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7 Female Entrepreneurs Who Beat the Odds and Are Changing the World

Web Espy
Hannah Lyles

05 Jan 2014

Only five percent of tech start-ups are owned by women, according to Women Who Tech's clever infographics, and they face greater challenges in terms of diversity and funding issues (women entrepreneurs start with only 1/8 of the funding that male-owned ventures begin with). Yet, women-operated venture-backed companies have 12% higher revenues than those operated by men, and more and more women are graduating with degrees in engineering and computer science.

Here is a list of seven start-ups that are run, founded, or co-founded by women. It's simply astounding when you hear of their accomplishments with the companies that they created, but also when you look at their diverse backgrounds in everything from law to television to physics. And the best news is that this list is just a sample of the companies out there. There's also Nestio, Pando Daily, Buyoshere, Cake Health, Angaza Design, Foodspotting, Popvox, Learnvest, Periscopic, Hearsay Social, Polyvore and many many more!

Slideshow

Leah Busque

 

Quick bio: Grew up east of Boston, Massachusetts. Graduated from Sweet Briar College (in rural Virginia) magna cum laude with a B.S. in Mathematics and Computer Science (with a minor in Dance). Previously worked at IBM Corporation as a software engineer. In 2011, Fast Company named Leah one of the '100 Most Creative People in Business'.

What is TaskRabbit: The pioneer in service networking through outsourcing tasks. Be a TaskRabbit and help your neighbours whilst earning some quick money or find TaskRabbits to complete tasks for you. 

Interesting facts: Her geeky husband, Kevin Busque, who she met in high school, is the VP of Technology at TaskRabbit. They live with their black lab, Emerson in San Mateo, California.

Leah on women in tech (paraphrased from a Foundation 12 interview): 'Having a female math teacher was a big deal for me in high school and it really influenced me. She was so empowering and supportive. Then going to a women's college, I never really had to think about differences between people in terms of gender. I never questioned myself. It wasn't till I started working at IBM did I realize that I was a minority. I would love to see more energy and investment in education for females, elementary school and high school, because I feel for me that that's where it all started.'

Hannah Chung

 

Quick bio: Aka. Mama Bear. Engineering and Art background. Currently working on Sproutel, making interactive games for children with chronic illnesses.

What is Jerry the Bear: A bear that teaches kids with Type 1 diabetes how to manage their blood glucose levels, recognize their symptoms, and maintain a healthy diet.

Interesting fact: The team is called the 'bear people' because when they go to diabetes conferences they dress up in bear suits (or bear pajamas) to meet their diabetes community. 

Biggest challenges: Estimating time and delays. Finding the right people to work with.

Hannah on women in (tech) start-ups: 'Starting a company is very exciting and fun but risky, which applies to both women and men. There are less women in tech in general so it's hard to narrow in to the startup world. To get more women in tech, we need to think beyond what technology really is and what engineering is. If women realize how tech and engineering is everywhere, even in creative fields and non profit sectors, it becomes very attractive and fascinating. I also think more stories about women in tech must be shared. There are so many cool women tech people out there. These people are the role models for our generation and the next.'

Julia Hartz

 

Quick bio: Has a degree in Telecommunications and a background in television.

What is Eventbrite: The leading self-service ticketing company. Easily create, manage, share, and find events. Founded by a husband and wife duo, Kevin and Julia Hartz.

Interesting facts: Eventbrite has been voted 'Best Places to Work' in the San Francisco Bay Area for four years running. Julia worked for MTV and was lucky enough to be on the team that discovered Jackass.

On women with children in the start-up world (quoted from a Women 2.0 article): 'I feel very strongly that I can create an environment where women who have a skill and are talented and driven are welcomed at our company… I am personally making the commitment not to be a hypocrite.'

The Muse

 

Quick bios: Kathryn: Worked as a management consultant for McKinsey & Company, and worked on improving access to vaccines in Africa with the Clinton Health Initiative. Featured on Forbes list, '30 Under 30' in Media for two years in a row.

Alex: Also worked as a management consultant for McKinsey & Company. Named one of INC's '15 Women to Watch in Tech'. Whilst at Yale University, she was the Executive Director of Global21 where she reached over 250,000 readers on 6 continents with print magazines.

Melissa: Also worked as a management consultant for McKinsey & Company. Named one of INC's '15 Women to Watch in Tech'. Was executive editor of Harvard Crimson, where she graduated magna cum laude with a degree in Physics.

What is The Muse: Offers career advice and exciting job opportunities. Believes that you can enjoy and love your job. Know what it's like to work at a company without having to do it for months... or years.

Interesting facts: Went from zero to 70,000 monthly job-seekers in three months. None of the founders have technical backgrounds making them an extremely rare fit for the Y Combinator startup program they graduated from in California last year.

Kathryn on her early techie experience (quoted from an Xconomy article): 'I was introduced to programming in C++ in the tenth grade, and we remade the game Battleship. Those were things that were practical, they were fun, they were hands-on, and they helped me realize that programming could be for someone like me.”

Birchbox

 

Quick bio: Katia (pictured left) and Hayley are both Harvard Business School MBA graduates who started Birchbox from their campus apartment. 

What is Birchbox: The leading discovery e-commerce platform where customers are sent monthly samples of various goodies (which the team has tried and tried again), with an option of later buying the full product on the site.

Interesting facts (quoted from Glamour's article): Hayley comes up with her best ideas whilst meditating, in the shower. Katia advises you to: 'Trust yourself. You can do more than you ever imagined.'

Katia on being business partners with your best friend (quoted from a Huff post article): 'The hardest thing from having an idea to launching it is setting up the legal paperwork -- it's like signing a pre-nup. When everything is still so exciting and positive, it’s hard to talk about what if things get negative. It’s a very hard conversation at any time, but especially in the beginning when things are all unicorns and cotton candy.'

 

Quick bio: 'Being raised by a French pianist and an Italian-American chef, Evelyne has always lived between two continents. She began her professional career on Wall Street and later joined a private equity firm where she helped launch their European headquarters in Brussels. After years of investing in other peoples' businesses, she decided to invest in her own venture and combine three passions: food, travel and connecting people from different backgrounds. Evelyne studied music and politics at Oberlin College and has an MBA from Harvard Business School.'

What is Bookalokal: 'Launched in October 2012, Bookalokal is a way to help travelers, expats, and local people connect with one another around a common language: food. It's a social dining network featuring all kinds of highly curated food and beverage events to make these connections possible.'

Interesting fact(s): Evelyne has been playing the harp since age 6. The founding team can take customer service calls in over 10 languages.

Biggest challenges: 'The constant juggling of every facet of the business while trying to never drop a ball: building and motivating a team, fundraising, releasing new products, delivering great customer service, growing your business in the right way and constantly seeking new connections and opportunities. Obviously I'm only naming a few of the balls!'

Evelyne on the lack of female investors: 'I've actually had great luck meeting female entrepreneurs in the tech community and have formed strong bonds with so many of them. Where I miss women the most however is in the investor community. I don't have a single female investor and hope that changes soon. I look to my investors as mentors and potential board members so greater diversity is key to our success.'

Jennifer Pahlka

 

Quick bio: Graduate of Yale University. Early on, she worked in the non-profit sector. Previously worked at CMP Media where she ran the Game Developers Conference, Game Developer Magazine, Gamasutra.com, and the Independent Games Festival. She also ran the Web 2.0 and Gov 2.0 events for TechWeb. Currently, she's temporarily away from Code for America, as she's working as Deputy Chief Technology Officer of the U.S Federal Government, where she's running the Presidential Innovation Fellows program. 

What is Code for America: A non-profit founded to bring web-industry professionals to work in city governments to promote openness, participation, and efficiency in municipal governments. Connects citizens and governments to design better services. Encourages low-risk settings for innovation. Supports a competitive civic tech marketplace.

Interesting facts: The office is in a former leather factory, and it's a co-working space for a bunch of other startups and non-profits, like Girls Who Code's SF office and Civic Insight. Jen also told me that Code for America got fired from one of their first engagements.

Biggest challenge: Getting people to believe that government is capable of change.

Jen on women in (tech) start-ups: 'It's a complicated cultural thing. Change the culture and we change the ratio.'

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