Event Details

Founder Journeys: Panel Discussion

Three founders share their path to success - the people who helped them, the people surrounding them (their team), and what they are doing to give back to other founders


  • Ayeshah Abuelhiga (Founder & CEO of Mason Dixie Foods)

    Ayeshah Abuelhiga

    Founder & CEO of Mason Dixie Foods


    Ayeshah Abuelhiga is the Founder & CEO of Mason Dixie Foods. A graduate of George Washington University, she has always worked hard to be #1: 4.0 GPA, class president, varsity track and field team captain, editor of the paper, Ayeshah continues to strive to be the best she can be. Prior to founding Mason Dixie, she held executive positions at Fortune 500 companies including Toshiba and Audi and consulted at Microsoft, where she learned about leadership and acquired the skills to run a successful business.

    Growing up in the kitchen of her parents’ soul food carryout restaurant in Baltimore made Ayeshah passionate about Southern Cuisine. Years later, Ayeshah craved one of her childhood comfort foods-- biscuits--but she could only find heavily processed versions made using artificial ingredients. She knew she could offer better quality comfort food. So, at age 28, Ayeshah opened a biscuit-centric restaurant and pop-up series in Washington D.C. that immediately found a growing and devoted biscuit-loving audience.

    In 2014, Ayeshah expanded her biscuit dream beyond the restaurant with business partner and Brand COO, Ross Perkins. They saw a gap in the $1.3B frozen baked goods category and wanted to offer baked goods made from scratch to a larger consumer base. Mason Dixie Biscuits launched as the only, clean-label, ready-to-bake line of frozen biscuits and immediately forged a strong customer base.

    A natural leader on her journey, Ayeshah has thrown out the “rule book” to excel in a male-dominated industry. Mason Dixie Foods is the fastest growing frozen baked goods company in the U.S. and their biscuits and scones can now be found in freezers at over 5,000 retail grocery stores across the country. One of her biggest professional accomplishments is hiring a diverse team of 13, each of whom shares her commitment to providing the best frozen baked goods in the world.

    Ayeshah grew up in a disadvantaged environment and the only career options she considered were doctor, lawyer and teacher. The idea of entrepreneurship or any “out of the box” career was foreign to her, as she had no first-hand exposure in her community. Fortunately, Ayeshah eventually found mentors on her journey. She strongly believes that mentorship can truly impact the trajectory of a person’s career and life, so one of her goals is to guide and teach life skills to underserved children.

    view more
  • Jing Gao (Founder and CEO of Fly By Jing)

    Jing Gao

    Founder and CEO of Fly By Jing


    Jing Gao, the founder and CEO of Fly By Jing is a chef, entrepreneur and a renowned expert on Chinese cuisine on a mission to bring uncensored Chinese flavors to the table. She was born in Chengdu, but grew up everywhere, and uses her experience as a chef to share meaningful flavors that open people up to new ideas and conversations. She was the founder of an award-winning modern-Chinese fast casual restaurant in Shanghai and her work has been featured in The New York Times, BBC, CNN, Wall Street Journal, Fast Company, Fortune, and more.

    view more
  • Hannah Hong (Co-founder of Must Love)

    Hannah Hong

    Co-founder of Must Love


    With a background in brand management, co-founder Hannah Hong serves as the creative side of the plant-based indulgence brand Must Love. From a young age, Hong knew she wanted to pursue a career in the food industry because it touches every person's life and has the unique ability to connect all people. Alongside her best friend of 17 years, Mollie Cha, Hong combined her love of food and interest in health and wellness to start Must Love in 2017. Must Love makes plant-based indulgences, like ice cream and sprinkles, that are not only made from simple, clean ingredients, but also incredibly delicious.

    Before co-founding the brand, Hong gained experience in the consumer packaged goods (CPG) industry as a brand management intern for Nestle and later as brand manager of innovation at Bolthouse Farms. Today, Hong and Cha have earned recognition within the CPG and food industry for their work with Must Love, including being named Whole Foods Supplier of the Year and one of the top 5 fastest growing dairy-free ice cream brands by Instacart.

    Born and raised in Los Angeles, Hong attended University of California, Berkeley for undergrad and then UCLA's Anderson School of Management for graduate school. She currently resides in Orange County with her husband Eric and their daughter. When she isn't taste-tasting new flavors, Hong enjoys exploring new recipes and cooking

    view more
  • Kathleen Casanova (Executive Director of Project Potluck)

    Kathleen Casanova

    Executive Director of Project Potluck


    Kathleen has spent more than a decade working in and with nonprofits and universities across the country as a fundraiser, talent consultant and DEI program manager. In 2018, she decided to pursue her lifelong dream of working with food and entered the CPG space as a recruiter for emerging brands. A total nerd for all things talent related, she gets a sparkle in her eye when she talks about investing in people and could wax poetic for hours about the importance of and ideas for increasing diversity and inclusion in our industry. A problem-solver by nature, she loves to use her creativity to bring new ideas to the table and is unafraid to forge new trails.

    view more