11 Inspirational Female Entrepreneurs
It’s no secret that men outnumber women in the business world. But recent data suggest that women are becoming more influential as executives, entrepreneurs, business owners, consumers and social-media users. Between 2000 and 2010, the number of female-owned businesses grew by 50% – a significantly bigger jump than that posted by small businesses overall. Additionally, comScore and Nielsen report that women comprise the majority of participants on the social web – from Facebook to Zynga to Twitter to Pinterest. And when it comes to purchasing clout, women control the purse strings: According to the Census Bureau, women manage 80% of consumer spending, or about $5 trillion dollars yearly.
The growing influence of women in business comes as no surprise to us – nor to the 11 female entrepreneurs featured below. Read on to learn about these stellar businesswomen and their tips for success.
Which ladies in the business world inspire you? Share their stories!
1. Shaherose Charania – Women 2.0
“I don’t think there are any explicit roadblocks or challenges. I think it’s up to the woman. I think it’s up to the individual, a male or a female, to actually get up and say I want to start a company.” – Shaherose Charania, interview with EZebis.com
Armed with only two backpacks, the twenty-something Shaherose Charania left her Vancouver home for Silicon Valley to pursue her passion for technology. In April 2006, she and three other young women jumpstarted Women 2.0 with a conference for around 100 women entrepreneurs. After the foursome received an award for supporting women’s entrepreneurship, they decided to formalize Women 2.0, a company with a lofty mission: “to increase the number of female founders of technology start-ups.” Today, Women 2.0 provides entrepreneurs with resources to help concretize their ideas into actual companies. A mobile and technology junkie, Charania is also the founder and CEO of Founder Labs and the Managing Director of Opinno.
2. & 3. Jennifer Hyman and Jennifer Carter Fleiss – Rent the Runway
“I would give the advice to, first, go for it. That there’s nothing like waking up in the morning and being excited about your job and excited about what you’re gonna do that day, and that people tend to be great at things they’re passionate about.” – Jennifer Hyman, interview with NBC New York
Jennifer Hyman and Jennifer Fleiss have found a way to make every girl’s Cinderella moment come true. The modern-day fairy godmothers use tech instead of magic wands to provide women with the perfect outfit for that special occasion, renting out designer dresses by mail since 2009. Rent the Runway has been profitable since March 2011 and has attracted 150 top designers, including Vera Wang and Calvin Klein. Last year, the firm also teamed up with Lancôme and secured $30 million in funding from top-tier firms. Included in Fortune’s list of Most Powerful Women Entrepreneurs of 2011, Hyman and Fleiss continue to create fairy-tale experiences for Rent the Runway’s 2 million members.
4. Katrina Markoff – Vosges Haut-Chocolat
“Be genuine and true to yourself at all costs, because people are attracted to passion, and passion speaks louder than anything.” – Katrina Markoff, interview with Ladies Who Launch
“Anything tastes better dipped in chocolate.” This quote must have come from someone who has tasted the creations of chocolatier Katrina Markoff, also one of Fortune’s Most Powerful Women Entrepreneurs of 2011. The entrepreneur-chef combines travel, food and culture to create premium artistic and innovative luxury treats for chocolate lovers. What started as a home-based small-store business in 1998 has now expanded into a string of boutiques in Chicago, Las Vegas, New York and Beverly Hills. Markoff says that the internationally lauded Vosges Haut-Chocolat has revenues of roughly $30 million. Now that’s a sweet deal. Bacon truffles, anyone?
5. Jessica Herrin – Stella & Dot
“I do work from home, but only after I work a full day in the office and come home and put my children to bed, and then I do the night shift.” – Jessica Herrin, interview with Inc.
Billed by the Wall Street Journal as the Next-Gen Mary Kay, Stella & Dot trains and helps entrepreneurial women sell their own costume jewelry. The company has 12,000 active stylists from virtually every profession. Its products are sold online or at in-home trunk shows, where stylists dish out fashion advice to shoppers. It wasn’t always this way, though. Founder Jessica Herrin says that she initially designed the website and all the jewelry herself when she founded the business in 2004. Today, Stella & Dot also sells jewelry designed by the companies that produce accessories for big-name brands like Marc Jacobs, Prada and Chanel. In 2010, the company reached new heights when it surpassed the $100 million mark in revenues and made Inc.’s list of 500 fastest-growing companies. Set to reach the billion-dollar mark after just five years in the business, it is the fastest growing direct-sales company of all time. Not bad for someone who started out with DIY jewelry while taking care of two young daughters, wouldn’t you say?
6. Victoria Ransom – Wildfire Interactive
“Initially, it takes having courage and just getting in there and trying it and having incredible perseverance. I can’t overemphasize how hard you have to work …” – Victoria Ransom, interview with Startup America Partnership
Fueled by the desire to create an awesome product, Harvard Business School graduate Victoria Ransom co-founded Wildfire Interactive, Inc., a tech company that helps businesses grow, engage, and monetize their audience through social networking. Despite the financial crisis at the time of Wildfire’s inception, Ransom convinced investors to shell out $250,000 for product development. In 2009, the app went live; by early 2010, the company boasted 50,000 customers. Its platform is used by thousands of companies, including Unilever, Pepsi, Sony and other major brands. An entrepreneur since her early twenties, Ransom also developed two other companies and has been named one of 25 Women to Watch in Tech for 2011 and 2010.
7. Clara Shih – Hearsay Social
“Personal relationships are at the heart of business relationships.” – Clara Shih, interview with B2Bbloggers
Considered a social media maven, Clara Shih first saw the potential of social networking sites as marketing tools after Facebook launched in 2007. Unsuccessful at convincing Salesforce colleagues to build a Facebook app for business, Shih decided to take the matter into her own hands and build the app herself. She was soon approached by publishers to write the book The Facebook Era, which has since been translated into nine languages and is included in the Harvard Business School curriculum. In September 2009, the then-27-year-old Shih co-founded Hearsay Social. A software-as-a-service firm, Hearsay turns employees into digital brand representatives by helping them create and customize the content they share on social media. To date, Hearsay Social has raised $21 million from venture capitalists. One of the most successful women entrepreneurs at 30, the Stanford-educated Shih was elected into Starbucks’ Board of Directors last December 2011.
8. Jill Vialet Playworks
“It’s not about waiting for Superman to make change happen – we’re all Superman if we can harness the power of our collective will.” – Jill Vialet, “Cities of Service” blog post
Named in the 2011 Forbes List of Top 30 Social Entrepreneurs, Jill Vialet is on a mission to positively impact children’s lives. A Harvard graduate, Vialet decided to apply her Ivy League education to the nonprofit sector. Two years after she graduated in 1986, Vialet raised funds and successfully launched Oakland’s Museum of Children’s Art, helping it expand its hands-on arts program to reach 20,000 children yearly. Spurred by the success of her first nonprofit venture, Vialet founded Sports4Kids, now Playworks, in 1996. The organization’s goal is to help children from low-income families become healthier through organized after-school play and sports. Playworks has received national funding through Vialet and her leadership team’s efforts. Today, more than 130,000 elementary school students benefit every day through Playworks’ service programs, which operate in more than 300 schools in 23 U.S. cities.
9. Danielle Fong – LightSail Energy
“I’ll always remember to listen to myself if something’s just not feeling right – and I’ll always remember to strive to find something that does.” – Danielle Fong, interview with Dalhousie University
Backed by leading green tech investor Vinod Khosla, LightSail Energy is the brainchild of 24-year-old Danielle Fong. Fong dropped out of school while in junior high and describes in her bio the “intermittent misery of compulsory schooling” until 1999. She did, however, graduate with first-class combined honors in Physics/Computer Science from Dalhousie University. At 17, Fong got into the Princeton Ph.D nuclear fusion program before deciding to quit and launch a startup company in Silicon Valley. She founded LightSail Energy – which envisions using compressed-air technology to store energy – in 2008 at the age of 20.
10. Jennifer Pahlka – Code for America
“Government can work if we craft it in the image of those who know how to use technology — recraft it in the interest of the citizens that it’s actually supposed to serve.” – Jennifer Pahlka, interview with idealists.com
It’s easy to criticize the government – but few have actually tried to make changes to the system. Jennifer Pahlka is one of them. According to Pahlka, many skilled professionals want to contribute to making government work better, but their options are limited. In 2009, Pahlka founded Code for America, which aims to make government more participatory, transparent and effective. Through CFA, Pahlka inspires talented development and technology professionals to build open-source applications that would improve communication and public participation in towns and cities. One CFA app, for example, painted QR codes on public-works projects so constituents could easily check their progress and funding online. Pahlka graduated cum laude from Yale and has always been interested in public service. She worked at two nonprofits before joining the tech-media world and working to organize conferences like the Web 2.0 Summit.
11. Dawn Halfaker – Halfaker and Associates
“What I’ve learned is it’s all about how you perform when things are going down. That’s an indication of true character.” – Dawn Halfaker, interview with Washington Business Journal
After a rocket-propelled grenade tore through her right arm, Lt. Dawn Halfaker knew that her military career was over. After returning to Washington from Iraq – where she served as a platoon leader – Halfaker considered working for several companies. She felt, however, that the only way she could capitalize on the skills she had was to do things on her own. Drawing up a business plan and support from the right people, she founded a national security consulting firm – Halfaker and Associates – in 2006. In just five years, Halfaker and Associates has generated more than $15 million in revenue. Halfaker also works with Hire Heroes USA and the Wounded Warrior Project – and in 2011, she was a finalist for the Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year Greater Washington Award and received the Washington Business Journal Women Who Mean Business Award.