In March we wear green, make brackets and count down the days until spring can officially begin. And most importantly, on International Women’s Day, we celebrate the history and the feats of women who continue to radically challenge gender biases and disparities, unapologetically and with passion.
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One fascinating sector is female entrepreneurism, which continues to grow across all industries, ethnicities and age groups. It’s estimated 849 new businesses are started by women every single day in the United States. And over the past two decades, female-owned firms have grown by an impressive 114%. Even with this hopeful numbers, women only take home a small portion of the seed money available, regardless of the fact they’re more likely to turn a revenue than their male counterparts.
To celebrate International Women’s Day and the brave and smart ladies who went out on a whim to be their own #girlboss — we’re excited to announce and present the female entrepreneurs to watch in every state (and Washington D.C.) from New York to West Virginia to Ohio to Texas to California. These powerhouses are fashion designers, master chefs, marketing leaders, philanthropic badasses — and so much more.
We’ve divided our list of the 52 female leaders making moves in the United States into five geographical regions. This article will feature women from the Northeast.
Get inspired — and make sure you follow-up with these women. They’re just getting started:
Connecticut: Kate Bally from Pirouette NYC
Founded in 2017 in Stamford, Connecticut
Why the company is cool: As more people become aware of the impact of their clothing that’s sourced from labor factories abroad, the quest for an ethically-made wardrobe only grows. Bally saw this opportunity when she opened her women’s apparel brand that features Italian, Japanese and Korean-fabrics created by artisans in New York City’s garment district. They are tailored to make a woman’s daily routine easier, with hidden zippers, removable tops, and other smart design features. Unlike many big-box clothing stores, the focus is on quality over quantity.
Where the idea came from: Kate was an attorney and working mom when she decided she was going to create the perfect day-to-night dress. As she brainstormed, she kept coming back to her husband’s button-down shirts, which she felt were impeccably constructed, wrinkle-resistant and available in a wide range of sizes and colors. Here, the idea for Pirouette was born.
How it’s growing: Though she can’t name names, Pirouette has dressed several significant TV hosts and anchors, who became ‘enamored’ with a clothing item designed to go from PTA to party or on-air to social functions.
How she became successful: Going after her goal. Bally shares as the director of Labor & Employment Service of Thomson Reuters Practical Law, she decided to follow her passion and become an entrepreneur one day. “I juggle so much with work and mom life, it felt natural for me to pace myself and find a business partner who mirrors my goals and my current career. With the right business partner, anything is possible and that’s why I am able to work in the law and fashion industries simultaneously,” she shares.
What’s next: Working to create capsule collections for retailers — specifically boutiques and department stores who share their aesthetic. They also intend to launch handbags this year, too.
Delaware: Julie Kypreos from jules k
Founded in 2015 in Lewes, Delaware
Why the company is cool: Kypreos story is a star-studded one — quite literally. In 2016, her bags made the cut of the promotion ‘Everyone Wins’ by the marketing firm Distinctive
Assets, which creates the bags given the top 25 Academy Award nominees. This means Natalie Portman, Meryl Streep, and Jimmy Kimmel all have something from jules k. Creating a cult following of luxury, carefully printed and USA-made bags, this brand is just starting to see it’s mega growth.
Where the idea came from: Part fashion-forward and part charity, jules k tells the story of her company through Kate Spade-inspired rhymes on her site: “A little girl falls in love with anteaters. That same girl grows into a woman who loves handbags. After leaving career-making polymers to stay home with her two young children, she decided to embark on a very different path.”
How it’s growing: Though numbers aren’t public, she’s been able to donate more than 10% of their inventory to various charitable organizations. And 20% of her net profits support the environment and go to protect wildlife.
What’s next: She’s working with a local high school’s textile program to create her “Cape Zipper Pouch” — and all profits from the sales are returned to the program. She also has a goal to have fabric woven with thread from recycled plastic, and then use it to make handbags.
Maine: Jodi Breau from Dental Lace
Founded in 2017 in Cape Elizabeth, Maine
Why the company is cool: With the environment a forever hot topic and point of debate lately, the need for more products that get smart about waste grows. That’s where Breau’s company filled a void in the market and offered a solution. By creating a reusable and recyclable container for floss refills, she’s created a way to practice gum health and protect our soils. Even the floss itself, made of 100% Mulberry Silk, is compostable.
Where the idea came from: As the story goes with many entrepreneurs, the path to founding a company was paved with surprises. When Breau was working as a librarian, she was flossing her teeth when a thought crossed herself: “Someone should make a prettier container.” Fifteen years and lots of research later, she set out to not only upgrade the style—but to embark on a journey to eliminate plastic dental floss completely. As a 99% zero-waste product, every glass container sold from this line replaces seven plastic ones.
How it’s growing: In 2018, the company grew by 400%.
How she became successful: Teamwork. “Dental Lace became successful through the passion to eliminate plastic by selling zero waste refillable floss. Also, from neighbors helping with product assembly to the many resources my local library has made available, it truly has been a community effort,” she shared.
What’s next: Dental Lace is coming out with a new, limited edition green glass container for Earth Day.
Maryland: Jaime Windon from Lyon Distilling Company
Founded in 2012 in Saint Michaels, Maryland
Why the company is cool: Craft beer is trendy sure, but so is craft liquors. Noticing the need for more intimate blends, Windon started Lyon Distilling Company before it was a viral concept. Her artisanal spirits are made from scratch, by hand, in very small batches. Through tours and tastings, they’ve introduced their county of Talbot, the Eastern Shore and Maryland to small-scale distilling.
Where the idea came from: Windon wanted to bring back Maryland distilling—and complete the ‘booze trifecta’ in Saint Michaels — in a former mill with an existing winery and brewery. Because of her passion for the process and the local standard, she knew her company would celebrate manufacturing as a historically important industry. In fact, it became the first distillery in more than 40 years to revive the Maryland Rye Whiskey and produce American rum.
How it’s growing: What started as an unfunded two-person startup is now a team of 12, growing organically. They’ve also expanded their on-site sales to five states (and counting), and started to create partnerships with other local eastern shore businesses, which increased production 20 times in five years.
How she became successful: Relentless hard work “and hyper-commitment to quality, as well as the focused desire to always exceed the expectations of our customers, community, and our team,” she says.
What’s next: Continued growth & expansion of LYON rum into more states, and continued leading and education for their team, fellow members of the guild, other state guild connections, and most importantly the consumer and legislators, as we expand the capabilities and opportunities for Maryland spirits manufacturers.
Massachusetts: Poorvi Patodia from Biena Snacks
Founded in 2012 in Boston, Massachusetts
Why the company is cool: If you’ve given a second thought to your health recently, you’ve likely studied up on protein. As a key component of many trendy diets, it isn’t always easy to find a snack that’s veg-friendly but gives you the energy you need to push through a workday, a workout — or both. When plant-based protein snacks were in their infancy, Patodia launched Biena Snacks, and since then, has won awards for her roasted-chickpeas that come in savory and sweet flavors. They’re currently the number-one selling chickpea snack brand nationally.
Where the idea came from: When Patodia was expecting in 2012, she craved chips … badly. Knowing they were unhealthy, she had to come up with an alternative solution, and thus, along with her baby, Biena Snacks was born. It was one of her favorite childhood snacks, and she developed the recipe in her own kitchen.
How it’s growing: Each year, they’ve been able to launch new product lines and flavors, and have been named one of INC’s Fastest Growing Companies two years in a row. She was also called out as a ‘Rising Star’ CEO on the list. Key partnerships have diversified their offering, including one with Weight Watchers and the Girl Scouts of America. To date, they’ll available in more than 15,000 retail locations nationwide, including Public, Kroger, Whole Foods, Target, Walmart, CVS and online, at Amazon.
How she became successful: By juggling. And by that, we mean as a mom of two young daughters and a CEO. She sets the bar high and ensures all of her products are high in nutrients, ingredients, and flavors. Though it’s not always easy, she pushes through and demands standards—no matter what she’s balancing at the time.
What’s next: They just launched chickpea puffs!
New Hampshire: Kari DePhillips from The Content Factory
Founded in 2010 in Manchester, New Hampshire
Why the company is cool: There are plenty of public relations agencies — but then there is The Content Factory. Last year, they brought in more than $25 million worth of earned media for their clients, representing a range of brands, including The Alternative Board and Fairtrade America. As a full-service digital marketing company, they offer social media, SEO, influencer and ambassador services, all in the effort to make their ‘clients (more) famous.’ In addition to these modern offerings, they also are hopping on — and promoting — the new trend of remote work.
Where the idea came from: For too many years to count, DePhillips had the same grind in her advertising gig: driving downtown, sitting at her desk for nine hours, fighting traffic to get home … and repeat. She felt as if she was working 12 hours a day for someone else’s dream, and wanted to create a company that gives people freedom. She decided to open her own agency, allowing people to work remotely from anywhere they want. Today, employees are all remote — including DePhillips.
How it’s growing: When she first started The Content Factory, she did it with only $500. She used that money to hire a web designer and then supported herself by finding writing opportunities on Craigslist. Fast forward nine years later, and it’s a million-dollar agency.
How she became successful: Hard work and a diverse talent pool. As one of her employees, Lindsay Wissman described her: “The woman gets more done before lunch than most people get done in a day. She’s an overachiever in every sense of the word and it makes her team work harder for her.” And that collection of talented professionals are all over, giving TCF a really wide range of talent so they can serve every type of client.
What’s next: Workcationing.com. Though her primary residence is in NH, she remains a digital nomad. Along with a friend, she recently co-founded Workationing, based on the idea that you shouldn’t wait until retirement to travel. They spent 2017 traveling the world while continuing to earn a living. This year, they’ll grow their reach.
New Jersey: Marilyn Grabowski from Atlantic Infrared
Founded in 2002 in Wall Township, New Jersey
Why the company is cool: Even though construction is traditionally considered a male-dominated field, entrepreneurism was in Grabowski’s genetics. Her grandmother started her own construction company at the age of 40 — and Grabowski took it as inspiration to follow in her path. Her business, Atlantic Infra offers a permanent solution to potholes using InfraRed technology, bonding to existing asphalt with a thermo-bond. Today, they service the state of New Jersey.
Where the idea came from: Using her grandmother as her mentor, Grabowski wasn’t afraid to jump into this heavily male-led industry and shake up the scene. When she saw a way to use technology to address issues around pothole repairs that would make the process more efficient and cost-effective—she knew it was an excellent business opportunity. And she was right.
How it’s growing: To date, they’ve had 100% client retention. She was also given the Professional Women in Construction Award, as well as the ‘Women of Influence’ award sponsored by PNC Wealth Management, Tiffany & Co. and Foss San Filippo & Milne. For two years, she was also given the EY Entrepreneur of the Year in New Jersey, too.
How she became successful: An incredible drive and passion. According to Grabowski that requires constant strategy, examining opportunities, knowing the competition and hiring the right people. “Creativity learned from the Pharma industry coupled with the discipline of a STEM degree have been the winning formula in knowing how to provide outstanding service. Additionally, an unwavering commitment to developing each member of the team has given us strength,” she shares.
What’s next: Becoming a $50m company that blankets the entire state of the NJ, and is the leading woman-owned business in the utility industry.
New York: Brynn Putnam from MIRROR
Founded in 2018 in New York, NY
Why the company is cool: The fitness and wellness industry is an explosive space — and one that keeps evolving. The latest iteration of accessible workouts is MIRROR, the company that’s defining what it means to be a ‘home gym.’ It’s nearly-invisible and interactive, featuring live and on-demand fitness classes in a variety of workout genres. You not only receive options, personalization, and community, but the small screen adheres to your wall, not taking up any space, even if you’re in a tiny apartment in New York City, where the company was founded.
Where the idea came from: Growing up, Putnam was a professional dancer with the New York City Ballet, and later, the founder and CEO of Refine Method, a chain of boutique fitness studios. Even with a decade of experience and a passion for fitness, she found herself struggling to budget time to work out as an overlooked entrepreneur and new mom. So, as most parents do, they look for at-home solutions. All of her research had her disappointed though, since she felt she’d have to sacrifice quality for conveniences, or purchase clunky equipment. Seeing an opportunity — MIRROR was born.
How it’s growing: To date, MIRROR has raised $38 million from a range of highly-regarded investors, including Spark Capital, Lerer Hippeau, First Round Capital, Primary Venture Partners, BoxGroup and Brainchild Holdings. Within a few months of their launch last year, they were in all 48 states within the continental U.S.
How she became successful: Research. Since health and wellness was not only the forefront of her personal interests but her professional ones, Putnam credits much of her success to an infinite amount of studying the space. When she was opening her chain of boutique studios, she traveled around the country to learn the lifestyle habits of professional athletes. This expertise has informed much of MIRROR’s strategy — and guided the way for an upgraded at-home workout that definitely goes a step beyond.
What’s next: New features! This year, they’ll launch personal training sessions, multiplayer options to work out side-by-side with someone else, and exploring new partnerships.
Pennsylvania: Shelly Fisher from One Tough Bitch
Founded in 2018 in Conshohocken, Pennsylvania
Why the company is cool: Let’s just say it how it is: being a woman is sometimes a bitch. More than a clothing brand, Fisher founded the appropriately-named One Tough Bitch to recognize the unique emotional challenges women face in our cultural climate. No matter if you’re facing illness, grief, divorce or another hurdle, their cheeky — yet ridiculously bold — products get it right. They also give back, since 10% of all royalty proceeds are donated to Give Her a Camp, which offers women’s empowerment weekends.
Where the idea came from: One Tough Bitch was an idea Fisher developed when she was diagnosed with cancer for the second time. She was tired, frustrated and as she put it, ‘sucker-punched.’ Naturally, she had a very hard time and she knew that was normal, given her circumstances — and she tried not to give herself a hard time. “I think it is the first important step to get to ‘toughness.’ Let yourself be realistic and feel. It is important to allow yourself the opportunity to feel the pain and challenge of the situation. But then — drum beat — you dig into your soul, the depths of who you are, you gather your internal soldiers and you stand back up,” she continues. She gave herself a pep talk that included ‘You are One Tough Bitch and you will survive.’ She then had those three powerful words engraved on a necklace to remind herself — and something clicked.
How it’s growing: In a year, they’ve experienced more than 50% growth.
How she became successful: Well, by being one tough bitch. “Staying focused on the end game of helping people and not wavering when challenges came my way. I have always had a friendly competitor strategy that surprised other company CEOs, particularly in the medical bracelet space. I built several partnerships with competing companies that I believe strengthened all of our positions,” she shared.
What’s next: She’s building the OTB community by adding additional layers of empowerment for young girls, live events and workshops, and more.
Rhode Island: Danielle Anderson from Seacoast Sweets
Founded in 2015 in Pawtucket, Rhode Island
Why the company is cool: Though plenty of professionals are concerned with their waistline and seek alternatives to the desserts they love — there will always be a place for splurges. Knowing that — as the saying goes — life is too short and we should eat dessert first, Seacoast Sweets is a New England-based chocolate company that makes patties available in peppermint, peanut butter, coconut and s’mores. Female-owned and inspired, the packaging makes for an Instagram-worthy gift that also makes tummies happy.
Where the idea came from: It’s a tale of two female entrepreneurs, since founder Kirstyn Pearl was inspired by her grandfather’s recipe and started making them out of her Newburyport kitchen and Bentley University dorm room. It quickly became a full-time business and she eventually opened a factory in Amesbury to increase output. She sold the company last year to Anderson, who moved production to the birthplace of American industry inside of a refurbished mill. “People just like them and want them, we’re making them as fast as we can! In our Pawtucket mill, we will be able to make them even faster,” she shared.
How it’s growing: Wholesale has doubled to retailers, creating a more reliable income stream, and getting them to a cash-flow position.
How she became successful: Sales and work. “If we don’t have patties to make, we need to be out selling and growing the business. On the flip-side, we get slammed all the time and end up spending long-days and weeks to get the orders out. It is feast or famine, which is tough to deal with, but exciting nonetheless. It’s tough not getting discouraged when the sales aren’t coming in, but to keep going, I think, is why we’ve made it this far,” she shared.
What’s next: They’re working on automating some of the manufacturing and hiring workers. “When an efficient, automated process is in place, the margins will get very attractive and we will be able to double down on marketing and growth,” she adds.
Vermont: Sas Stewart from Stonecutter Spirits
Founded in 2013 in Middlebury, Vermont
Why the company is cool: Picture this: on the edge of a mountain, led by a team of inspiring women, carefully-crafted (and delicious) gin and whiskey is created and enjoyed. Though it sounds like the start of a killer movie, it’s the reality Stewart has created in rural Vermont, in a town that was established in the late 1700s. Because of its location on the edge of the Green Mountains, the weather comes from the Adirondacks, flies over the lake and lands in Middlebury. This creates an interesting dynamic of whether that’s fostered an engaging, complex and smooth liquor brand.
Where the idea came from: To put it simply: Stewart wanted to create the type of spirits she actually wanted to drink. Alongside her all-lady leadership, they identified gaps in the current offerings and came up with a solution. Since many have agreed with their flavor profile, they’ve had the drive to keep going.
How it’s growing: They started as a two-person company, and now have more than 20 employees. Their Single Barrel Gin won a double-gold and “best in category” at the San Francisco World Spirits Competition.
How she became successful: Self-discovery. Speaking of herself and her business partner, she shared, “We have spent years asking what we most want ourselves, and then finding ways to offer the same for others. This was the genesis of our original approach to formulating our gin and whiskey recipes, and it carried forward into everything else we do: how we structure our employee benefits, the design of our physical locations, and our singular focus on immersive and engaging events as a centerpiece to the company’s outreach.”
What’s next: They’re calling 2019 the year of the ‘new’ — since they are dropping new whiskey and products that have been doing their magic in barrels for ages now. They’ll also be strengthening their Vermont love, with more community programming in their Burlington tasting room and cocktail bar.
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Click below to read more from our series celebrating female leaders in the United States:
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