In 2019, there were nearly 13 million women-owned US businesses employing 9.4 million people and earning $1.9 trillion. The number of women-owned businesses dropped 25% during the first months of the pandemic, but female founders remain undeterred.
Here are several CEOs and industry leaders bringing diverse perspectives to their space and paving the way for others to join the industry.
Meghan Andrykowski leads the way for women in Web3
Meghan Andrykowski holds a high-level role in the male-dominated industry of Web3 technology. Throughout the last decade, she assisted multiple startups in technology, social enterprise, hospitality, and Web3. Today, she serves as Co-Founder and Chief Operating Officer of Solo Music, the first music marketplace built on the Polygon blockchain. Her platform offers a ground-breaking way for artists, fans, and industry professionals to interact with blockchain technology. Fans can connect with their favorite musicians, and artists can monetize their creations through NFT sales, smart-contract ticketing, and tokenized royalties.
As a teen, Andrykowski wasn’t a typical tech geek, but she did notice its advantages. Being tech-savvy brought agency and opportunity, and she was determined not to be left behind.
Despite the experience Andrykowski has accumulated, she still describes herself as more of a bookworm than a techie. “The dive into technology is daunting,” she admits, “but once you build a foundation, even new tech like Web3 blockchain loses its intimidation factor.”
Andrykowski describes her opportunity with Solo Music as a matter of timing and early preparation. “Two years before founding the company, I dug my teeth into understanding the blockchain. Web3 wasn’t where I was going at the time, but I found it fascinating. I saw an opportunity to learn and immersed myself in the emerging field. Once I understood the empowering and life-changing nature of this technology, it ignited my passion.”
Andrykowski gained a foothold in the male-dominated industries of entertainment, STEM, cryptocurrency, and blockchain technology and encourages other women to follow. “Never pass up an opportunity to learn something new,” she says. “You never know where it will lead.”
Lauren Winans innovates a new model for HR teams
Before starting Next Level Benefits, Lauren Winans worked 18 years as a human resources professional managing employee benefits plans and programs. During times like open enrollment season, when her team was swamped, she sought out short-term assistance but found nothing. Today, she fills that gap by providing benefits expertise on a consulting, contracting, and project management basis.
“We are an on-call benefits team,” she explains. “We serve as an extension of your HR team any time you need us.”
Next Level Benefits begins by learning the client’s objectives, challenges, and workload distribution. This enables the company to know whether they can best add value as a strategic advisor, project manager, temporary leader, or administrative support.
“We offer the support clients need to achieve success,” she says. “We step in to solve problems, accelerate projects, and boost manpower when deadlines are approaching.”
Today, Winans serves HR clients nationwide and is a respected thought leader in the sector. As an influencer, she speaks about health equity and healthcare provider diversity within employee benefits plans and programs. “I am passionate about constructing benefits plans that ensure quality healthcare to all ethnicities and demographic groups,” she remarks. “Financial and geographic barriers should never stand in the way of good care.”
Ivy Xu breaks down entrepreneurship for future CEOs
Ivy Xu is a world traveler. Born in Beijing and raised in Canada, she settled in Silicon Valley to start her career. Today, she describes herself as “location independent” as she chases curiosities and establishes startup ecosystems around the world.
Xu began her entrepreneurial journey by founding a health tech startup, an escape room, and a career-coaching business. Her most recent venture, BETA Camp, is a six-week online student program to break down entrepreneurship and business dynamics. “My sixteen-year-old sister was unclear about the path she should take after graduation,” she recalls. “That year, a lot of teen enrichment programs had been canceled due to Covid 19. This motivated me and my friend, Yifan Zhou, to start BETA Camp.”
The summer camp enables students to learn the inner workings of the business sector through speakers from innovative companies such as Goldman Sachs and Google. During this virtual course, teens learn business skills while building their own revenue-generating startup. In its first year, Beta Camp enrolled over 200 students from 9 different countries.
Though Xu loves teaching teens the entrepreneurial ropes, she cringes at the term “young entrepreneur.” “The concept of age is relative,” she explains. “Instead of thinking of yourself as a young entrepreneur, just see yourself as an entrepreneur. You aim for higher goals when you don’t set limitations on yourself. Becoming a successful entrepreneur is all about jumping into the process. As momentum builds, you gain the confidence you need.”
Zu’s wisdom is hard-earned. As a new graduate in Silicon Valley, she was laid off three times before finding her footing. “You have to believe you can succeed and remind yourself of that constantly,” she advises. “I knew I would eventually carve out my spot if I worked hard and delivered.”
Dr. Mona Jhaveri brings crowdfunding to the war on cancer
In 2014, Dr. Mona Jhaveri left academic research to revolutionize cancer funding by pioneering the online crowdfunding platform with her 501(c)(3) charity Music Beats Cancer. Typically money donated to charitable causes goes to research in hopes of finding the “cure,” but Jhaveri wanted to shift resources to the biotech innovators who are advancing cancer-fighting technologies that can potentially improve outcomes for patients.
During her postdoctoral training at the National Cancer Institute, Dr. Jhaveri and her colleagues discovered a promising DNA-based therapy to treat ovarian cancer. She founded Foligo Therapeutics, Inc. to bring this idea from the lab to the clinic. Like many other promising ideas, funding dried up before that treatment reached product development.
A funding bottleneck blocks resources from turning discoveries born out of academic research into real medicine that can help those in need. Cancer researchers even have a name for this funding gap. It’s called the “Valley of Death.”
Dr. Jhaveri decided to attack cancer in a whole new way. Instead of using her training in biochemistry to develop one treatment at a time, she set out to bridge the Valley of Death.
“We have been fighting the war on cancer since Nixon signed the National Cancer Act in 1971,” remarks Dr. Jhaveri. “However, cancer treatment remains largely unchanged. Billions pour into basic research every year, yet great ideas are slow to make their way to the clinic. Our revolutionary crowdfunding platform, Music Beats Cancer, supports biotech innovators through the Valley of Death.”
Dr. Jhaveri believed that if the public knew about the Valley of Death, they would rally to support biotech innovators. She needed a voice and became convinced that music was the key. Independent artists were eager to align themselves with the cause.
Music Beats Cancer’s crowdfunding format allows biotech innovators to raise a round of funds from the donations of the charitable crowd. At the same time, donors get to directly and transparently support the cancer-fighting innovations they find compelling and worthy. While dozens of charities support cancer research in academic institutions, Music Beats Cancer is the first of its kind to confront the Valley of Death directly.
Diane Yoo breaks barriers in venture capital
Diane Yoo knows that gaining a seat at the table means breaking barriers. She is an entrepreneur turned venture capitalist with over 15 years of experience founding angel networks, venture funds, and investment networks. Her VC and accelerator expertise enables her to collaborate with more than 700 companies worldwide.
Yoo has the tenacity to make it as a minority woman in this male-dominated sector. That resilience was forged in a family of immigrants and entrepreneurs. “I watched my father flip through a pocket dictionary to carry on conversations,” she recalls. “He achieved the American dream, and I was fortunate to grow up with his example every day. That entrepreneurial DNA is the grit I needed to succeed.”
Yoo is a venture capitalist today, but she started on the other side of the table as a techpreneur. She pitched to dozens of investors but struggled to find those that resonated with the idea of a woman and person of color as a founder.
“Your perseverance pays off,” Yoo says. “When you stand your ground and make a seat for yourself at the table, you are paving the way for other women to follow and closing the gap.
“When I spent a summer as a foreign exchange student in Korea, I experienced such a sense of belonging,” remembers Yoo. “Everyone looked and spoke as I did. I want to bring that sense of belonging to the VC space for women from diverse backgrounds.”
Diane Yoo is Co-Founding General Partner of FilKor Capital, the first pan-Asian American women’s VC fund. She has a track record of investments that includes a $3.5 billion valuation and IPO experience. She launched several venture funds, including a fund partnership with the world’s largest medical center, and is the former managing director of an institutional network. Her firm launched the first IPO program in partnership with a South Korean government agency, where she secured $1-5 billion in market valuation.
Diane co-founded a multimedia platform highlighting Asian American trailblazing women who broke barriers to be “first” in their industry. With access to over 550 venture capital firms, she co-founded Fenix Global, the first Asian American Investment Managers network to empower Asian American women general partners to powerful positions.
With her expertise in operating funds and portfolio companies, Diane has advised several universities on launching VC funds. Diane is an investment partner to Silicon Valley funds, including the largest women’s fund and the nation’s first FemTech fund. Additionally, she is a US partner to the Korean government agency focusing on venture capital.
“As we share the successes and struggles of minority female executives, we are changing the narrative,” remarks Yoo. “I advocate for women and minority founders in whatever role I can. My goal is to inspire more women and minorities to enter the VC space.”
Maggie Adhami-Boynton brings live shopping to the North American market
In 2018, Maggie Adhami-Boynton scaled the tech giant Plastic Mobile as Vice President of Operations. During moments of free time, however, she scrolled Instagram to keep up with her other passion — the fashion industry. One day, she stumbled across the trend that allowed her to combine her tech background with her love of style. Live shopping was taking Asian e-commerce by storm, but no comparable platforms existed in the North American market.
Adhami-Boynton launched ShopThing on Black Friday, 2019, and the live shopping app demonstrated rapid growth each year. She attributes this success to her influencers. “Our influencers create short video clips as they model pieces that resonate with their personal taste,” she explains. Consumers know our influencers are curating their authentic style. That is what draws them to live shopping.”
Adhami-Boynton’s app makes elite fashion accessible and non-threatening. “High-end stores are incredibly intimidating for first-time fashion shoppers,” she admits. “The atmosphere is stuffy, and prices are hidden. It’s designed as an exclusive club. I’m proud to bring fashion to the masses and make it inclusive.”
Marlo Richardson breaks into California’s wine sector
Marlo Richardson is a black female entrepreneur With over a decade’s experience in the food and beverage industry. Months of reflection during the pandemic inspired her to follow a long-held dream and launch Braymar Wines, named in honor of her two daughters, Brayli and Marli. The company offers its North Coast Proprietor’s Red Blend, a California Sparkling Rosé, a Sonoma Brut, and a Chardonnay to several restaurants in the larger Los Angeles metro area.
While researching the business, Richardson attended tastings and explored flavor profiles. Ultimately, she chose to source all her grapes from the California coast. Recently, she joined forces with her mother to establish Top Drawer Distillery, where she develops and bottles the selections from Braymar Wines.
Top Drawer distillery’s Braymar Wines appeared in restaurants and on store shelves in July. They are joined by a lineup of pre-made margarita flavors, including premium, watermelon, pineapple, and sour apple.
These female founders bring diverse perspectives to a wide range of industries. With their support, more women and minorities will be joining the highest levels and impacting every sector.
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