Business women don’t necessarily have it easy in 2018. On the whole, U.S. females earn 20 percent less than men, creating a gender pay gap that experts agree will take concentrated efforts from both corporations and their workforces to close. Plus, last year, just 2.2 percent of all venture capital funding went to women-run businesses, even though they continue to increase in number.
But these hurdles haven’t stopped women from growing their businesses and careers, whether they’re launching tech startups, reimagining the world of e-commerce or heading global powerhouses. Their examples create a well-lit path for other female founders to follow. For your inspiration, we’ve compiled a list of 20 women whose stories exhibit exceptional growth.
Who: Sarah Ahmed
What: Founder of Warp + Weft
Why she makes the list: Ahmed heads up this direct-to-consumer denim line that focuses on size inclusivity for women, men and children by weaving its own fabric for “the ultimate fit.” Warp + Weft also focuses on sustainability, using responsibly-sourced raw cotton and energy-efficient factories.
Who: Kelly Peeler
What: Founder of NextGenVest
Why she makes the list: Peeler launched NextGenVest in 2014 to help high school and college students navigate the financial aid process. Users get expert advice through text messages, and more than 200 “money mentors” have helped tens of thousands of students.
Who: Daniela Corrente
What: Founder of Reel
Why she makes the list: Shopping platform Reel takes the guilt out of purchasing by linking to customer bank accounts and creating savings plans for desired buys. Since launching Reel in 2016, Corrente has partnered with hundreds of retailers including Pottery Barn, Nordstrom and Bloomingdales.
Who: Limor Fried
What: Co-founder of Adafruit
Why she makes the list: A renowned hardware hacker, Fried co-founded Adafruit in 2005. The open source hardware platform allows budding and experienced electronics enthusiasts to get involved in engineering by providing kits and how-to’s for DIY tech projects.
Who: Natasia Malaihollo
What: Co-founder and CEO of Wyzerr
Why she makes the list: After launching the location-based social network Sooligan in 2012, Malaihollo turned her attention to her more successful venture, Wyzerr. Wyzerr uses playful, easy-to-read interfaces to help companies boost engagement via gamified surveys.
Who: Hannah Freeman
What: Co-founder of Ganaz
Why she makes the list: While working as a senior director at Fair Trade USA, Freeman noticed communication struggles between agricultural managers and seasonal workforces. Her app allows the parties to message each other instead of calling, translating conversations into workers’ native language if needed.
Who: Helene Costa
What: Co-founder of GarageHop
Why she makes the list: A native of Paris, Costa brought fresh thinking to Seattle’s car-parking economy. When commuters need daytime parking, GarageHop connects them with residential buildings that have open spaces.
Who: Jesse Genet
What: Founder of Lumi
Why she makes the list: Formed in 2009, Genet’s company thinks outside the box by helping e-commerce companies produce simple, sustainable packaging through its online platform and global network of factories.
Who: Lauren Washington
What: Co-founder of KeepUp and Black Women Talk Tech
Why she makes the list: Washington launched KeepUp in 2014, after winning $250,000 in the 43North competition. KeepUp lets users manage multiple social media accounts through a single platform. Washington also heads a collective of tech founders who work to encourage other black women to build billion-dollar businesses.
Who: Tyler Haney
What: Founder of Outdoor Voices
Why she makes the list: Giving rise to the “athleisure” movement, Haney’s line of fashionable leggings, dresses and tops is versatile enough for working out or going out.
Who: Tracy Young
What: Co-founder of PlanGrid
Why she makes the list: Young stands out on a team of three men as a co-founder of PlanGrid. The software aims to be a “single source of the truth” for all parties involved in construction projects, letting anyone access the blueprint and other project information from anywhere.
Who: Emily Weiss
What: Founder of Glossier
Why she makes the list: An online direct-to-consumer cosmetics marketplace, Glossier has raised $86.4 million since 2015. The brand began as Weiss’ blog “Into the Gloss.”
Who: Jane Mosbacher Morris
What: Founder and CEO of To The Market
Why she makes the list: Morris’ socially-minded platform connects businesses and consumers to ethically-made products manufactured in vulnerable communities around the world. Partners currently include Macy’s, Levi’s and General Mills.
Who: Doreen Bloch
What: Founder of Poshly
Why she makes the list: Just a year after graduating from UC Berkeley, Bloch launched consumer intelligence platform Poshly. Poshly rewards users with free beauty and lifestyle products in exchange for sharing insights on their makeup routines and purchasing habits, which is valuable brand data.
Who: Jennifer Hyman
What: Co-founder of Rent The Runway and Project Entrepreneur
Why she makes the list: Hyman’s subscription-based clothing rental service is currently valued at $770 million. Project Entrepreneur works to empower women by providing resources needed to launch businesses.
Who: Jamie Kern Lima
What: Founder and CEO of IT Cosmetics
Why she makes the list: After successfully launching her skin corrective makeup line, Kern sold IT Cosmetics to L’Oreal USA in 2016 for a cool $1.2 billion in cash. She remains the company’s CEO, making her the only female CEO in L’Oreal’s history.
Who: Sheila Lirio Marcelo
What: Founder, chairwoman and CEO of Care.com
Why she makes the list: Marcelo started Care.com in 2006 to help busy parents find reliable babysitters, as she struggled with the same challenge as a mom. The site now serves more than 20 countries and is expanding to include housekeeping, pet care and senior care services.
Who: Heather Mirjahangir Fernandez
What: Co-founder and CEO of Solv
Why she makes the list: Fernandez headed up numerous initiatives at Trulia before moving on to start her own company in 2016. As Forbes describes it, Solv “wants to do for urgent care what OpenTable did for restaurants.” The startup makes it easy to book same-day urgent health care for a transparent price.
Who: Audrey Gelman
What: Co-founder and CEO of The Wing
Why she makes the list: After working in political consulting and public affairs, Gelman changed gears in 2015 to launch The Wing, a network of members-only work and social spaces designed specifically for women. The Wing currently boasts four spaces across New York City and in Washington D.C., with six more set to open in the coming year.
Who: Jenny Eu
What: Founder of Three Trees
Why she makes the list: Three Trees, an eco-minded almond milk brand, had humble beginnings in 2012, when Eu sold small batches at local farmers markets. Now, the products--which use only clean ingredients--are available in over 400 stores, including Whole Foods Market.
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