As part of our inaugural list of 100 Powerful Women — headed up by supermodel and entrepreneur Karlie Kloss — the following 49 female founders, entrepreneurs, and leaders and forging a new path forward, standing up for the values they believe in, and building wildly successful businesses along the way.
When the FX series Pose premiered in 2018, it made history and won fans for its authentic depiction of the 1980s New York ball culture scene, a subculture composed primarily of LGBTQ people of color. With it, Janet Mock also made history — as the first trans woman of color to write and direct for a TV series. This June, she signed a multiyear development deal with Netflix, yet another historic milestone for Mock and the communities she identifies with. “Niche is the new universal, and I’m so glad I’m existing and working and creating at a time in which people are eager and hungry for these stories,” Mock says. “I hope [my work] becomes a beacon for anyone out there, like I was, seeking and searching for reflections.” And while she’s ready to develop her own ideas and projects, she knows that she holds a responsibility greater than simply making entertainment. “It’s to bring people in and empower from within: underrepresented voices, bringing them to the writers room and the crew, casting authentically,” she says. “Those are the pillars in which I work and create.”
Canva, the Australia-based graphic design platform, was created in 2013 to help anyone, anywhere — with any level of design knowledge — create and publish beautiful, professional materials. Six years later, CEO Melanie Perkins and her cofounders have made strides. Canva has raised more than $140 million, is valued at $2.5 billion, and has 15 million active monthly users around the globe. “We’re now in 100 languages, and a goal for the year ahead is to bring access to every single market,” Perkins says. “We’ve done less than 1 percent of what we think is possible — we’ve got .56 percent of the world’s population on the platform, but we want to empower the entire world.”
What happens when you add penny candy to a dime bag? Some $25 million in gross revenue this year. A marketing whiz, Nancy Whiteman launched Wana Brands in 2010 and slowly but surely has turned her cannabis-infused gummies into the top-selling edibles company in the country. But what started as experiments with pot in a 135-square-foot test kitchen (“infused Nutella is really good,” she says) has become a business so booming, it now happens in a facility more than 100 times that size. The company continues to, well, grow like a weed (its three-year growth rate is at 269 percent), thanks to Whiteman’s aggressive moves into new markets. When she considered expanding to vapes last year, she says, “People told us, ‘The world does not need another vape brand.’” But she didn’t listen, and nine months later, those vapes make up 10 percent of the business. This fall, it’s spinning off a new company, Wana Wellness, to make hemp products. “Our first offerings,” she says, “of course will be hemp gummies.”
When Audrey Gelman launched The Wing in 2016 with cofounder Lauren Kassan, she wanted to bring women-focused coworking spaces to cities around the globe. Three years later, The Wing has locations across the U.S., will open its first international outpost in London this fall, and plans to launch a LinkedIn-style platform to help members post jobs and hire each other. One factor driving The Wing’s success? Its in-house design team is made up of women and mothers who use their own experiences and member feedback to inform the spaces’ amenities, lactation rooms, and even café menus. Eighty percent of its furniture is custom-designed with the average proportions of women in mind, and now, New York area developers and landlords are calling on the company to help design female-friendly spaces outside The Wing. “It’s really important as an extension of our mission,” Gelman says, “to take design into our own hands and to do it on our own terms.”
Thirty percent of affluent men have invested in entrepreneurial companies; less than 1 percent of women have. That’s why, in 2014, Trish Costello launched Portfolia, a platform that aims to bring women into investing. Portfolia has since launched eight funds with up to 249 member investors (who can commit at least $10,000). Each is led by an expert team; videoconferences keep communication open within the far-flung network. Funds focus on a range of markets, from active aging to women’s health, and Portfolia currently has 14,000 more women waiting to join its network, eager to make their first investment when the right fund launches. Costello expects to have 100,000 women actively investing by 2022. “Data shows that men like to invest in novelty, and women like to invest where they’re experts,” Costello says. “And that’s what makes women great investors.”
For years, Rachel Shechtman’s Story was the darling story of retail. Her never-ending rotation of themes in her New York store showed how fun brick-and-mortar could be. Then in 2018, she sold her brand to Macy’s and joined the giant as brand experience officer. This April, Story popped up in 36 Macy’s stores nationwide as a themed shopping space that changes every two months. The first theme — color — was sponsored by Crayola and MAC cosmetics. But Shechtman’s work at Macy’s is just beginning. “I think of my team as a holding company,” Shechtman says. “Story was the first business in our portfolio, and now we’re developing new businesses outside the Macy’s ecosystem and launching them inside Macy’s. Our goal is to create businesses that can scale.”
As she designed her first jewelry collection out of her home in 2002, Kendra Scott never dreamed it would become a $1 billion brand. But today, her eponymous company has a unicorn valuation, 100 stores, and shows no signs of slowing down — though Scott’s main focus is about more than baubles. Of the Austin-based brand’s 2,000 employees, more than 90 percent are women, many of whom are mothers. Nursing rooms are commonplace at HQ and distribution centers, Kendra Scott Kids provides a children’s playroom, and once a year Camp Kendra invites in employees’ kids for a day of activities, in which office employees become camp counselors. “If we can support our staff, these women, at this very special time in their lives, we’ll have an employee who is incredibly loyal to our brand,” says Scott. “We believe in their future.” In September, that support expanded beyond the walls of Scott’s company, when she announced the Kendra Scott Women’s Entrepreneurial Leadership Program in partnership with the University of Texas. The programming will feature speaker series and courses on everything from building a business to advocating for equal pay and will be available to University of Texas students. “We want women to be able to access this information,” Scott says.
Ashlee Ammons just wanted to connect. In November 2014, she was awkwardly roaming an industry networking event, looking for someone to chat with. Later that weekend, her mother, Kerri Schrader, attended a similarly uncomfortable event in Tennessee. As the mother-daughter duo commiserated via phone, something clicked: There had to be an easier way. “I’m a former HR executive, and Ashlee was a very successful director of events,” Schrader says. “We knew that people really do want to collide. It’s just more awkward, every day, to actually do that.” That led to Mixtroz, a mobile app the pair created to facilitate event networking. Mixtroz asks attendees to fill out a profile based on questions from the host or sponsor, and groups people based on their answers. Clients range from Alabama Power and BBVA Compass to universities that use the app to help incoming freshmen meet new people. “It encourages groupthink, but in this case it’s a positive outcome,” Ammons says. Mixtroz is staged for growth thanks to a $1 million seed round that closed last year, making Schrader and Ammons the 37th and 38th Black female founders to hit that fund-raising mark. “We’re not shattering ceilings; we’re busting down doors,” Schrader says. “We don’t want people to keep getting cut up with glass. We’re trying to really have people follow behind us.”
Claire Wasserman started Ladies Get Paid in 2016 to help women swap career advice and grew it into a trusted brand with workshops on negotiating salary, online toolkits, and conferences. A year later, she was sued by men’s rights activists who had been turned away from her events, and was forced to settle the cases. Facing crippling legal fees, Wasserman started crowdfunding and raised $116,000 in three weeks. The boost of attention helped the Ladies Get Paid Slack group skyrocket to more than 46,000 women and led to content partnerships with Secret and Squarespace. Its annual Get Money Get Paid conference will see attendance double to 1,000 women this year. “The whole point is to be vulnerable and ask other women for help,” she says. “I had to finally do that in a really big way.”
Back in 2010, Payal Kadakia gave herself two weeks to come up with a viable business idea — time enough, she thought, to know whether she was cut out to be an entrepreneur. It worked. That experiment evolved into ClassPass, the subscription-based service that now helps users in 2,500-plus cities in more than 20 countries discover and book exercise classes. This year, Kadakia expanded into corporate wellness with a service that gives employees access to classes with 22,000 studio partners; clients include Google, Facebook, and Morgan Stanley. But the company, which has raised $255 million, is approaching the milestone of 100 million class reservations, a figure that keeps the founder motivated. “Our ultimate success metric is when someone goes to class,” Kadakia says.
It took less than 24 hours for Something Navy’s first fashion collaboration with Nordstrom to sell out in September 2017. Arielle Charnas, the super-influencer who started the fashion blog turned lifestyle brand a decade ago, remembers huddling around a laptop to watch the sellout in real time. “I had two girls working for me, and we were just watching all the available sizes disappear,” Charnas says. The Nordstrom partnership drove $5 million in sales in a single day and crashed the store’s site. Now Charnas is getting ready to launch her own in-house fashion line, and this summer she raised $11 million and hired CEO Matt Scanlan to help lead the brand’s next chapter. “Picking the right people and making sure they’re happy,” Charnas says, “is the most important part of a business.”
In 2016, 30 women crowded into a living room in Washington, D.C., on a mission to increase access to capital for Black and Brown women-identifying entrepreneurs. Four pitched their business, founder Shelly Bell used marbles to collect votes, and the winner received $150 raised from admission fees. Today, Black Girl Ventures has funded 32 founders, raised more than $70,000, received a $450,000 grant from the Kauffman Foundation, and partnered with Google Cloud for Startups to take its events on the road. Despite being the country’s fastest-growing group of business owners, Black and Brown women received less than 1 percent of VC money since 2009. “We’re creating alternative access to capital so people can stay in business until a change happens,” Bell says.
Next time you swipe a credit card or call a Lyft, thank Neha Narkhede, who is building what she calls a “central nervous system” for companies’ data. It started while she was working as an engineer at LinkedIn, where she helped create Apache Kafka, an open-source software system that processes the deluge of data flowing through the platform — clicks, messages, and news-feed updates — and makes it available to users in real time. “We said, ‘This is not just a LinkedIn problem; this is part of a broader trend that’s happening in the world where businesses are going to become more digital,’ ” Narkhede says. So she and two colleagues left to start Confluent, a software system that turbocharges Apache Kafka’s capabilities for startups, financial institutions, and Fortune 500 companies. Confluent enables its customers to process trillions of event streams every day, integrating data across apps and platforms and making all that information available centrally to analyze in real time. The service has quickly become an integral tool for businesses looking to leverage their digital footprint, and it shows in Confluent’s growth: The company recently raised $125 million in Series D funding, catapulting it to unicorn status with a $2.5 billion valuation. Next year, Confluent will focus on international business while increasing its 800-person workforce. “The market is as big as what the relational database market will be,” Narkhede says. “That’s on the order of tens of billions of dollars—that’s what we’re looking at in terms of total market potential.”
Since its launch in 2015, the Tory Burch Foundation Fellows Program has awarded a yearlong fellowship — including a four-day trip to the Tory Burch campus, the chance to pitch investors, and a $5,000 education grant — to 10 female entrepreneurs each year. For the class of 2019, Burch thought even bigger and awarded 50 founders. “We felt that more women should be exposed to this great program,” she says. “It was sort of a natural next iteration.” The foundation also leveled up its Embrace Ambition initiative this year, hosting a series of events across the country and announcing a $100 million capital commitment to women-owned companies in partnership with Bank of America. “The importance of getting rid of that negative stereotype of ambition around women is something we are very committed to,” says Burch.
Justina Blakeney isn’t big on definitions. “I’m all over the place as a creative,” she says. Part writer, part influencer, part e-commerce savant and design guru, Blakeney has turned her sunny, bohemian aesthetic into a diverse business with her brand Jungalow. She started her personal blog in 2010, and since has parlayed her 160,000-a-month audience into a New York Times best-selling book, The New Bohemians, and over the years, more than 20 product licensing partnerships with retailers like Pottery Barn Kids and Anthropologie. In 2017, she launched an online store to sell ceramics, prints, and textiles, and next year, she’s looking to expand her product line to include wholesale offerings while she irons out her biggest project yet: a brick-and-mortar shop. “I want to create a whole experience for people to come and feel the magic IRL,” she says.
Emily Kennedy wanted to help sex-trafficking victims — but how? At the age of 21, she started asking detectives working these cases about their pain points and learned how hard it can be to find a girl in the millions of online sex ads. “They were just using Google, which is insane,” says Kennedy. Looking for a better way, she landed at Carnegie Mellon’s Robotics Institute, knowing nothing about AI. “It was very much a jump in the deep end,” she says. But what came out of that research was Traffic Jam, an AI tool that can help investigators do in seconds what could otherwise take months—or years. Kennedy went on to cofound Marinus Analytics, which develops cutting-edge technology for solving crimes. In 2018, her system was used in 14,400 sex-trafficking investigations to identify 3,000 victims. Next? Targeting organized criminal gangs.
Minted, which transformed over 11 years from selling stationery to being a massive marketplace for indie artists, inked a big deal this summer: Samsung and Method will now license work from Minted’s community, giving newfound exposure to independent designers. “We’re a source for companies that understand the value of one-of-a-kind design but may not have the scale or merchandising bandwidth to develop it internally,” says founder and CEO Mariam Naficy. And Minted doesn’t just have scale; it has crowd buy-in. Back when the company focused solely on greeting cards and wedding invitations, Naficy devised a crowdsourcing model for up-voting the art potential shoppers liked best. Fast-forward to today, and that means big brands can tap into a decade of data on design that inspires both fandom and sales—Naficy even says that by now, Minted can predict which designs will ultimately become best-sellers.
I kept getting asked about what it’s like to be a female founder, as if we were a rare breed,” fashion designer Rebecca Minkoff recalls of the inspiration behind her Female Founder Collective, a new platform for women-founded and women-owned businesses. Minkoff launched the collective in September 2018 with 10 founding members and within a month had added some 3,000 women to its ranks. In addition to providing networking, the FFC’s other main goal is to promote female-led companies, which it does through a specially designed seal that is already on two million products, websites, and storefronts. “Eighty percent of women are more likely to support female-founded companies if they know how,” says Minkoff. “If she begins to see this seal in the way that I turn over my food to see if it’s non-GMO or organic, the consumer will embrace this as something that will help purchasing behavior.” Earlier this year, the FFC partnered with Visa for the “She’s Next” initiative, hosting free workshops worldwide. It’s just one step toward Minkoff’s ultimate membership objective: “There are 12 million female-founded companies in the U.S. alone. You could say that’s my goal.”
Tiffany Dufu can’t say no to a woman asking for advice, having pushed for female leadership her entire career. In January 2018 she was at The Wing, urging a woman to create a network to support her goals. But the woman told her, “I have a job, three kids, a mother with a diagnosis, and a dog. I don’t have time to find these people.” That was Dufu’s epiphany. Last year she launched The Cru to take the work out of networking. The platform’s algorithm matches customers to nine other nearby women (your “Cru”), then helps the group meet regularly to support each member — whether it’s through a divorce or to a work raise. Dufu brought her first 100 women into the community and has more than 1,000 on the waiting list. Morgan Stanley is a founding partner, and Disney is doing a Cru pilot for its employees this fall. “I know what I want on my tombstone,” says Dufu. “ ‘She got to as many women as she could.’ ”
Jessica Billingsley has never waited to be invited to the table. In 2010, as the cannabis industry was filling up with bros, she founded MJ Freeway, a pioneer cannabis SaaS technology company that can track inventory from seed to sale. By fiscal year 2018, it was generating $10.4 million in annual revenue. Then, at a large dinner event in Denver, she ditched her assigned seat for an empty chair up by the stage, and sat with the chairman of a special-purpose acquisition company that was on the hunt for a cannabis tech operation like hers. That led to a deal: In June, MJ Freeway merged with the public company MTech Acquisitions to become Akerna — making Billingsley the first female CEO to lead a cannabis company on the NASDAQ. “When I started and told people what I did for a living, they would walk away. So to have public validation, it was…” She pauses. “Awesome.”
Sometimes a founding story is so good, you just want to bottle it. And these sisters did. Andrea McBride (right) was 12 and living with her foster mom in New Zealand when the phone rang. “Hey, Andrea; it’s your dad,” a man said. He told her he had terminal stomach cancer and she had a big sister named Robin (left) on the opposite side of the world. Andrea set out to find her. It took a few years, but she did. Andrea was 16 and Robin was 25 when the two first met, in New York’s LaGuardia airport. “When I got off the plane,” says Robin, who’d been brought up by her mom in California, “she was standing at the end of the jetway. I thought I was seeing my own reflection.” In 2005, the biracial sisters ended up in California concocting a plan to squeeze into the very male, very white, very old-school wine industry. First they became importers, then distributors, and in 2009 they produced their first vintage. Many followed, including a Black Girl Magic collection, from New Zealand and California. Today the McBride Sisters Wine Collection sells 80,000 cases a year, landing it in the top 3 percent of wineries by size. But the sisters want to see more women there. On March 8, International Women’s Day, they debuted She Can — a New Zealand sauvignon blanc and a California rosé in cans — along with a fund to advance the careers of women in the wine industry. “It’s better than when we started,” says Robin. Andrea finishes the sentence: “But there’s still a lot more work to be done.”
When skin-care operations VP Brandy Hoffman (left) and VC Patricia Santos (right) first met, the self-described “plus-size lesbian” and “Filipino immigrant” (respectively) bonded over dim sum and dreams of disrupting the beauty industry. Neither could believe the high product-failure rates, stifled innovation, and lack (still!) of inclusivity. So in 2016, they founded Volition, a crowdsourcing platform that invites everyone to submit an idea for a beauty product. The company then works with a network of labs and chemists to see if a concept proves feasible; if it does and gets unanimous support from the community, Volition produces it. So far, they’ve gotten 4,000 idea submissions and brought 26 products to market that sell on Volition’s website and in Sephora, with 270 more in the pipeline. Most rewarding, they say, is discovering all these new women entrepreneurs, who can get a cut of their product’s revenue.
Refugees and asylees often come to the U.S. with nothing and struggle to integrate in their new home. “Many of the jobs they can get are cruddy and isolating, where they’re just with other refugees and immigrants,” says Rachel Taber. She realized part of the solution could be barista jobs, which pay a living wage and put a worker in the thick of American culture. So in 2015, she cofounded 1951 Coffee, a nonprofit that trains around 100 refugees and asylees per year to become baristas, then helps place them at Bay Area coffeehouses. That includes 1951 Coffee’s own three shops, which provide 80 percent of the charity’s income and are on track to generate $1.8 million in revenue this year.
Hadiyah Mujhid is crazy about coding. She worked at Lockheed Martin for more than a decade developing flight system software for satellites and communication tools for naval ships. “If I can fiddle with something and find bugs,” she says, “I am at home.” But after becoming an entrepreneur in a tech venture that failed, she saw a problem coding couldn’t solve: At the time, only 1 percent of VCs were Black and 1 percent were Hispanic. Determined to change those numbers, she founded HBCUvc in 2017. The nonprofit’s two-year program teaches Black and Latinx students about venture capital and entrepreneurship, provides mentorship from VCs of color, and will soon give them a chance to deploy capital to local entrepreneurs. This spring Intel Capital announced a partnership, and Mujhid is excited to start seeing her new funders get jobs. But sometimes she misses the geek days. “Maybe I’ll just take a vacation,” she says, “and go code an app.”
Lisa DeLuca may work for IBM, but she has an entrepreneurial drive and spirit that exceeds many in the startup world. She’s the most prolific female inventor in the company’s history and over her 14-year tenure has created 473 patented innovations. Her inventions include software that reads items in a car (a hotel room key) to suggest destinations for GPS (Sheraton), technology that enables action based on the location of people in a venue, and a system for cellphone users that predicts dead spots before they go offline. “I think I’ve always approached a problem as an opportunity,” says DeLuca. “Instead of complaining, I think, How do I solve this? There could be an innovation here.”
A longtime journalist, Katie Echevarria Rosen Kitchens started FabFitFun with her cofounders in 2010 as a digital happiness-and-wellness publication. But soon she was squinting at the business horizon — and suddenly thought about the coveted swag bags given to editors at beauty events. “The surprise of finding out what was inside was so delightful,” she says. Why not give readers the same VIP treat with a monthly subscription box? The idea was a success — and then Kitchens started thinking outside the subscription box. FabFitFun launched a TV streaming service, fitness workouts, live events; it partnered with influencers from Venus Williams and Meghan Trainor to reality-TV types. And with all the member data pouring in, the team started creating their own products, the first of which is a cosmetics line. The company just closed a fresh round of funding, achieved unicorn status, and is on track to hit $500 million in revenue this year. Next up? Customizing the member experience. “My passion has never been about just sending people stuff,” Kitchens says. “It’s really about bringing their stories to life.”
Katie Sturino built a career out of making the uncomfortable comfortable. She started in 2017 by tackling something at once common and often ignored — thigh chafing. Her brand, Megababe, released a handy anti-chafing stick called Thigh Rescue, which sold out within days. Six weeks later, Megababe took on boob sweat with its talc-free powder Bust Dust and sold out during preorder. “These are products I launched for myself,” she says. “I had to make my own solutions because there was nothing out there that I liked or made me feel empowered.” Since then, Megababe has increased production tenfold, added new products, and nabbed retail partnerships with Ulta and Target — and now, the company has finally moved its distribution center out of Sturino’s parents’ garage in Wisconsin and into its own warehouse. “Until every woman in America can be within five minutes of a Thigh Rescue stick, my work is not done,” Sturino says.
A biological engineer who can synthesize bacteria to smell like bananas, Reshma Shetty never intended to be an entrepreneur. But as a graduate student at MIT, she became passionate about designing biology-based products the way an architect designs a house. To make her vision a reality, in 2008 she cofounded Ginkgo Bioworks. Eleven years later, Shetty and her 250-person team are known for cutting-edge biotech and valued at $1.4 billion. Ginkgo’s work has spanned various industries, from healthcare to agriculture, with products like synthetic probiotics that reduce gastrointestinal problems in soldiers and (in progress with Synlogic) medicines that program the body’s cells to treat complex diseases. Earlier this year, Ginkgo spun out a separate company called Motif Ingredients to engineer sustainable alternative proteins that taste like the real thing. “Although we’re going after these radically different markets,” says Shetty, “the common thread is biology.”
Back in the mid-2000s, no one was talking about branding for startups — it was considered icing on the cake. But for ad agency strategist Emily Heyward, branding was the cake. “I was meeting this new wave of entrepreneurs,” she says, “who were not thinking about What’s my message? What’s my story?” So she and two cofounders launched a branding agency in 2007 just for startups — and even took equity from a few they believed in who couldn’t afford the fees. A few years later, their clients started seeing success. One Kings Lane was the first, but it was really Casper, the bed-in-a-box company, that put Red Antler on the “It agency” map. Now with 100 employees, the firm is adding advertising as its clients have grown, coming full circle.
Tracy Reese has pushed to make beautiful, long-lasting clothing since launching her eponymous fashion line in 1998. But in 2019, she stepped back from the runways and rebooted her approach by introducing Hope for Flowers, a sustainable, ethical clothing line based in her hometown of Detroit. The line, born following a nine-month “crash course in sustainable design” as a CFDA + Lexus Fashion* Initiative resident, is a counterpoint to fast fashion. “Very inexpensive clothing comes at a huge price in terms of social issues and fair labor practices,” she says. “That’s not a part of the market I choose to be a part of. I haven’t, and I never will.” Hope for Flowers, now an Anthropologie exclusive (except for one boutique in Detroit), will launch a wholesale collection in spring 2020. Fabrics for the items sold at the Detroit retailer are made at a small factory in Flint, Mich., and Reese serves as chairman of the board of the Industrial Sewing and Innovation Center, which is leading efforts to open a new high-tech clothing factory in Detroit and by extension kick-start a local garment industry ecosystem. It’s Reese’s attempt to get designers and customers alike to do better by other people and the planet we all occupy. “If you’re buying fast fashion on a whim or because you want to buy something new every week, then you really need to think of your habits,” she says. “It’s all of our responsibility.”
Artificial intelligence is reshaping our lives, from tailored search results to smart homes. What’s next? That’s what Rudina Seseri is working to find out. She founded Glasswing Ventures in 2016 to nurture the next generation of transformative AI among other enterprise tech, and the Boston-based firm launched its first $112 million fund in 2018 and has since invested in 19 businesses. In June, Glasswing launched an accelerator platform to help founders scale more quickly with the help of 34 advisers and a database of 16,000 individuals that young firms use to find talent. As she’s built Glasswing, Seseri says she schedules dedicated “think time” weekly. “One thing that can easily get overlooked is time to think,” she says. “Take time to step back and reflect: Where am I? Where are we headed?”
When Tiffany Pham launched Mogul as an online social platform in 2014, the premise was straightforward: Women need a forum to trade insights and professional advice. Pham found an audience clamoring for not just content but productivity tools and job-finding solutions. So she expanded Mogul’s footprint, and now 30 million women have access to everything from scheduling software to the Mogul X live annual conference. Through its Workplaces platform, Mogul has helped place hundreds of thousands of women in jobs, and that trajectory is set to continue with Invitation Only, a new subscription service that lets companies target senior-level women. “Ninety percent of senior positions are obtained through networking, which can put women in a very difficult position,” Pham says. “But we’re able to address that.”
When Julia Collins cofounded Zume Pizza, the pizza delivery company powered by robotics and mobile ovens, its headquarters were a few IKEA tables in a mostly empty warehouse. Today it has hundreds of employees and a billion-dollar valuation — which makes Collins a true trailblazer. “As the first Black woman to have achieved that milestone,” she says, “my focus is making sure that I’m not the last.” Now she’s chasing her next big idea. In December 2018, she left Zume Pizza to build Planet Forward, a snack-food company focused on connecting regenerative agriculture with mass-market consumers. She’s targeting a launch in spring of 2020.
Lisa Mae Brunson believes that if she’d had a mentor earlier in her career, she could have avoided some big mistakes. Now she aims to support others through Wonder Women Tech, a year-round series of events, conferences, and programs started in 2015 to help elevate underrepresented individuals in technology. Next spring, the organization will launch its first multicultural, multilingual event: a Latinx summit that will incorporate Spanish, Portuguese, and English. “We’re getting people at the table, and having companies and governments and educational institutions work together to provide opportunities for these demographics,” Brunson says. And this fall, she’s out to further spread her message with the launch of Wonder Women Tech Show, a weekly podcast in partnership with WeWork.
Frustrated by the boring and inconsistent yoga classes she was taking in New York City, Levey, then a fashion account executive, set out to find her own bliss. In 2013, with her then-boyfriend, now husband, Mason Levey, she rented a 300-square-foot space in Brooklyn’s Williamsburg neighborhood, recruited like-minded instructors via Craigslist, and launched Y7, a small studio named for the seven chakras. “We could fit about eight mats in the room, and that’s how we started,” she says. “Six months later, we grew out of that space and felt comfortable finding a yearlong lease. And we just kept going from there.” Today, Y7’s inclusive, accessible approach — dark, candlelit studios warmed to between 80 and 90 degrees, music blasting — has proven so popular that the company boasts 13 locations across New York and Los Angeles, with plans for its first Chicago studio in motion. “It’s been a long time coming, and it’s just really exciting for me to be able to open in new markets,” she says. With a portfolio of retreats, teacher-training curricula, and health-coaching programs, Levey sees Y7 as more of a movement than a brand. “It definitely didn’t start that way,” she admits. “But there are so many things in yoga that are applicable to life in general, so for me, it’s really cool to see people doing those things outside the actual studio room with us.”
Kathryn Finney’s journey has been long and varied. She launched her first company at age 9 (selling friendship bracelets), then started a babysitting network that partly financed her college applications. After graduating from Rutgers University, she went to Yale for graduate school in epidemiology, launched a chain of dry-cleaning businesses with her family, and in 2003 founded the website Budget Fashionista. That’s when she had the epiphany that would define the next phase of her career. “I would go to conferences with more than 1,000 people and be literally the only woman of color,” she says. In 2013, she started Digitalundivided (DID), a social enterprise that runs an incubator to help Black and Latinx women launch startups. As of today, DID has contributed to the launch of 75 companies and helped them raise more than $25 million. Its ongoing demographic study of Black and Latinx female founders, ProjectDiane, is considered groundbreaking. “Communities of color have always been entrepreneurial, because we’ve had to be,” Finney says.
Drybar founder Alli Webb has a new company, Squeeze, that aims to do for massages what she did for blowouts: Make the experience easy and affordable. The chain launched in March; customers book appointments via an app and can select from a menu of treatments and preferences, from pressure type to areas to avoid. But unlike Drybar (which has 130 locations and 4,000 employees), Squeeze will scale as a franchise, and Webb’s team is creating a two-year blueprint for its future partners, detailing how to greet customers and market locally. “We love the idea of enabling other people to become entrepreneurs themselves,” Webb says.
Michael Graydon and Nikole Herriott
Maybe you’ve seen Alison Roman on TV, where she regularly appears on Good Morning America to impart culinary wisdom. Or maybe on Instagram, where she casually interacts with her 200,000-plus followers. There’s a good chance you’ve tasted something she’s created, thanks to her wildly popular cookbook Dining In (the follow-up to which, Nothing Fancy, is out this month) and her columns in The New York Times and Bon Appétit. The point is, Roman is everywhere — and that’s how she likes it. She began as a pastry chef, then worked as a magazine food editor but took a gamble and left. “I didn’t want to work for anyone else anymore,” she says. She remade herself as the de facto tastemaker for unfussy foods and is now eyeing bigger platforms like TV, apps, and experiences to build out her distinctly 21st-century lifestyle empire. “I’m figuring out, What does that look like?” she says. “The models I have to look to seem outdated or not exactly what I want.”
Black Women Talk Tech
Regina Gwynn, Esosa Ighodaro, and Lauren Washington
For Black female founders, the tech space can be a small, lonely world. Few know that quite like Regina Gwynn (center, cofounder and CEO, TresseNoire), Esosa Ighodaro (right, cofounder, Nexstar), and Lauren Washington (left, cofounder, Fundr). “We would run into each other at conferences, as the only chocolate drops in the room,” Gwynn says. In 2015, they hosted an intimate retreat for 10; it grew into the annual Black Women Talk Tech Conference and in 2019 welcomed 1,300 attendees and held a $100,000 pitch competition. This year, they’ll launch a much-desired extension: Black Men Talk Tech.
Investors were skeptical when Karla Gallardo (right) and Shilpa Shah (left) started pitching their “fewer, better” approach to women’s fashion in 2011. At the time, their startup, Cuyana, offered a small line of hand-woven straw hats from Ecuador, which they hoped would appeal to women with fast-fashion fatigue. “Customers buy something unintentionally, maybe on sale, and it just sits in their closet, and then that brand is associated with a feeling of guilt,” Gallardo says. “But when you sell something a customer loves, the customer comes back for more.” Cuyana has since garnered high-profile fans like Meghan Markle, raised more than $30 million, and achieved profitability in 2018. Now it’s building a strategic brick-and-mortar presence, with openings in Miami and two other cities this year.
Kathy Hannun was at Google X when she became obsessed with geothermal energy for home heating and cooling. It drastically cuts the eco footprint compared with diesel or propane-powered furnaces — but a system typically cost $80,000 or more to install in a private house. Hannun cofounded Dandelion in 2017 to bring down the expense. Already, the company’s innovative equipment means that homeowners can either pay $18,500 up front and recoup the costs over about five years or put no money down and pay $135 a month, less than most diesel heating bills. So far Dandelion has raised $23.5 million and is growing 20 percent month over month; its waitlist is in the thousands. “My goal is to make this the mainstream option,” says Hannun. “And advance the way society heats and cools indoor spaces.”
When Melissa Hanna learned that women in America were dying in childbirth faster than in any other developed nation, she discovered a key reason: In our fractured healthcare system, an expectant mother’s medical information is scattered and siloed among disconnected providers and systems, letting signs of danger fall through the gaps. In 2015, she launched Mahmee, an app-based platform that links up all those medical records — from doulas to psychologists to the new baby. This way, she says, “we are much more likely to catch the families in need of help before they even realize they are in crisis.” Others agree. Mahmee’s network has more than 1,000 providers in Los Angeles, including Cedars-Sinai Medical Center and UCLA. With a recent $3 million investment, it’s growing its team and expanding to more cities.
In July 2015, Jasmine Crowe — who’d spent years feeding the homeless in Atlanta — started investigating why so much commercial unused food was going to waste. Restaurant owners told her they didn’t donate because they were skeptical that the food would actually reach the needy. Plus, what was really in it for them? A random meeting turned Crowe on to blockchain. “And I’m like, Bam!” she says. Blockchain could not only track the food; it could also unlock and document significant tax write-offs for the donors. So in 2017 she built the platform and launched Goodr. Today clients like Papa John’s, Sweetgreen, and Atlanta’s international airport pay Goodr to pick up their unused food; in return, they can save up to $300,000 a year in taxes. Crowe has rescued more than a million pounds of food and raised $1 million; she expects to be in 10 cities by December.
The photos on Sweeten’s site are interior design candy — filled with the disastrous fun of home makeover “befores” and “afters.” The company pairs people who have a design project with vetted contractors, then monitors each job until it’s complete. “I was scratching my own itch,” says Jean Brownhill, an architect who founded the company to create trust and transparency in the renovation process after her own frustrating experience. Raising nearly $10 million, she says, took 250 meetings. But since launching in 2011, Sweeten’s staff has grown to nearly 60, and it now has almost $1.5 billion worth of projects in its pipeline — plus a new program to help women general contractors build their businesses. As an African American woman, she says, she hopes others “will equate someone who looks like me with success.”
In June, Beautycon — a media platform and festival series that celebrates all things makeup — held its first Tokyo event, attracting more than 4,600 attendees who were eager to absorb beauty intel (and product!) from brands, speakers, and influencers. It marked the L.A.–based company’s continued push into international markets, spreading its Gen Z–endorsed message of inclusivity. But under CEO Moj Mahdara’s leadership, Beautycon isn’t just a community of 1.2 million young people — it’s a learning ground for brands from T-Mobile to Target that want to understand the next generation of consumers. “We stand for innovation, representation, discovery, and curation,” she says. “We’re at the top of our game at narrating the conversation between brands and Gen Z.”
Founder / Fierce Baby Productions
As the creator of ABC’s Fresh Off the Boatand, most recently, the director of Netflix’s hit film Always Be My Maybe, Nahnatchka Khan’s name has become synonymous with meaningful, comedic storytelling. In February, the writer and producer signed a four-year development deal with Universal TV, after more than a decade with 20th Century Fox. The move, she says, will give her creative freedom. “It’s about telling stories from a place that means something to you,” she says. “[TV series] Don’t Trust the B—- in Apartment 23was about being an unapologetic woman, and there’s truth in that for me. Fresh Off the Boatis about the immigrant experience, and as a first-gen American, I can relate. Focusing on people who’ve been on the fringe? It makes me excited.”
Elizabeth Galbut (right) and Pocket Sun (left) set out to launch the first VC fund that would invest exclusively in diverse founding teams (particularly those that were female-led), who were also millennials. It didn’t go so well at first. “We got a lot of pushback: ‘There’s not enough quality women entrepreneurs.’ ” So in 2016, to prove their point, they held a global startup competition — and received 600 applications from women-founded tech companies that hadn’t yet raised $3 million. “It was super clear that, yep, there is this huge, amazing pipeline out there,” says Galbut. This year they relaunched the competition, receiving 1,500 applications. And the duo’s picks are paying off. Since investing in the startup EverlyWell in 2017, for example, the company’s valuation has grown more than 10 times.
Cristina Junqueira was working at a traditional bank in Brazil, and in 2013 she scored the largest bonus of her career. She quit immediately. Junqueira realized she wanted to change people’s lives, not just make money. Within months, she helped launch Nubank, a Brazilian fintech company that aims to make banking accessible to everyone via tools like low-interest credit cards, high-interest savings accounts, and an app-based credit system. In the early days, it was all hands on deck for Nubank’s tiny team. “You would call our customer service line and it would ring on my cellphone,” Junqueira says. But today, she’s having the impact she hoped for: Her company is valued at $10 billion, recently announced plans to move into Mexico and Argentina, and is exploring new products like personal loans, investment products, and accounts for small and medium-size businesses.
Women held just 90 of the 535 seats in Congress when Erin Loos Cutraro founded She Should Run in 2011 to encourage more women to run for office. Today, women have won 127 congressional seats, and Cutraro has her sights set on a big goal: to get 250,000 women to run for office by 2030. “We can’t expect to achieve the best policies when we’re not engaging half the population in policymaking,” Cutraro says. The She Should Run Incubator, launched in 2016, has coached roughly 17,000 women weighing a run for office, and one in eight actually made it to a ballot. “We now have a baseline to build on,” Cutraro says. Ahead of the 2020 election, the organization is working to help allies encourage women in their own networks to run, and has produced a professional development series so businesses can help open leadership pathways for their female employees and foster conversations between employees and employers on topics such as impostor syndrome and the value of diversity. The goal, she says, is to meet women where they already are. “We’re operating in a space that didn’t exist before,” Cutraro says. “There is no formula.”
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