On September 12, during the 74th annual Primetime Emmy Awards, Maria Palacio of Palo Alto, founder and owner of Progeny Coffee, caught a glimpse of herself on television. She was selected along with two other companies by pita chip company Stacy’s for their Rise 2022 project to highlight female leaders in entrepreneurship; The three were featured in a mini documentary about their life and work. The Colombian-American entrepreneur, whose coffee roastery sells beans online from her headquarters in Palo Alto, is dedicated to empowering farmers in her home community — she was born and raised in the city of Armenia, where her family still grows coffee today. Reese Witherspoon’s production company Hello Sunshine, poet Rupi Kaur and filmmaker Nisha Ganatra put together the short film highlighting the entrepreneurs. “It was really exciting,” says Palacio.
That seems like an understatement. The relationship with the project began when Palacio won the 2020 Stacy’s Rise Award and a grant from PepsiCo-owned snack company; a key win since only about 2 percent of total dollars invested went to women in 2021, according to Pitchbook. That got her on Reese Witherspoon’s radar as her production company, Hello Sunshine, seeks to uplift and empower women through their media company. Palacio starred in the short alongside Jocelyn Ramirez, owner of East LA food company Todo Verde, and Sajani Amarisini, owner of tea and latte company Kola Goodies.
The 30-second clip shown during the awards ceremony is just a snippet of a full film debuting at Sundance this year (which, in fairness, is still a short documentary) that tells the story of the three women founders. Each vignette explains the company’s intent to connect with the founders and their roots, and how their work emerges from the strife and hustle of generations. “My grandma, my mom, with all the girls in the stories, it’s about making the work stand out,” says Palacio. “I saw it on TV with my girls and they were like, ‘Oh, it’s grandma!’ They just screamed. It was very nice to show them that they too can rise, that there is no upper limit, that they can get bigger and bigger.”
Looking to the future, Palacio and her company have just launched a “Beyond Trade” initiative that the company hopes will allow them to adopt sustainable farming practices at their farm in Colombia – which they believe will give Progeny the better opportunity to demonstrate the effectiveness of their approach . She looks forward to sharing the platform and farming approaches with other coffee companies looking to create a more sustainable supply chain. (They sent the film clip to Progeny’s Colombian coffee-growing partners, none of whom could believe it, says Palacio.) “It allows us to prove that our methods are impacting climate change and helping coffee when temperatures rise,” says Palacio. “We have already reduced water consumption in our practices and will roll this out to another 500 farmers. It’s time to focus on the real issues facing the industry.”