Stories / Impact

4 Women Entrepreneurs on How This Program Changed Their Business

WEL alumnae share stories on the program's impact

Megan Storms

March 15, 2023


Back of two women's heads looking at a presentation at the front of the room
Photo: David Chow

The James Beard Foundation Women’s Entrepreneurial Leadership (WEL) program is an advanced educational, training, and networking program for business owners in all areas of the hospitality industry looking to expand and grow. The 10-week virtual program, created in conjunction with Cornell University, includes sessions on leadership, negotiating, strategy, business and financial models, funding your businesses, measuring success, and more.

The WEL program takes place twice a year, with fall and winter cohorts of 20 participants each, and is targeted to women owners of one or more restaurants or food businesses.  

WEL alumnae have formed a strong and far-reaching community, and regularly connect with each other and with the Foundation.  

Through the program, 47 percent of WEL alumnae pursued new funding after completing the program and 71 percent reported success in raising funding for their businesses, raising a total of $10.5M. Eighty-six percent of WEL alumnae have increased staff pay, with 70 percent adding new benefits including health care and training. Sixty-five percent of alumnae reported that through WEL they gained experience and skills to articulate goals and values and 60 percent reported gaining the skills to create long term business plans.

Below, in honor of Women’s History Month, we’re sharing stories from four program alumnae on the impact that WEL has had on them and their businesses. To learn more about other women who have participated in the program, check out the alumnae lookbook.

Does WEL sound like the right fit for you? Applications for the 2023 Fall Cohort and 2024 Winter Cohort open on May 1. More information on the program, application process, and participant requirements can be found here.

Black and white photo of Tracy Chang from waist up in front of a restaurant kitchen
Photo: Colin Raney
Tracy Chang
Cambridge, MA
2020 WEL Cohort

What was the most impactful part of WEL for you?

Having weekly support from [former program partner] Babson mentors and hearing from my industry peers in the WEL network, as well as WEL alumnae nationwide, during the darkest time of our business history (the height of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020).  

Hearing stories of what business models and ideas worked and didn't work for peers during a period of survival, invention, and prototyping was not only uplifting but also resourceful and actionable.

How did WEL transform or change your business?

The weekly activities we did in WEL pushed me to think beyond my current operations and short-term goals, to dig deeper and re-examine what I had achieved already as a business owner, as well as question why I wanted to continue to be in this industry and what contributions I wanted to make. I'd already opened a restaurant, started a CPG arm of the business and an e-commerce platform, did nationwide shipping, and started two nonprofits that empowered local restaurants, as well as dozens of restaurants nationwide. WEL pushed me to dream bigger again by envisioning a form of product and hospitality I have not yet done, which incorporates a lot of the operational challenges I have already faced, and also ones I have not, including collaboration with tech and nutrition, and what it takes to operate and succeed in those industries e.g., raising capital, proof of concept and product, prototyping, and branding/marketing. Having the WEL colleagues and alumnae and JBF and Babson networks as a sounding board to give feedback on my ideas was beneficial when I was in the early stages of ideation.

Why should someone apply to WEL?

The WEL program has been a powerful network and resource to bring together and empower womxn owners and operators not only for the duration of the program, but also in perpetuity as we stay in touch through Whatsapp channels, WEL reunions, etc.

Jaja Chen looking over her right shoulder wearing a black shirt
Photo: Dominic Villa
Jaja Chen
Cha Community
Waco, TX
2022 Fall WEL Cohort

What was the most impactful part of WEL for you?

Connecting with fellow small business owners and industry leaders. My fellow WEL alumnae have helped me to continue navigating scaling our business—even after the program concluded!

How did WEL transform or change your business?

I do not have a business background or degree. The WEL program helped me to gain critical financial knowledge and skills when it comes to running and scaling a business in the food and beverage industry. Through the Cornell e-course, I had the opportunity to learn more skills related to marketing, strategic posturing, and brand management. These are all key skills for businesses today!

Why should someone apply to WEL?

When I was accepted into WEL, I wasn’t sure if I would “fit in.” So many of my industry peers in the WEL alumnae are award-winning chefs and as a boba tea cafe co-owner, I definitely felt some imposter’s syndrome. Throughout the program, however, I came to realize that we each are running food and beverage industry businesses. And there are a lot more similarities than differences amongst our concepts and teams. I’m thankful for WEL for bringing together such a diverse group of peers to learn from each other and to grow!

This program has been life-changing for me—helping me to gain confidence as a business owner and to truly believe that I can make an impact as a food and beverage industry leader.

Crystal Diaz from chest up in a gray jacket in front of a red building
Photo: Rafael Ruiz Mederos
Crystal Diaz
PRoduce and El Pretexto
Carolina and Cayey, Puerto Rico
2021 WEL Cohort 

What was the most impactful part of WEL for you?

The amazing network of strong women supporting each other, and the curriculum focused on our industry.

How did WEL transform or change your business?

I just launched another revenue stream for El Pretexto and in great part I was inspired by the program, because I understood that we have the capacity to achieve greater goals and reach overall financial stability. Having access to the WEL and JBF networks also provides a trusting space where you can share your ideas and receive meaningful and honest feedback.

Daniella Senior in front of a blue brick wall with Colada Shop spray-painted on it in red
Photo: Amanda Archibald
Daniella Senior
Colada Shop and Serenata
Washington, D.C.; Northern VA; and Potomac, MD
2018 WEL Cohort
What was the most impactful part of WEL for you?

The strong alumnae network. The women I have met through this program have not only been an inspiration but an integral part of my business growth and success. They provide a supportive community of like-minded individuals who offer guidance, encouragement, and opportunities for collaboration and networking. Their experiences, insights, and connections have been invaluable to me, both personally and professionally.

How did WEL transform or change your business?

Participating in the WEL program has allowed me to transform my business by expanding my knowledge on financial literacy, connecting me to people willing to support women, and giving me exposure to a diverse range of industry leaders and experts. Through the workshops, mentorship opportunities, and networking events, I have developed the skills and confidence necessary to take my business to the next level. The program has provided me with the resources and support system I need to succeed in a competitive and ever-changing market. I am grateful for the experience and am excited to see where my journey with WEL will take me in the future.


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This program was initiated by JBF supporter, Jodie W. McLean, CEO of EDENS, one of the nation’s leading private retail real estate companies.  

The program would not be possible without the support of our sponsors: