Want to become the next top female-led startup company? We’ve put together a list of the most famous top female entrepreneurs to provide some inspiration for your next big thing!
Several decades ago, many of the most successful businesses in the world were created by men. However, it’s now estimated that 43% of all companies are founded by women.
In this article, we want to celebrate women in business by taking a look at some of the top female entrepreneurs in the startup world. Originally, we took the top 17 female startups and split them into categories. The majority of these startups could get to exit. Note, that these categories are too generic and made only to structure the article.
Body-related female-led startups
Founded by: Sara Blakely
“Embrace what you don’t know, especially in the beginning, because what you don’t know can become your greatest asset. It ensures that you will be doing things differently from everybody else.”
The American underwear company was founded by Sara Blakely. After finishing college, she started a sales job selling fax machines door to door. However, she found that the tights she wore kept cutting into her feet and rolling down her legs. This inspired her to develop the Spanx brand, which launched in 2000.
In 2021, it was announced that Blakely had sold a majority stake in Spanx to private equity firm Blackstone. The deal was prepared by an all-female team, and the board of directors was also all-female.
Founded by: Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw
“I want to be remembered as someone who put India on the scientific map of the world in terms of large innovation. I want to be remembered for making a difference in global healthcare. And I want to be remembered as someone who did make a difference to social economic development in India.”
Biocon Limited is an Indian pharmaceutical company, founded by Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw, a zoology graduate, and master brewer.
Mazumdar-Shaw met with the Irish founder of Biocon Biochemicals, who was looking for someone to help establish an Indian arm of the business. She worked in her garage and launched Biocon in 1978.
In 1998, Biocon became an independent entity, and Mazumdar-Shaw is now one of the most powerful women in the world.
Founded by: Emily Weiss
“You can make a million excuses for why something didn’t go well, but ultimately, just fix it and get on with it. Be a solutions person.”
Glossier is an interesting example of a top female entrepreneur’s startup company as it started as one business and pivoted into another.
Emily Weiss launched the ‘Into the Gloss’ blog in 2010, a blog that interviewed women about their makeup and skincare routines.
However, in 2014, Weiss started reaching out to investors with plans to expand into makeup and skincare. After achieving $2 million of seed funding, Glossier was launched.
Founded by: Rihanna
“Women are running the world right now and it’s too bad for men.”
In the world of startups, it’s unusual to see celebrities make a real success of their ventures. However, singer Rihanna has created a unique and inspirational brand valued at $1 billion.
Savage X Fenty was founded in 2018. Initially starting online, the lingerie brand quickly gained momentum, with plans to open several brick-and-mortar stores in the year ahead.
Like Spanx before it, Savage X Fenty focuses on inclusivity, ensuring that women of all sizes and backgrounds can feel comfortable and confident in themselves.
A services-related startup led by top female entrepreneurs
Founded by: Whitney Wolfe Herd
“When you accept that failure is a good thing, it can actually be a huge propeller toward success.”
Bumble is an online dating app often described as a “feminist Tinder”, encouraging women to take the lead when looking for a relationship.
The app was founded in 2014 by Whitney Wolfe Herd. Wolfe Heard was originally vice president of marketing for Tinder; however, she left, filing a lawsuit for sexual harassment.
Both Bumble and Wolfe Herd have become critically acclaimed, with Bumble going public in 2021 and Wolfe Herd becoming the world’s youngest self-made female billionaire.
Founded by: Paula Quazi
“Trust your instinct, work hard and never give up.”
This eco-friendly cleaning brand was founded in 2017 by Paula Quazi. Before founding the business, Quazi spent 20 years working at Unilever. The USP of the company is that it uses low levels of packaging and sends products out as a subscription service.
The brand has been getting funding to take it to the next level, completing a Series B fundraising round with investors including GV, Google’s venture capital division.
Founded by: Linda Avey and Anne Wojcicki
“The reality is that the only way change comes is when you lead by example.” (Anne Wojcicki)
23andMe was founded by Linda Avey, Paul Cusenza, and Anne Wojcicki in 2006 and was one of the first companies to offer genetic testing to individuals. Both Avey and Wojcicki worked in the healthcare field before founding 23andMe, with Avey graduating as a biologist.
While the other two founders have now left the business, Wojcicki still serves as CEO.
8. ABC Supply
Founded by: Diane Hendricks
“Did we ever plan on being billionaires? No, but we wanted to be millionaires.”
Diane Hendricks co-founded the American roofing business ABC Supply in 1982 with her late husband Ken Hendricks, after working as a salesperson and contractor respectively. The company is still going strong, with Hendricks in place as owner and chairperson.
In 2019, she was named the US’s richest self-made woman.
Founded by: Sarah Leary
“We didn’t invent neighborliness. That’s been around for centuries, but in today’s modern world, how can you actually use technology to break down those barriers and help people restart conversations that maybe they have let wither over the last few decades?”
The hyperlocal social networking platform used by 1 in 3 American homes was founded in 2008 by a group including Sarah Leary. Before getting involved in Nextdoor, Leary worked as a Product Manager at Microsoft.
Leary served as Vice President of Marketing and Operations at Nextdoor for ten years and is currently a venture partner for a VC company.
Finances-related startups led by female entrepreneurs
Founded by: Denise Coates
“The more grateful we feel, the more things we receive to feel grateful for.”
We now move to the UK, where Denise Coates founded this online gambling company in 2000.
Coate’s father Peter originally owned a chain of betting shops called Provincial Racing. Denise saw the benefits of moving online and borrowed money to set up the new business.
Bet365 is now worth over £7 billion ($8.4 billion), with Coates remaining the majority shareholder.
11. Starling Bank
Founded by: Anne Boden
“The thing that (Amazon, Facebook, and Google) have in common is they are disruptors… They have identified a problem that a large number of people were experiencing with an existing business or service and then found a way to make it more accessible/fast/cheap/efficient. If they pitch it right, in a short time, the disruptors become successful enough to replace, or at least displace, the conventional product or service in the sector they’ve made their own.”
Starling Bank, one of the world’s first digital banks, was founded by tech entrepreneur Anne Boden in 2014. After lots of testing and licensing, the mobile app was launched to the public in 2017.
Starling Bank is dedicated to helping women develop careers in finance and is a signatory of the Women in Finance Charter.
Content-based startups that are led by women
Founded by: Arianna Huffington
“We think, mistakenly, that success is the result of the amount of time we put in at work, instead of the quality of time we put in.”
The American news site was co-founded by columnist Arianna Huffington in 2005 and is known for being the first commercially-run website to win a Pulitzer Prize for journalism.
The website was acquired by AOL in 2011, where Huffington worked as editor-in-chief until stepping down in 2016.
Founded by: Michelle Zatlyn
“People don’t take opportunities because the timing is bad, the financial side unsecure. Too many people are overanalyzing. Sometimes you just have to go for it.”
One of the world’s most popular and well-used content delivery networks, Cloudflare was founded in 2010 by a team of Harvard Business School graduates, including Michelle Zatlyn.
When Michelle started the business, she said she didn’t know much about internet security. Still, she knew it was something she could work hard on and be proud of.
Michelle was named president of the business in 2020, becoming one of a handful of woman presidents of a publicity-traded company.
Founded by: Caterina Fake
“If you built a successful company the first time, it’s crucial not to fall into the trap of resting on your laurels and doing the same thing the next time. It’s stepping into the unknown that enables you to create something fresh, new, and innovative.”
Video and image hosting site Flickr was launched in 2004 and was the first of its kind. The tech company was co-founded by Caterina Fake.
The site was acquired by Yahoo for over $22 million. While Fake resigned from Flickr in 2008, she has become known for her work as an angel investor and was also the chairperson of Etsy for eight years.
Founded by Melanie Perkins
“If you are determined and want it, you can just go for it.”
The Australian graphic design platform is well-loved by marketers worldwide and was co-founded by Melanie Perkins in 2013.
Perkins and her co-founder (now husband) Carl Obrecht originally pitched the idea for Canva in 2011. While they didn’t receive funding at the time, they were regularly invited to networking events and gatherings in the hopes of them finding an investor.
Perkins currently sits as the CEO of Canva and has put policies into place to eliminate bias in the hiring process. As a result, 41% of employees at Canva are women.
Hardware-based startups that are led by women
Founded by: Cher Wang
“There is usually an “X factor” that is hard to define. For HTC, I think it is our culture. We embrace the best of our Eastern roots and combine it with the best of the Western cultures where we have leadership and offices. It makes the culture colorful as well as energetic and creative.”
HTC co-founder Cher Wang openly admits that she doesn’t like being in the limelight, so we don’t know too much about her or her life story.
However, the Taiwanese entrepreneur helped co-found the technology brand at a time when men dominated the tech world.
HTC continues to be a female-dominated business, with many senior posts in the company being run by women.
Founded by: Suzy Batiz
“Doing business is not the hard part, the hard part is to keep expanding into success.”
Suzy Batiz had a hard time on the way to founding Pourri (initially known as Poo Pourri). Before starting the company in 2007, she had come through two bankruptcies as well as many failed business endeavors.
Batiz invested $25,000 of her own money into the toilet spray business. She is now one of the wealthiest self-made women in America and has turned down many offers to buy her company
In summary: female-led startup businesses are a force to be reckoned with
We hope you enjoyed this review of female entrepreneurs and the businesses they have helped grow over the years. From fashion and beauty to technology and science, women have been involved in a wide range of startup businesses.
While there are more women in business than ever, there are still hurdles for female entrepreneurs. According to Crunchbase, only 2% of women-owned startups generate over $1 million.
If you’re a woman looking to create a startup company in 2022, take advantage of all your help and support. Network as much as possible, whether on social media or face-to-face. Take advantage of any grants or financial support on offer. And most importantly, don’t be afraid to ask questions.
If you want to know more about starting a business, here are some articles you might be interested in.
- Angel investing vs private equity vs VC funding
- 10 startup mistakes to avoid
- How much does it cost to launch a startup
- Cost of a startup and expenses to consider
- How to prepare a pitch deck
- How to write a cold email to an investor
- Startup accelerators – all you need to know (some accelerators are exclusive to female founders)
- Startup equity: who, what, where, and when?
- Top ten startup tools and platforms
- What types of funding rounds are available for startups?
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