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9 Inspiring Women In Business—and The Women Who Inspire Them (2023)

9 Inspiring Women In Business—and The Women Who Inspire Them (2023)

Gender has less to do with success in business than other factors, like your natural entrepreneurial traits, your tolerance for risk, and the amount of privilege and access you’ve received. But women are blazing trails in a number of fields, outperforming men in some categories—even when they typically receive less funding.

One study on gender’s impact on success and attitudes around running a business found women showed more ambition and were better calculated risk-takers than men. These attitudes seem to play out in the numbers. The average earnings of women-owned businesses climbed 27% between 2021 and 2022—a 5% higher jump than their male counterparts.

While the pandemic was particularly hard on caregiving women with careers, in the aftermath, more moms were turning to entrepreneurship for its flexibility.

Who are these women, foregoing traditional career paths to have ownership and flexibility and to create generational wealth? Ahead, nine successful women entrepreneurs share how they found their business idea, started their own companies, and the inspiration they drew from to get there.

9 inspiring women in business

These incredible women founded companies that not only succeeded but also paved the way for other women entrepreneurs in their industries. Many even dedicate some of their profits to organizations that support and recognize women and their achievements. The efforts from these inspiring female entrepreneurs contribute to more women entrepreneurs and business leaders. And that’s a good thing.

1. Christine Chau

Co-founder, Charley Chau

Founders Christine and Jenny Chau“We’re accidental entrepreneurs,” Christine says. Charley Chau was born from a side hustle when sisters Christine and Jenny Chau began designing and sewing their Snuggle Bed—now their best selling product—from the floor of their living room. The business grew beyond their expectations. 

The two eventually made the scary decision to give up job security and dive full-time into Charley Chau. Eighteen-hour days, shaky financial periods, and legal battles all paid off. The sisters are now shipping beautiful pet products to more than 30 countries worldwide.

Christine and Jenny were inspired by their mother, who left Hong Kong at 18 to move to a country where she didn’t speak the language and enter an arranged marriage. “Growing up we saw Mum work full time with our dad, helping to make their business a success, and at the same time, she was a mother to four children,” says Christine. “Mum set a great example to us at a time when most of our friends’ mothers stayed at home.” The daughters poured that learned work ethic into their business—in honor of their mother.

2. Jenny Bird

Designer and founder, Jenny Bird

Female entrepreneur Jenny BirdSelf-taught Jenny founded her jewelry line as a reaction to the “soulless, short-lived fashion” she was seeing everywhere. She designed each piece as an extension of herself, with the intention of injecting meaning and purpose into every piece. 

Jenny’s namesake company was born in 2008, and in 2011, she added her husband as president. The two have grown the company to the mammoth it is today, selling in hundreds of retailers worldwide. Jenny has received multiple awards, and the brand has been featured in publications such as Vogue and Rolling Stone. The brand’s impact fund, the Possibilities Project, directs 1% of sales to organizations that uplift women.

Jenny counts fellow entrepreneur and Powered by People founder Hedvig Alexander among her main inspirations. “There’s so much that inspires me about her—first, and foremost, her dedication to effective development work that is built around sustainable solutions.” In 2016, Jenny worked on a collection for Far & Wide, one of Hedvig’s former ventures.

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3. Emmanuela Okon

Founder, E’s Element

Founder of E's Element, Emmanuela OkonEmmanuela started her foray into fashion by blogging about personal style in her hometown Toronto. After amassing a devoted following, she took the next step and launched her brand of small batch apparel under the name E’s Element. “I knew I always wanted to start a business after I graduated from university,” she says. 

Emmanuela finds inspiration from other Black founders in her industry. “The support we’ve received from absolute strangers, online marketplaces, and other businesses has been absolutely amazing,” she says. In turn, she hopes to inspire the next generation of entrepreneurs. “At the center of what I do is my drive to uplift and empower people like myself.”

4. Paula Barbosa

Founder, My Sweet

Female founder Paula BarbosaWhen Paula moved from Brazil to New York to study fashion, she began making brigadeiros—a traditional Brazilian treat—based on her grandmother’s recipe. The sweets became such a hit at parties that friends began to request them. That’s when Paula decided to become a business owner. My Sweet is now a decade-long favorite in Paula’s Brooklyn neighborhood.

“I think that having a sixth sense about something and following it is part of my story,” Paula says. “My business started as a gesture of love for others.” She owes her success to following her instincts and pursuing a business that aligned with her love for sweets and her homeland. “I believe that women tend to have more guts to follow their senses, instead of needing solid confirmation,” she says. 

Naturally it was the founder’s Grandma Lucila who inspired her journey (and recipes). “I’m very proud to be spreading to the world something I learned with her,” Paula says.

5. Heather McDougall

Social entrepreneur, yoga teacher, co-founder of Bogobrush (acquired in 2022)

Woman entrepreneur portrait of Heather MacDougallHeather pursued law, working in venture finance and non-profit lobbying before her foray into entrepreneurship. When she and her designer brother put their heads together to create a beautiful and eco-friendly product, they looked no further than the family business. Though they didn’t pursue their dentist father’s line of work, they paid homage with Bogobrush, a toothbrush with heart.

“The first source of outside funding we received for Bogobrush was from the Michigan Women’s Foundation,” Heather says. She tapped into the mentors within that network to help her succeed. “It’s been great for me to engage with so many women who’ve paved the way before me in business, and it’s a reminder for me to do the same for other women along the way.”

In 2022, Bogobrush was acquired, leaving Heather to refocus on her work in yoga, speaking, and performing. She has been finding inspiration lately in books written by women. “I read Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg and loved all the research that sheds light on so many things I’ve experienced—consciously or not—as a woman in this world.”

6. Jaswant Kular

Co founder, Jaswant’s Kitchen

Jaswant Kular and her daughter work together on a laptopWhen Jaswant’s daughters moved away from home, they hadn’t absorbed their mother’s natural gift for cooking authentic Indian cuisine. Jaswant looked for products to help her daughters cook more easily and found that many contained fillers and artificial ingredients. Jaswant’s Kitchen, a food business selling spice blends and simplified takes on traditional recipes, had its start at a food show, where positive response urged the family to forge ahead. 

“Working together with my daughters as women entrepreneurs gives me a great sense of pride and personal satisfaction,” Jaswant says. “I tried to instill the idea in my children that you can do anything you set your mind to and that nothing is impossible.”

Daughter Nimi is delighted by the response to her mother’s business. “The food industry has been traditionally pretty male dominated,” she says. “It’s refreshing to see the amount of support and encouragement we get for being a women-led team and also for being a family run business!”

Jaswant is inspired by ClassPass founder Payal Kadakia. “She radiates positivity and gets a ton of media attention,” she says. “She also happens to have the same ethnic background, which helps me relate to her.”

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7. Rachel Mielke

Founder, Hillberg & Berk

Female entrepreneur portrait of Rachel Mielke

Rachel stands out among successful female entrepreneurs for her work in empowering other women. She founded her jewelry line Hillberg & Berk in 2007 with this clear goal in mind. In 2022 alone, the brand contributed $250,000 to its charity partners, Dress for Success Canada Foundation, The Native Women’s Association of Canada, and The Canadian Centre for Gender and Sexual Diversity. Today, 95% of Hillberg & Berk employees and 88% of its leadership team identify as women or non-binary.

Rachel has won several honors and awards for her entrepreneurial achievements, and counts Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II and Olympic gold medalist Tessa Virtue among her famous clients. Her advice to other women? Be brave and take risks. “Betting it all in business can seem irresponsible, but without large bets there are no large returns,” she says.

Finding inspiration is easy for Rachel—she needs only look to her own staff. “It is amazing to work alongside women who not only believe passionately in the mission of our company, but also who live with intense positivity and resilience,” she says.

8. Angie Kim

Founder and creative director, AYK

AYK founder and entrepreneur Angie KimAfter an eye-opening seven months in India, Angie returned to her hometown of San Francisco looking for a career change. She was impacted by the country’s makers and craftspeople, and the intimacy of their work. 

Leaving her decade of work in industrial design behind her, she enrolled in pattern making and leather tooling classes, while developing her brand’s freshman collection. AYK launched officially in 2014, and had steady growth after a successful Kickstarter campaign.

“As a designer, I feel grateful to be in a position where I’m able to express my perspective and hopefully add some joy, usefulness, and flow to a woman’s life,” says Angie. Her mom, a South Korean immigrant, is one of her biggest inspirations. “She had an impeccable work ethic and a positive attitude,” she says. “I feel lucky to have had her as an example of what being a leader is about.”

9. Alyssa Kerbel

Founder, mini mioche

Portrait of the founder of Mini Mioche and her childrenAlyssa had an early start as an entrepreneur, founding her first business in her 20s. In 2007, after the birth of her daughter, she faced the challenge of finding simple, neutral, high quality basics for infants. It inspired her to start a business—one that would allow her to be more creative and hands-on. 

Alyssa used her fashion industry experience to launch mini mioche, an organic Canadian-made infant wear brand. Since launch, her success story has expanded to include sister line Em & West, an offshoot providing the same quality garments for women.

While her mom is her biggest inspiration, Alyssa also gets energized by other inspiring female entrepreneurs. “I saw Jessica Herrin, founder and CEO of Stella & Dot, speak at a leadership conference I attended,” Alyssa says. “I immediately purchased her new book. I enjoyed it so much that I purchased three more for a few of my close girlfriends.”

Women entrepreneurs FAQ

Why should women start their own business?

Women should start their own business for the same reason anyone should: to act on a great idea and build the life you want. It’s especially important for underrepresented people to start businesses to pave the way for more entrepreneurs from these groups. When women become entrepreneurs, they create access for more women entrepreneurs, as well as better mentorship and funding opportunities. Whether you’re the founder of a health and wellness startup or a real estate development firm, more representation in your field has positive effects for the next generation.

Who is the most famous female entrepreneur?

Oprah Winfrey is one of the most famous women entrepreneurs. She grew her success first as a journalist and talk show host before building her own empire. She is the chief executive officer (CEO) of Harpo Productions, a billion dollar company, and the OWN television network.

Who are some powerful female entrepreneurs?

Designer Tory Burch, Joy Cho (Oh Joy!), Arianna Huffington (Huffington Post), Rihanna (Fenty Beauty), Sara Blakely (Spanx), Zhang Xin (SOHO China), Melanie Perkins (Canva), Jaclyn Fu (Pepper), and Sheila Johnson (BET) are all inspiring female entrepreneurs. These picks stand out as powerful women business owners due to their net worth and rise to the top of their respective industries.

Why should you support women entrepreneurs?

You should support women entrepreneurs if you believe in their cause and products. Supporting any small business helps keep communities vibrant, creates jobs, and provides inspiration for the next generation of future entrepreneurs. Successful women entrepreneurs help to change the face of male-dominated industries and create access for other female entrepreneurs.

This originally appeared on Shopify and is made available here to cast a wider net of discovery.
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