On September 12 during the 74th Primetime Emmy Awards, Palo Alto’s Maria Palacio, founder and owner of Progeny Coffee, saw herself on TV. She was selected alongside two other businesses by pita chip company Stacy’s for their 2022 Rise Project to highlight women leaders in entrepreneurship; the three were featured in a mini-documentary about their lives and work. The Colombian American entrepreneur, whose coffee roasting business sells beans online from its HQ in Palo Alto, is dedicated to uplifting farmers from her home community — she was born and raised in the city of Armenia where her family still farms coffee today. Reese Witherspoon’s production company Hello Sunshine, poet Rupi Kaur, and filmmaker Nisha Ganatra put the short film together highlighting the entrepreneurs. “That was really exciting,” Palacio says.
That seems like an understatement. The relationship with the project began when Palacio won the Stacy’s Rise Award and grant from the PepsiCo-owned snack firm in 2020; an important win, since, according to Pitchbook, only about 2 percent of total invested dollars went to women in 2021. Award winners receive a litany of benefits including $15,000 and four months of corporate mentorship. That put her on Reese Witherspoon’s radar, as her production company Hello Sunshine seeks to elevate and amplify women via its media company. Palacio was featured in the short film alongside Jocelyn Ramirez, owner of East LA food company Todo Verde, and Sajani Amarisini, who owns tea and latte company Kola Goodies.
The 30-second clip shown during the awards is just a snippet of a full film debuting at Sundance this year (which is, to be fair, still a short documentary) that tells the story of the three female founders. Each vignette explains the business’ intention of connecting to the founders and their roots, and how their work comes from generational strife and hustle. “My grandma, my mom, all the girls in the stories are about highlighting the work,” Palacio says. “I saw it on TV with my girls and they were like ‘Oh, it’s grandma!’ They were just screaming. It was very beautiful to show them that they too can rise up, that there’s no ceiling, that they can be greater and greater.”
Looking ahead, Palacio and her company just launched a Beyond Trade initiative through which the company hopes to deploy sustainable farming practices on their farm in Colombia — by doing so, she says Progeny can demonstrate the efficacy of their approach all the better. She’s excited to share the platform and farming approaches with other coffee companies who want to create a more sustainable supply chain. (They sent the film clip to Progeny’s Colombian coffee farmer partners, none of which could believe it, Palacio says.) “This is how we can prove that our methods impact climate change and assist with rising temperatures on coffee,” Palacio says. “We’ve already reduced water use in our practices, and we’re going to roll it out with another 500 farmers. It’s time to focus on the real issues in the industry.”