Meet four extraordinary founders working to inspire budding female entrepreneurs.
By Holly Lichtenfeld (Founder, Bright Girls)
I happily focus my time these days on teaching young girls about business and entrepreneurialism. As a young girl, I loved working at my parent’s business or doing my own thing like creating backyard carnivals to raise money for an animal shelter. I even sold interesting leaves from my front yard to (very kind) people passing by.
Having an entrepreneurial spirit at a very early age helped me to be successful as an adult, whether I was working at multinational companies or startups. I want to share this excitement and self empowerment with girls. Whether a girl grows up to be an engineer or graphic designer, coder or chef, understanding business will make her more successful.
In addition to writing a book called Your Own Business Can Be Great, I’ve developed programs that are used at schools and by non-profits. As I speak to and work with entrepreneurs and students, I see a gender gap and a lot of opportunity.
These four clever founders are inspiring the next generation of girls to become entrepreneurs and showing girls of any age how to overcome barriers.
Opportunity #1: Network, Network, Then Network Some More
A Fortune Magazine article highlighted how women are much better at “doing” and not as good at taking the time to connect, make requests and work our network. This is a huge opportunity for females of any age.
Megan Grassel was 17 when she started Yellowberry Company. She wants to change the bra industry by making young, cute, realistic and age-appropriate bras for girls age 11 to 15.
She took her idea to Kickstarter, where she exceeded her fundraising goal by 70 percent, raising $41,795.
When she started out, Megan’s parents (who are also entrepreneurs) told her that she needed to reach out and ask for advice. They emboldened her by explaining that no one would say no to a 17-year-old girl.
Amazingly, this is one teen who listened to her parent’s advice. Megan sought mentors in the Jackson Hole business circles to advise her on tasks she didn’t yet know how to do.
She explained to me, “At first I tried to find people who I was comfortable calling, and asked them to meet me for coffee. Then when you start to see some success, people get excited, and it gets easier to approach them.”
She continued, “They might not have all the answers, but the support is awesome. It’s great to feel that you’re not out on an island. Different people helped me with things like prioritizing and timing and also with introductions to manufacturers.”
This young woman’s networking has already resulted in a partnership for her brand with the Aerie Brand/American Eagle Outfitters Company — pretty impressive for any teen!
Opportunity #2: Embrace New Ways to Raise Money
Women and girls are finding success crowdfunding. In fact, early data shows women are 13 percent more likely than men to meet their Kickstarter goals, even after controlling for project type, amount being raised and other factors. There are also grant programs cropping up that are looking for women-owned businesses to support.
Kelly McCollum and Marcie Colledge, creators of rigorous science kits for girls, used a one-two punch to fund their start-up Yellow Scope.
They turned to both Kickstarter and a grant program. Kelly explains: “Back in the spring of 2014, we applied for a grant with a program here in Portland called The Startup PDX Challenge. The organization was interested in working with women and minority-owned businesses. We are new to business, but as scientists we are very comfortable with the grant writing process.
We were one of five companies awarded a $50,000 grant. This put us in an incubator space with the other winning startups. It also gave us access to Bill Lynch, who is the entrepreneur in residence. The grant package also includes time with lawyers, public relations and human resource professionals, working space and some working capital. It is very exciting to be a part of this Portland program.”
Marcie and Kelly are at it again. They submitted Yellow Scope into the Umpqua Bank Made to Grow Grant program, and they were selected by the community bank as one of ten finalists. The small business that gets the most votes will be awarded $10,000. If they win, they will use the funds to launch their second product, an affordable science kit for girls that would retail for $20.
Opportunity #3: Sustainable Organic Growth
I’m finding more information showing that passion-based businesses grow into profitable endeavors. The stats indicate that these types of businesses may take longer to build, but they have staying power.
Cassie Hughes is co-founder of Grow Marketing, an engagement marketing agency. Over the past 14 years, Cassie and her business partner Gabrey Means have built their agency to an impressive staff of 70 and recently purchased a 4-story building in the Jackson Square neighborhood of San Francisco. When we spoke she shared three morsels of advice for girlpreneurs:
- Organic growth is sustainable. Keep your head down and do good work. Say yes to the projects and clients that feel good. Say no when it seems right to say no.
- Create a great culture and save, save, save. When the bottom fell out (during the recession), we didn’t need to let people go. Yes, some business went away but because of our culture we let the team choose how to navigate through it. The entire team took an equal pay cut to stretch the money out. Within a year, we were able to give record bonuses.
- Life is long and work is hard. Find what you’re passionate about and be true to yourself.
Persistence, creativity and connections are the three ways these four inspiring founders are showing girls of any age the way to build a business. I’m following their example and advice. How about you?
Which founders inspire you?
Photo credit: Masson via Shutterstock.
About the guest blogger: Holly Lichtenfeld is a girlpreneur, author and founder of Bright Girls LLC. She’s been a guest on programs including CBS, NPR and thestreet.com. You can get her book “Your Own Business Can Be Great” for the aspiring girlpreneur in your life. Visit www.brightgirlscompany.com to learn more.