Alexa Fernandez (MBA/MPP’05) Wins Two Great Taste Awards for Chili Maven’s Salsa Macha
Georgetown McDonough joins the nation in commemorating Hispanic Heritage Month. To celebrate, we are spotlighting several McDonough community members of Hispanic heritage who are creating an impact and exemplifying the Georgetown spirit through their academics, careers, and personal lives.
Less than a year into launching her business, Alexa Fernandez (MBA/MPP’05) is making her mark as a leading food entrepreneur across the pond. The dual MBA and Master of Public Policy graduate and founder and CEO of Chili Maven recently achieved a major professional accolade in the United Kingdom for her tasty, flavorful, and unique salsa macha creations.
Fernandez took home two Great Taste Awards for both versions of her salsa macha: ‘Spicy & Nutty’ and ‘Mild & Smoky,’ which can be found in stores across England, with plans to soon be sold in the United States. According to the Guild of Fine Food, the company that oversees Great Taste, the award is the world’s largest and most trusted food and drink accreditation.
The win was extra special for the food entrepreneur who loves Mexican cuisine, in particular, salsa macha – a condiment made with a variety of dried chilis, nuts, seeds, and garlic infused in oil. Fernandez grew up on the U.S.-Mexico border in Texas, and she always felt a deep connection to her Mexican heritage and roots. As a Hispanic entrepreneur, especially during October, Fernandez hopes to connect consumers of all different backgrounds to Latin-based cuisine and encourage them to learn about the origins of the products they have purchased.
“Hispanic Heritage Month is an opportunity to shine a light on founders and businesses that are authentically Hispanic, authentically Latin, and authentically Mexican,” Fernandez said. “The thing people can do is follow, support, and buy from these brands. You don’t have to be Latin or Hispanic to make and sell a Latin product, but you should acknowledge where it comes from, as well as the history and authenticity of your product.”
When Fernandez started Chili Maven, salsa macha was difficult for consumers to find outside of Mexico. The Hoya saw an opportunity to introduce this unique Mexican condiment to the United Kingdom and tap into a whole new audience.
“Getting into the first three stores was the most exciting part, as well as just being able to finally see my product on the shelf,” Fernandez said. “I’ve also been doing a lot of tastings and shows – just trying to get people to try it. I did a show in Northern England, and that was a lot harder because people aren’t as used to spice, and even though it’s a mild sauce, it’s still a very flavorful one and for a lot of people it’s a new flavor.”
When Fernandez reflects on the beginning days of Chili Maven, she said it was during the height of the pandemic that she turned her idea for the business into a reality and started making salsa macha recipes. About 12 months later, she connected with manufacturers and Georgetown Entrepreneurship, through the Georgetown Startup Accelerator (GSA) program, to prepare the product to be sold in the United Kingdom market.
In 2021, Fernandez completed the GSA program, where she connected with early-stage alumni entrepreneurs, gained new mentorship opportunities, and collaborated with peers who also wanted to take their companies to the next level. Today, her connection to the Georgetown Entrepreneurship community remains strong.
“I was paired with a mentor, Matt Crisp. He was based in the United Kingdom, had experience in the food and beverage industry, and had launched a Mexican tequila brand in Europe. He was so helpful and especially helped me figure out my route to market,” said Fernandez.
After working tirelessly to create more visibility for Chili Maven and enhance each salsa macha recipe, Fernandez said the Great Taste Awards were a major sense of validation. It’s a goal she has had her eye on since she started the business venture.
“The Great Taste Awards are a badge of approval for consumers, and as a consumer myself, they are a metric for me that a product is going to be really tasty. It’s even more important for a product like mine to have the Great Taste Award sticker – as not many people know what salsa macha is. Additionally, it’s expensive relative to other products. But, if you have the Great Taste Award sticker, people will be much more willing to pick your product off the shelf and try it.”
Not long ago, Fernandez worked full-time in the fintech industry. She took a leap of faith to start Chili Maven and begin a whole new career. Fernandez said the recognition from the Great Taste Awards confirms she’s headed in the right direction as a business owner and foodie.
“I’m all-in now. There’s no turning back. I have something big, and now I just need to make it bigger.”
To stay updated on Chili Maven’s journey, follow @chilimaven on Instagram, Chili Maven on Facebook, and sign up for updates on when Chili Maven’s salsa macha will be made available in United States stores.