Each year, Entrepreneur compiles a 100 Powerful Women list of the most exciting, influential women entrepreneurs to watch across the globe.
This year’s list is filled with a diverse range of businesses, initiatives and social programs, proving women are tapping into markets and advancing new ways for us all to connect for a better society.
Here is a snapshot of the leading figures, fighting for change, and inspiring others with their fortitude, strength and charisma.
Taraji P Henson
Actress, Boris Lawrence Henson Foundation founder, TPH by Taraji owner, and TPH Entertainment founder
This year’s list is headlined by Hidden Figures actress Taraji P Henson, who just so happens to also be an entrepreneur.
What has she done? Here’s a quick rundown. She has a haircare line, a mental health foundation, and a production company.
As someone who has suffered from depression and anxiety, Henson wanted to improve mental health in Black communities. So what did she decide to do?
She started a non-profit to erase the stigma around mental health. This happened only two years ago, and she named it after her father — the Boris Lawrence Henson Foundation — a Vietnam veteran who suffered a mental illness. Today, more than 3,000 therapy sessions have been provided to more than 600 people, and her foundation continues to grow in strength and mission.
Its latest fundraising round gathered $1 million in cash and $600,000 of in-kind contributions as it tries to increases access for a larger population of people. Forty-five per cent of people who signed up are receiving counselling for the first time, and 95% identified as African American. What’s more, 90% of applicants were women, and a third round of funding will focus on Black men and teenagers.
“If you’re a human living in today’s world, I don’t know how you’re not suffering in any way,” Henson told Entrepreneur.
“I created this organisation out of necessity.”
Searching for a Black therapist felt like “looking for a purple unicorn with a golden horn”, she said, because there were few options to get support from someone who looked like her.
“For so long, we’ve had to be strong.”
Henson also has a beauty and haircare line, called TPH by Taraji, which is sold through Target, and her production company, TPH Entertainment, is in the process of developing a series about Cookie Lyon, an Empire spin-off of her character in the show.
Incredible Health co-founder and CEO
Three years ago, Iman Abuzeid decided to speed up the rate in which nurses are hired in America. She was tired of seeing the lag in which nurses were hired in hospitals.
Her business Incredible Health, streams in nurses through algorithms that find the best matches for each job, and hospitals pay for subscriptions.
The platform takes about 15 days on average to hire nurses.
So far, she has raised $17 million and built her staff of 30 to be inclusive, “not just because it’s the right thing to do,” she told Entrepreneur, “but because diversity drives innovation.”
“It’s helpful to have multiple perspectives in the room.”
@JoinIncredible’s new COVID19 pandemic hiring suite is enabling hospitals to hire permanent nurses in 12 days vs the 90 day industry average 🚀⚡. This means massive travel nurse & overtime cost reduction + better patient care.https://t.co/YlOoD4izss#COVID19 #nurses #hiring
— Iman Abuzeid MD (@ImanAbuzeid) September 15, 2020
Mandy Price and Star Carter
Mandy Price and Star Carter worked as corporate lawyer for years.
Both of them experienced racism, such as being referred to as their law firms’ “diverse partner”, as well as other forms of discrimination.
In fact, Carter was told she’d have to wait an extra year to make partner because she took two maternity leaves.
“I was essentially penalised for using the benefits my firm offered,” she told Entrepreneur.
Two years ago, the pair decided to create Kanarys, a diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) platform that has a special method of data-driven analysis.
It tracks over 800 companies on a wide range of DEI metrics — from which ones recruit at historically Black colleges to which cover gender-transition insurance — and pairing these findings with anonymous employee reviews.
“Because diversity and inclusion can be an emotionally charged topic, it made a lot of sense to use technology, data, and analytics in the centre of those discussions,” Carter said.
Last year, Kanarys raised $1.6 million and accepted to Google’s accelerator for Black founders.
“It’s easy to discount one voice,” Price said.
“But when you add up all the Stars and the Mandys, you see a trend. People are starting to say: ‘Hey, if we can’t retain women and people of colour, there’s something within our organisation that needs to change’.”
Women on Boards Project co-founder and executive director, and VMG Partners talent partner
Cassie Nielsen was tired of a lack of women on boards, so she decided to do something about it.
She founded the Women on Boards Project (WOB) to increase the percentage of women on US company boards and redefine good corporate governance and gender diversity standards.
She wants to create a cultural imperative for corporate action and drive social change.
“Women drive 70 to 80 per cent of household purchasing decisions,” Nielsen said.
“Case studies show that when women aren’t in the room, products aren’t being thoughtfully created for the consumer who buys them. They recognise that women and ethnically diverse leaders can make such an important impact.”
Earlier this year, WOB announced the first 20 companies it’s working with, including Simple Mills, an organic foods brand, Urban Remedy, an organic food company that delivers ready-to-eat meals, juices, cleanses and snacks to homes, and Ancient Harvest, a company that sells ancient grains such as quinoa and polenta.
The Mom Project founder and CEO
In America, some research has indicated that 43% of top-rated female talent leaves the workforce within 12 months of having a baby. Allison Robinson was not happy with those figures.
“It feels very all-or-nothing — like you have to go all-in at work, or be a stay-at-home mom,” she said.
So four years ago, she founded The Mom Project, a platform that connects female workers with flexible career and work opportunities.
Since then, Robinson has raised over $36 million and her network has grown to over 300,000 professionals and 2,000 companies, including Apple and Nike.
“We started out focusing on hiring, but now we’re creating exhaustive programmatic initiatives to bring women back to work after a leave,” Robinson said.
“Companies are trying to keep agile. That’s a win for moms.”
Center for Female Reproductive Longevity and Equality founding donor and primary instigator
Nicole Shanahan was in her late-20s when she wanted to start a family.
She was working as an intellectual property lawyer and discovered that she had a low number of active egg cells; her doctor told her she was unlikely to get pregnant.
Shanahan and her husband found there was nothing much out there to help them with getting help and knowledge about women’s reproductive abilities.
So she created the Centre for Female Reproductive Longevity and Equality — the first research institute to focus solely on reproductive longevity.
She and her husband began by committing $6 million, and last year, added an extra $7.4 million.
The company hopes to realise ways women’s fertility could be extended.
“The social outcomes are so vast,” Shanahan said.
“It would be like they’d been given a superpower.”
TransTech Social Enterprises founder and CEO
In America, Black transgender people have an unemployment rate of 26%, two times the rate of the overall transgender sample and four times the rate of the general population.
This year alone, at least 31 transgender or gender non-conforming people have been fatally shot or killed by other violent means.
Angelica Ross, an American businesswoman, actress, and transgender rights advocate, decided to fight these realities.
A few years ago, she founded TransTech Social Enterprises, an incubator for LGBTQIA talent with a focus on the transgender community.
“Through TransTech, I can shift focus to how trans people are living and thriving — not just surviving,” she said.
“It’s improving awareness of the violence that happens against trans women of colour.”
Ross also acted in the series American Horror Story: 1984 and Pose, Transparent and Doubt. She is also hosting a podcast, as a lead up to her forthcoming book Like A Butterfly: Leaving the Cocoon.
“I’m writing this book in hopes that my story will help guide trans folks as well as our family members, friends, lovers and anyone else who recognizes that our society has changed and that we too must change with it,” she wrote on her website.
“If you are a cis person (not trans), this book will help you let go of rigid rules for performing gender and discover a more authentic expression of yourself and allow others to do the same.”
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“I think everyone should vote if they can, and I think they should vote for Joe Biden. This is not me endorsing him. What I’m saying is, make the action that stops the bleeding, and I’m talking about terrible, gushing bleeding under the Donald Trump regime. We must, at all costs, separate ourselves from this dude immediately. But with Joe Biden, you do not have my endorsement. What you have is my commitment to hold you accountable to all of the things that we say we, the people, need. No honeymoon phase. Let’s talk about reproductive health for Black women. Let’s talk about the education system. Let’s talk about housing for Black trans women and how they can get into homeless shelters. Let’s talk about the many ways that we’re not taking care of folks who are struggling with mental health issues. Joe Biden is not talking about defunding the police. So until you’re talking about that, you definitely would not have my endorsement. I want you to talk about taking money from them and putting money into people who can respond to the situations that we’re dealing with. Putting a bag over a man’s head while he’s having a mental health breakdown and him dying is not the proper way to respond. Shooting someone in the back seven times is not the proper way to respond. If these people are not responding well, ain’t no “let’s see,” ain’t no review, ain’t no reform. Fucking stop, right goddamn now, and get somebody else in there. This has to change now, and I can’t wait until November. Not all of us going to make it to the booth due to ’rona, due to these hurricanes, due to police brutality, due to racists. Everybody’s not going to make it to the polls.” @selfmagazine October Issue in conversation with @crissle Photo by @cb_analog Hair by @cesar4styles Makeup by @yolondafrederick Styling by @shibonleigh
Sandra Oh Lin
KiwiCo founder and CEO
Sandra Oh Lin was a products research engineer for many years for high-profile companies including PayPal, eBay and Poshmark. She knew what worked and what didn’t.
Ten years ago, she decided to use her skills and knowledge to create an educational platform fusing creativity and STEM.
She founded KiwiCo, which sells educational projects for kids of all ages, and during the pandemic, has created an online resource hub for learning at home, complete with tips and tricks, DIY experiments, and guides to help kids understand COVID-19.
“They need to engage their kids and keep their minds active — and that will hopefully provide sanity for parents,” said Sandra Oh Lin.
The website crashed after it went live.
“That’s how much demand there was,” Lin says.
Last month, her company launched Camp KiwiCo, a month-long online summer camp.
“The content is all free, and we want to make sure there’s still time to capture fun,” Lin said.
Making Authentic Friendships founder and CEO
Making Authentic Friendships is a tool that helps people with special needs find friends who are nearby.
Juliana Fetherman came up with the idea when she found herself unable to stop worrying about her younger brother, who has autism.
“His biggest struggle is being lonely, and his lack of social skills makes it hard for him to make and keep friends,” she said.
“Being stuck at home interrupted a lot of progress and therapies, so the app was a resource for social interaction,” she says.
“I have parents tell me: ‘My daughter made friends across the world’. It’s good for their self-esteem to see there are people everywhere like them.”
Today, her platform has users all over the US, and more than 30 countries.
Fetherman had initialled wanted the app to enable in-person meetups, but lockdowns across the world mean that chat function has become vital for many.
“I am passionate about bettering the lives with those with autism and other special needs, and plan to dedicate my entire life to doing so,” Fetherman wrote on her website.
This article was first published by Women’s Agenda.
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