The gender gap in startup finance is a well-known fact, however, women in entrepreneurship should not get discouraged. Despite the gap, the number of female-led startups that received funding over the last years increased significantly. According to Statista, the number of female-founded startups achieving unicorn status, or a valuation of at least one billion dollars has steadily grown in recent years.
What’s important is that women founders can succeed regardless of the gender barrier. Therefore, we are sharing today five inspiring stories of successful female entrepreneurs from all over the world. They have founded and launched successful startups and businesses that bring transformation to their communities and promote innovative and sustainable solutions.
1. SoleRebels by Bethlehem Tilahun Alemu
Addis Ababa, Ethiopia
Bethlehem Tilahun Alemu founded SoleRebels in 2004 at the age of 24. She grew up in a poor community of artisans. She wanted to start a business that would provide steady jobs to artisans and showcase the heritage of her country to the world through eco-friendly footwear. Bethlehem relied on what was already available, skilled artisans, and the existing market for traditional footwear. Her innovation was a collection of handmade shoes that were both traditional and universal.
What set her business model apart from the others was the fact that it focused on empowering poor local communities through decent jobs, ongoing training, and skills preservation. Moreover, the eco-friendly methods and sustainable materials used in footwear paved the way for green heritage. Thus, SoleRebels became the first Fair Trade Certified Footwear Brand in the world. Nowadays, SoleRebels is considered Africa’s fastest-growing footwear company. The company generates sustainable wealth by focusing on sustainable production, true recycling, strong communities, and heritage preservation.
"The most crucial lesson I have learned as an entrepreneur is that you must have a never-say-die attitude. There will be many times every single day while you are creating or running your business where it will be easy to stop rather than continue. But do just that — continue," she said in an interview.
2. Menstraupedia by Aditi Gupta
It takes the efforts of both genders to ensure, maintain, and improve the health of women and girls. In many societies, poverty and socio-cultural factors prevent women and girls to benefit from quality health services.
Menstrupedia works to bridge this gap through powerful storytelling and comics art. Co-founded by Aditi Gupta and her now-husband Tuhin Paul, this fast-growing startup has educated over 13 million children worldwide on puberty and menstruations through comic books and workshops both for boys and girls.
The startup not only boosts better hygiene habits among girls but also changes the conversation around periods and sustainable menstruation. Menstrupedia helps girls to look at periods through a positive lens instead of feeling shame and low self-esteem. Over 10,000 schools in India have included Menstrupedia guides in their curriculum. Moreover, the guides make boys and men part of the guide by turning them into allies.
“Always stand up for yourself, because by doing so you are also standing up for so many other women.” - Aditi Gupta-
Indigital by Mikaela Jade
Filling the gap in cultural site narrative by empowering aboriginal storytelling directly from First people. Telling the stories and culture of indigenous people through emerging technologies and augmented reality. This is the goal of Dharug Cabrogal woman Mikaela Jade. She was working as a park ranger in Kakadu while thinking about a way to preserve the language, culture, and knowledge of her ancestors. Then in 2012, she had the idea (a shower thought) of a mixed reality that consisted of holograms of Aboriginal elders telling stories of their sites. This is how Indigital was born.
In various interviews, Mikaela pointed out the initial bias she faced as an indigenous woman with an idea that would bring together aboriginal elders and frontier technologies. When meeting with venture capitalists, they failed to see the potential in her idea.
However, she approached rejection in a useful way by working hard on how to turn a no answer into a yes. Mikaela when through everything an inexperienced entrepreneur can go through, bad financial decisions, rejection, fear of failure, skepticism, bias.
Now, Indigital is Australia’s first indigenous Edu-tech Company working to close the digital divide between Indigenous and non-indigenous people. It cooperates with Microsoft and other companies to help people learn, think, and create sustainable futures.
“To me, innovation is taking different knowledge systems and mashing them together to create something that wasn't there before. I think there's this myth of innovation always having to start from scratch, and build something entirely new.” - Mikaela jade-
If you want to take Miakaela's approach to innovation, we suggest you take our free Entrepreneurship Training. Module four explains how to discover the potential in what exists already.
Theia by Flavia Deutsch Gotfryd and Paula Crespi
Sao Paolo, Brazil
Theia is Brazil’s first health tech start-up focused on women, as well as made and financed by women. Founded by Flavia Deutsch Gotfryd and Paula Crespi, two mothers and entrepreneurs, the startup aims to make it easier for working parents and especially for women being full-time parents. Theia was launched in 2020 and recently it raised a seed fund of $6.5 million. Theia’s goal is to use technology and holistic care to improve women’s experience with motherhood according to their needs. At the same time, the incidence of C-sections among the patients with Theia was reduced by 65 percent. This is an important achievement considering that Brazil has one of the highest rates of Caesarian births in the world. Now, Theia is the world's first personalized O2O (Online-to-offline) health service built by and for moms.
Skavalwen Botanicals by Leigh Joseph
British Columbia, Canada
Leigh Joseph, ancestral name Styawat, is an ethnobotanist member of the Squamish First Nation. She’s also a researcher and founder of Skwalwen Botanicals. She connects science with her ancestral knowledge. The result is a collection of sustainable skincare products.
Styawat combined her memories and lesson from the Elders with scientific education in her first collection of skincare products. Her mission is to remind consumers that there cannot be complete personal well-being if we don’t maintain a healthy and sustainable relationship with the environment.
Skwalwen Botanicals brings ancestral knowledge and traditions together with modern beauty rituals. At the same time, it helps people to stay connected with nature. At the same time, Skwalwen Botanicals aims to empower indigenous communities and elevate them through storytelling and research.
“Developing my business was a way to bring together cultural expression [and] creativity and to share stories of beauty and resilience from an Indigenous perspective.”
These five stories show that women entrepreneurs can succeed despite the challenges that they face, especially if their mission is to strengthen their communities and build sustainable futures. Do you have an idea or project that contributes to your community and to the Sustainable Development Goals? Submit it to #CEC22 or share this opportunity with someone that might be interested.
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