to the next level.
We see ourselves as a funnel to bigger programs to help get them ready to a place where they could go and get a bank loan for $50,000 or $100,000. In year one, we’re committed to spotlighting underrepresented women. So, we’ve created micro-grants. Our first being for $2,000 and we have an incredible, inspiring woman mentor who is also Indigenous, Tamara Wensley from Primal Sisters. She grew her online sales 400X during COVID and is so amazing! She’s obviously so busy herself and yet she also wants to mentor another young woman and help that woman’s business. So, I’m really excited about that.
*Applications for the first We Are Womxn grant are open until April 16, 2021. Apply here.
If someone reading this is an underrepresented woman in the food industry, how can they become a part of the We Are Womxn network and community?
They can join us on social media! Our focus right now is on Instagram. Say, hello! If you have a question or comment, and feel free to reach out so lots more opportunities are coming up. We really want to make sure we’re meeting women where they’re at, and that’s why we’re focused on social media.
With a lot of more established grant programs or loans, often many women don’t hear about them or feel intimidated by them, or don’t have the time to write the application. There are so many different barriers. What we’re asking for is a short video submission. We really want to hear, in your own words, so it’s a friendly and easy process. All we’re looking for is a digital-first idea and a commitment to see it through.
What kind of overall lasting impact do you hope We Are Womxn has on the Canadian food industry?
So many things. A big vision and big goals. What I would like to do is completely revolutionize the food industry. It’s definitely overdue for change and to leapfrog some of the institutions and barriers that have traditionally kept women out and especially kept underrepresented women out. And I think the key to being able to do that quickly and successfully is through the internet.
For Indigenous women to say, “Wow, that Indigenous woman’s a food entrepreneur and she’s killing it. I can do that too!” That to me is so transformative. Also to offer grants and mentorship for them to get there and have an opportunity.
A lot of negative things have come out of COVID, but some very positive things have as well.
One of those great positive things is the ability to build a digital-first business that keeps your consumer in mind. And, as I said, can leap from those former institutions, like relying on grocery distribution. I think this is a real moment that I’m very proud to be a part of where we can regulate and revolutionize the Canadian food industry.