Women's Entrepreneurial Leadership Program

WEL alumnae at our inaugural Summit in D.C (April 2022). Photographed by Clay Williams.

Applications for the 2024 Fall Cohort of WEL are now closed.

The program will take place virtually every Monday from 2 to 4 P.M. ET starting on September 16, 2024 and concluding on December 9, 2024. Live classes will not take place on October 14 and November 25.  

A maximum of 20 applicants will be selected. A committee consisting of industry leaders, WEL alumnae, and James Beard Foundation staff will review all applications. Applicants will be notified by August 1.  

View a sample prior application here (questions may vary).   
Get updates on the program, application deadlines, and related events by signing up for our Industry Support Newsletter.


The Women’s Entrepreneurial Leadership (WEL) flagship program is an advanced educational, training, and networking program for owners or co-owners of brick-and-mortar food or beverage businesses in the United States. Each cohort comprises 20 participants. WEL alumnae form a strong and broad community, with regular opportunities to connect with each other and the Foundation. 

Through the 10-week virtual program and extensive curriculum, participants work to refine and articulate their goals and vision for growth, develop long-term strategies to scale their business(es) and increase revenue, grow as a leader, and create a network of support with each other and the broader WEL community. The program includes sessions on leadership, negotiating, strategy, business and financial models, funding your businesses, measuring success, and more. 

JBF invests in this group of established women entrepreneurs to ensure the success and increase of women-owned businesses and foster a growing network of female entrepreneurs across the country. 

JBF has contracted Cornell as its education partner for WEL. The program’s virtual sessions are led by Cornell faculty from across the university, JBF staff, industry professionals, and other subject matter experts. View a sample curriculum here.   

Cornell University, one of the original members the Ivy League, is recognized as one of the world’s leading academic institutions. The WEL program taps into the broad network of Cornell University faculty across the schools including the Hotel School, Cornell SC Johnson College of Business, Cornell Tech, College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, Industrial Labor Relations, Engineering and Computer Science. 

Learn more about the participants of WEL through our cohort lookbook and state-by-state business directory.


To qualify for WEL, you must be: 
  • 21 years of age or older   

  • A woman or nonbinary individual   

  • A current owner or co-owner of one or more food or beverage businesses with brick-and-mortar location in the United States 

  • Have a minimum of $1M in annual revenue (from one or multiple businesses) 

  • Prepared to partake in an intensive entrepreneurial management program that also provides training and leadership development   

  • Committed to mandatory attendance to each session 

  • Committed to active engagement with cohort 

  • Committed to filling out mandatory follow-up surveys immediately upon completion of the program, then 1 year, 3 years, and 5 years post-program, as well as yearly check-ins   

Applicants who have not participated in a JBF program over the last 12 months might be prioritized. Please note that we do not accept two applicants from the same business (partners, coworkers, etc.) 

Examples of past participant’s businesses
Example cohort #1 
  • Number of businesses: range from 1-8 (average: 2) 
  • Average annual revenue: over $3.3M  
  • Years in business: range from 1-46 (average: 10)  
  • Number of employees: range from 9-360 (average: 65) 
Example cohort #2 
  • Number of businesses: range from 1-7 (average: 2) 
  • Average annual revenue: over $2.5M  
  • Years in business: range from 2-26 (average: 11)  
  • Number of employees: range from 8-200 (average: 50) 



For more information about the Women's Entrepreneurial Leadership Program, please email womensleadership@jamesbeard.org.  
For those interested in learning more about WEL and the application, as well as other James Beard Foundation Women Leadership Programs sign up for our Industry Newsletter.



Success of WEL

  • The WEL program currently has 186 alumnae.
  • Alumnae noted that the biggest takeaways of the program are confidence, self-empowerment, concrete skills (finance, communication, negotiation), and connection.
    • 87 percent of alumnae feel that WEL gave them a confidence as a business owner  
    • 76 percent of alumnae feel that WEL gives them a support network  
  • 50 percent of WEL alumnae pursued new funding after completing the program and 79 percent reported success in raising funding for their businesses, raising a total of $12.1M. 

  • After participating in the program, alumnae reported that through WEL they gained experience and skills to articulate goals and values, felt self-empowered, were able to identify challenges, and make long-term business plans.  

  • Since participating in WEL, alumnae from the 2017-2020 cohorts have opened 10 new locations of existing businesses and 8 entirely new businesses.  

  • Over 80 percent of alumnae remain in communication with their cohort and 100 percent are in contact with members of other cohorts  

“WEL boosted my confidence and opened my eyes to the struggles and management strategies we were all facing! [I] felt it gave me the tools to become a better leader in my community and in my industry. It also reminded me of my value and purpose.”   

“[Because of WEL], I have a much better grasp of our financials and can discuss our numbers with confidence. I am also better at working on my business rather than in the business which kept my focus in the weeds instead of on the future.”  

“The opportunity to share time and space with 19 other women, listen to their origins stories, how they overcame obstacles, and their plans was inspiring and informational in a way that no conference, trade publication or show, or the latest book could ever provide.” 

“I built relationships and a strong support system with women in my cohort. This has been invaluable.”  

"WEL made a considerable impact on me. I realized for the first time, I had very good businesses and business models and, with some tweaks, was able to create new opportunities that made good business sense. The exposure to like-minded entrepreneurs was invaluable."

“[WEL] gave me confidence and allowed me to trust my own gut more.” 

“I feel more confident as a business owner since participating in the WEL program.” 

“WEL provided an opportunity to analyze the business and myself as the business owner from 100,000 feet and gave me a network of similar women business owners.” 


Founding Partner

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


Women's Leadership Program Sponsors



Official James Beard Foundation Partners

The Winter 2024 WEL cohort is supported in part by a generous gift from David and Marilyn Rivkin.