The era of predominantly male leadership is coming to an end. Today, women all over the world are taking initiative by founding companies that solve issues they see in the world. Here are 18 fabulous female entrepreneurs, grouped by sectors, to inspire you this week.
Born in India, Sinha graduated from Brown with a PhD in Psychology, and later obtained a degree in human-computer interactions from UC Berkeley. She founded SlideShare, a website devoted to helping users share information easily in countless different formats. The website was instantly a hit! Her advice to aspiring entrepreneurs is to never be afraid. “Just go ahead and do it, and if it’s incorrect, if it’s wrong, you’ll just draw from it, you’ll change it, if you move fast enough you’ll have time to change.”
Kiran was also born in India, but studied in India and later studied fermentation science in Australia. She was told she would not be successful in the fermentation field in India due to her gender. She worked in Scotland producing enzymes for food packaging, and later moved back to India, where she founded Biocon India in her garage. She struggled with finding sufficient funding because she was young and a female. However, she eventually expanded her business to include bio-pharmaceuticals, which attracted the attention of Unilever, who partnered with Biocon Biochemicals in 1989. This helped Kiran’s company reach global populations, and the company has been extremely successful ever since. She assures aspiring female entrepreneurs, “As you become more successful, the gender barrier disappears. The credibility challenges you have during your growing up years start disappearing when you start demonstrating success.”
Sheila Lirio Marcelo
If you’ve ever struggled to find a babysitter, you should try Sheila Marcelo’s comprehensible website, Care.com. Exhausted by the stress of finding care for her children as a working mother, Sheila created Care.com to help parents, – and babysitters, – have an easier experience with childcare. After founding the company in 2006, the website has quickly risen to the top, and is the premier destination for finding family care today. Marcelo encourages more females to step into the world of entrepreneurship; she advises, “Don’t worry about how you’re being perceived, especially as a woman entrepreneur with a female-centric business. I learned I had to play by my own terms and be authentic to who I am. Don’t worry about fitting in to the molds of business stereotypes.”
Born in China, Weili Dai graduated from UC Berkeley with a degree in computer science. She utilized her knowledge of computers by founding Marvell, a prominent American semiconductor company. Largely aware of the pattern towards user-friendly and stylish technology, Dai has focused much of her time to providing customers with technology that fits comfortably in their lifestyles. Because of her innovative efforts in technology, she has been honored with many awards, including being named Silicon Valley’s Entrepreneur of the Year in 2013. She encourages more women to enter the STEM field, claiming that, “Women are the future of technology…. A woman’s natural talent is design, and the look and feel, and making these things fit into our lifestyles. I believe by embracing STEM and leveraging inherent strength of women—the sense of responsibility, passion, compassion, and pride we dedicate to family and community.”
A graduate from Harvard, Sheryl Sandberg has always had high aspirations. She began her career as an entrepreneur during her time in Cambridge, where she co-founded an organization promoting careers for women in economics and government. After graduating, Sandberg worked at Google, but later met Mark Zuckerberg at a party and was convinced to become COO at Facebook. She assisted the company in making a larger profit, and continues to serve as COO. She published her book Lean In in 2013, which focuses on the lack of women in leadership positions in government and business. Following the utter success of her book, Sandberg founded a foundation named after her book, aiming to support women across the world in their mission to succeed as leaders. Sandberg encourages, “I hope you find true meaning, contentment, and passion in your life. I hope you navigate the difficult times and come out with greater strength and resolve. I hope you find whatever balance you seek with your eyes wide open. And I hope that you – yes, you – have the ambition to lean in to your career and run the world. Because the world needs you to change it.”
Entertainment, Culture and Media
Joanne Kathleen Rowling
Famous English novelist J.K. Rowling is a classic success story. Her hard work, imagination, and dedication to an idea helped her rise to the top of the bestseller list. However, even the most creative women have to deal with misogyny. Her first Harry Potter novel was published under her initials because she was afraid that boys wouldn’t be interested in the book if they knew a woman wrote it. However, the name caught on, and she published the rest of the series under the same name. The books were an instant success, catching the attention of children all over the world and inspiring a generation of aspiring wizards. Rowling was massively successful with the series, which eventually gave way to the movies and hundreds of other Harry Potter-themed products. She encourages others to strive for success, too – Rowling says, “Even if it isn’t the piece of work that finds an audience, it will teach you things you could have learned no other way.”
Although she is one of the most well-known artists in the country, few are aware of Beyonce’s massive role as an entrepreneur. In 2010, she founded management and entertainment company Parkwood Entertainment. She recalls, “I started my own company when I decided to manage myself. It was important that I didn’t go to some big management company, I felt like I wanted to follow the footsteps of Madonna and be a powerhouse and have my own empire, and show other women when you get to this point in your career you don’t have to go sign with someone else and share your money and your success—you do it yourself.” Beyonce’s inspiring move to take her life into her own hands functions as a model to females across the world; you don’t need someone else to be successful.
For those of us who enjoy the refreshingly honest articles on The Huffington Post, Arianna Huffington is a household name. Founded in 2005, the website was instantly a hit, and made over $30 in just six years. Arianna revamped the news media business through her user-friendly, entertaining articles posted on the website. This gave way to hundreds of new companies striving to replicate the appealing tones and topics of the Huffington Post. Fighting against the protests of naysayers and conventional readers, Arianna overcame the struggles that come with a new idea, and eventually succeeded in creating a news platform open to everyone. She critiques the mainstream media, claiming that, “the mainstream media tends to just mouth the conventional wisdom, to see everything through the filter of right and left.” She has constructed an entirely new system of media, one free of the confines of politics.
Often crediting her success to the inspiration she drew from her grandmother, Chinese entrepreneur Yang Lan began her career as a talk show host, and is nicknamed the Chinese Oprah due to her large influence in China’s media. She now owns and runs the Sun Media Group, one of the most influential companies in the country. She motivates women to start their own industries, saying, “I think nowadays, women are breaking the borders or the boundaries and also trying to give a new interpretation in terms of impact you can have to the society.”
It would be difficult to find an American who hasn’t heard Oprah Winfrey’s name or watched her talk show. From being a renowned philanthropist to starting her own television network, this media superstar has done it all. Although she was born in a rural town in Mississippi, she didn’t allow her small-town roots bind her down. She started her career as a host on People Are Talking. She started the Oprah Winfrey Show in 1986, and continued to host the show for 26 years. In 2011, she launched her own television network, which continues to succeed to this day. She is famous for her inspiring words; she remarks, “The greatest discovery of all time is that a person can change his future by merely changing his attitude.”
Piera Luisa Gelardi
This it-girl is an inspirational example of someone who brought their idea to life. She co-founded the website Refinery29 with two friends in 2005, and with a creative vision, passion, and a little bit of luck, the company took off. She draws inspiration from everything around her, especially color. The Refinery29 Creative Director chooses to live her life in light pink, and designs all the areas she works in so that she can make the most of her time. Her perfectly planned lifestyle suits her, and she has worked hard for her success. She began her habit of drawing inspiration from the world around her in her childhood; she recalls, “Growing up, I was very inspired by my grandmother’s house in Maine. She had lived all over the world and had furniture, art, and objects from Pakistan, Libya, Taiwan, Italy, and beyond. It was so beautifully curated and fascinating. I loved that everything had an amazing story behind it and that it all fit together even though stylistically each piece was so different.”
Fashion and Beauty
Levin’s story proves that you can do something big anywhere – even from your dorm room! During her time at Indiana University, Levin founded College Fashionista, a website documenting street style on college campuses across the country. The website has even spread to international campuses, including a few in Australia and South Korea. The website inspires girls across the country to make bold fashion choices and put a unique twist on ideas they see on other campuses. She gives young entrepreneurs advice, confiding, “The confidence thing is key. If you want to start your own business you have to think about what are you going to do that is different from what is already out there. Do you have competitors in that space? If you do, what is your competitive advantage and what is going to make your business stronger?”
Fashion legend Coco Chanel has a rags to riches story – literally. Chanel was raised in an orphanage in France in the late 1800s, where she learned to sew and developed her love for fashion. She focused her talents on creating chic, comfortable clothing for women. In 1910, she opened her first shop in Paris, selling hats and designing stylish attire behind-the-scenes. Upon her success with her store, she created her first perfume, the timeless Chanel No. 5, which continues to be a staple for women all over the world to this day. She introduced the classic little black dress and Chanel suit in 1925, and the elegant pieces took off. Her career blossomed and she is an enduring fashion icon to this day. This feminist heroine crusaded for larger roles for women her entire life, asserting, “Women must tell men always that they are the strong ones. They are the big, the strong, the wonderful. In truth, women are the strong ones.”
Elizabeth Arden, an Ontario native, forever changed the face of cosmetics when she opened her first salon in 1910. Located in New York, the salon’s popularity rose quickly and Elizabeth began to expand her business. She hired chemists to assist her in creating high-caliber lotions and creams. At the dawn of the twentieth-century, makeup was perceived as skanky, as it was mostly used by call girls. However, Arden aimed to expand the use of makeup to the general public. She used strategic marketing techniques to show women that makeup could be used by anyone to subtly enhance natural beauty. Her approach was a success; her business flourished , and by the dawn of the Great Depression, she had opened hundreds of storefronts internationally. She fought to alter the role of women in America by participating in countless rallies while wearing her trademark red lipstick, indicating that women can maintain their femininity while obtaining stronger influence in business and government. Although she died in 1966, Arden’s legacy carries on today, impacting the beliefs of women on beauty and power. She insisted, “It is remarkable what a woman can accomplish with just a little ambition.”
Philanthropist Wendy Kopp is a motivating example of the influence a woman can have with a little compassion, imagination, and determination. Following her youth in Dallas, Kopp attended Princeton University, where she studied International Affairs. Her final thesis at Princeton was Teach For America, an organization that made quality education available to students across the nation. She proposed that well-educated college graduates would be more likely to teach if an organization like this one existed. After graduating, Kopp founded the organization, and later made it available internationally with the launch of Teach For All. The organization has been massively successful. The year after it was founded, over 500 college graduated joined as teachers. She is a firm believer in learning through experiences, and encourages graduates to join the corps: “I often hear from new graduates that it’s better to wait until you have more experience, but I’m a big believer in the power of inexperience. The world needs you before you stop asking naive questions and while you have the time to understand the true nature of the complex problems we face and take them on.”
Advocate of self-love and a holistic approach to life, Gabrielle Bernstein works as a life coach and mentor across the world. She leads seminars on A Course in Miracles, a study on spiritual transformation published in 1976. After years of hearing the personal struggles with self-love from countless women, Bernstein founded HerFuture.com, a foundation devoted to mentoring women through social media. She has written four books on spirituality and is a co-founder of the Women’s Entrepreneurial Network, which assists women in starting their own businesses. She professes, “We’ve been guided to believe that without pain we have not accomplished or achieved. I’m here to bust that myth now. Pain does not equal purpose. Your purpose is to be joyful. Your purpose is to live with ease. Your purpose is to surrender to the love of the Universe so you can live a happy life. Accept the purpose of love, and your life will radically change this instant.”
Despite her upbringing as a factory worker in a poor neighborhood in the outskirts of Beijing, Zhang Xin has succeeded to make her name one of the biggest in China. She toiled in assembly lines long enough to earn sufficient money to buy a ticket to England, where she attended both Sussex and Cambridge. She was recently named one of Forbes’ Top 10 Self-Made Female Billionaires due to her hard work creating SOHO, a high-end Chinese real estate company. Although her net worth is over five times larger than the Queen of England, she is refreshingly humble of her success and rejects the life of luxury that she could easily afford. She admits, “I find it hard to be labelled in this new ‘super-rich’ category because we all grew up with very little. The idea that ‘to get rich is glorious’ is really a new phenomenon. I certainly didn’t grow up like that.” Modest self-made billionaires are few and far between, so Zhang Xin is a truly rare and admirable figure.
For those of us searching relentlessly for the next step in our career, Lauren Berger’s InternQueen.com is a worthwhile site to check out. After completing 25 internships during her time in college, Berger was coined the “Intern Queen”. She decided to share her advice from years of internship experience to make it easier for others to have a successful experience as an intern. Today, she is one of the most sought-after experts on career advancement, and uses her influence to help high school and college students take the next step in their career. After the success of InternQueen.com, Berger created her blog, laurenbergerinc.com, where she provides beneficial guidance on everything from internship opportunities to fashion. In her internship-focused book, All Work, No Pay, Berger counsels, “Are you ready for the cold harsh reality about the real world? It’s simple. You can’t say things like, ‘I can’t’, ‘I don’t know’, or ‘I haven’t figured it out’.”
These 18 women decided to be their own role models, guiding future female leaders on their path to success. Lucky for us, we can take their advice on our journey to success. The age of female leadership is just getting started, so take note of the successes and failures of those before you and get started on your trail to triumph!