International Women’s Day: 13 female leaders making moves in the Midwest

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 Midwest.

Get inspired — and make sure you follow-up with these women. They’re just getting started:

Illinois: Candice Crane from Petal

Founded in 2017 in Chicago, Illinois

Why the company is cool: If you have a sparkling water addiction, you’re about to fall in love with a whole new botanical brand that’s elevating the shelves. Using essences and extracts, this certified-organic sparkling beverage company is a little sweet, but mostly refreshing. Led by an entrepreneur who wants to make sure her recipe featured minimal sugar, no caffeine, and no ‘fake stuff’, she’s creating more than a beverage company, but a lifestyle.

Where the idea came from: Though Crane was raised in Chicago, she was born in South Africa, and it’s memories of this diverse country that inspired Petal. For years, her grandmother would create rose water elixir and rose petal tea, and would often give Crane sips. This made her fall in love with roses, and eventually, the idea for the beverage bloomed: she bottled up the roses, added some bubbles and went out to market. Most people use the blend as a go-to-water to sip during the day, a cocktail mixer or an after-workout refreshment.

How it’s growing: In a short time, Petal has been a star on the Amazon storefront, and signing their way into local Chicago grocery chains, including Sunset Foods, Plum Market, Potash Market, and others.

How she became successful: By mindful of execution. “The best piece of advice I received early on in this venture is that the best idea can go terribly wrong depending on how you implement it just as the worst idea can be successful depending on execution. When my idea for a sparkling botanical beverage first blossomed, I was told that I need the right people and the right procedures in place. My idea had to be implemented properly if I wanted to survive in a competitive CPG landscape. I’m proud to be a competitor in the cooler today,” she shares.

What’s next: In 2019, they’ll launch a partnership with World Finer Foods, expanding their reach in new markets and retailers. They’ll also go national, thanks to a big close on series A funding.

Indiana: Ali Murphy from William Roam

Founded in 2013 in Indianapolis, Indiana

Why the company is cool: Creating jobs, protecting the environment and our animals, there are many layers to this inspiring Indianapolis-based brand. American-made, cruelty-free and vegan, this luxury body care company offers a large variety of products, from shampoos and soaps to candles and travel kits. When you use their line, you may be reminded of different parts of the country you’ve traveled, considering each product includes American fruits and grains. Murphy believes in protecting our soil, and plants one tree for every SENSE collection product sold, in partnership with American Forests.

Where the idea came from: Murphy’s wanderlust — hence the name — led her to create ROAM. She traveled far and wide but always found herself dissatisfied with hotel amenities. Not only did she want high-quality ingredients, but she also was driven by the desire to do business in the most ethical and sustainable way she could. You can find them in hotels—and you can buy full-size versions, too.

How it’s growing: They’re currently ranked #694 on the Inc 5000 list and #13 on the 2018 Indianapolis Business Journal Fastest Growing Company Rank. Since they were founded, their revenue has grown by nearly a million each year.

How she became successful: By listening. Though the thought was originally to be in hotels, feedback from customers hinted to the idea of an online storefront. Murphy took the feedback and began to sell directly to customers, eventually gaining media attention and reviews. It’s her ability to be flexible and pivot that’s kept ROAM trekking.

What’s next: William Roam is continuing to expand their travel line, candles, and recently released their brand new collection, Steam.

Iowa: Christa Nelson from Epiphany

Founded in 2018 in Marion, Iowa

Why the company is cool: As part of a two-woman superstar team, this full-service marketing team is putting plenty of girl power into their community. The two founders have 30 years of combined experience providing a plethora of services, from planning and fundraising, digital marketing and web design to social media, planning and beyond. They’re passionate about it does — and plenty are taking note.

Where the idea came from: Though their name may suggest otherwise, the idea of Epiphany is something Nelson has had for years, but the timing never lined up, especially given the climate of female entrepreneurism in Iowa. However, strides were made, as the state moved from last to the top 10 for women-owned business in just a few years. Taking the risk with a friend, she joined the ranks of other female-forward companies, and have often used their support and advice to build their brand.

How it’s growing: “We are legacy building. We want to be examples that you can work a job you love and are passionate about and still support your families. Follow your passion — don’t settle — do what you love — make a little money doing it —you get one life to make a difference,” Nelson shares. In their first year, they were able to pay themselves a living wage and they also took out zero debt. They’ve seen consistent growth in revenue and were able to remain profitable for the majority of the year.

How she became successful: “We love what we do and are so blessed to have such an awesome community and entrepreneurial ecosystem who all saw a way for us to use our talents and gifts to help people and truly be world changers. Their authentic belief in us and what we do makes going to work everyday easy! When you are your authentic self, doing what you love you don’t have to fake it until you make it – you have made it,” she shared.

What’s next: Though they are selective about their hiring process, they’re looking to continue to grow steadily and strategically.

Kansas: Betsy Wanless from SwimZip

Founded in 2009 in Prairie Village, Kansas

Photo: ABC/Shark Tank

Why the company is cool: When Wanless was 26-years-old, she was diagnosed with skin cancer — a scary experience that would change her way in more ways than she could have predicted. While terrifying, especially at a young age, she took it as an opportunity to do something meaningful with her life, and hopefully, prevent others from the same diagnosis. Thus, in 2009, SwimZip was created. As one of the leading UPF clothing brands featuring swimsuits, swimwear, bathing suits and accessories for babies, children and adults, she’s well on her way to giving others the defense they need from the sun. An appearance on Shark Tank — and a deal with the QVC queen, Lori Greiner — send her business booming in 2013. It hasn’t slowed down since.

Where the idea came from: Along with her husband, SwimZip was created while they were hanging out on the beach. As parents, they saw the big opportunity for functional UPF swimwear that was easy to get on and off, even with squirmy kiddos. Though it started with a mere two swim shirt styles for sizes 1 to 5, they quickly added the functional full-length zipper for practicality and of course, cuteness. Today, they have an extensive product line that keeps expanding.

How it’s growing: It’s grown each year, around 20% over the next. It’s a pattern they hope to continue.

How she became successful: Wearing all of the hats. “When starting a business I believe being able to wear many hats is key. Even hats some people believe are under their pay grade – pay grades don’t exist when you start a business. Pay is how happy you feel at the end of the day by what you were able to accomplish, figure out, learn, and what customers you were able to reach. When SwimZip started I was the fabric designer, pattern maker, graphic designer, pick and packer, shipper, customer service, forecasting, accountant, etc. So when you start out, be willing to do things you never thought you could do and be ready to learn to do all of these,” she shares

What’s next for your company: New swimwear lines launching in the spring, along with a few more products.

Michigan: Kelly Carroll Burgin from K. Carroll Accessories

Founded in 2002 in Auburn Hills, Michigan

Why the company is cool: As women-owned and operated, Burgin knows what women want out of their handbags. Whether for day-to-day commuting and connecting or for travel and motherhood, her vegan leather goods are affordable and flexible. The line features RFID protection, multiple-strap options, bag-in-bag options and much more, all easing the lifestyle of #bossladies everywhere.

Where the idea came from: After spending quite some time working a corporate job, Burgin decided to branch out and find something she had a passion for and that could offer her the work/life balance she craved. Initially, her company started as ‘Boutique To U’ — a travel boutique/trunk show for hospital fundraising. But then, hospitals started requesting to sell the goods in their gift shops, which led to a wholesale division. With more growth, came their online store — and eventually, decided to change the name to reflect their current direction.

How it’s growing: She’s loved by Oprah — and was featured as one of her favorite things both in 2016 and 2018. They’re also part of Tory Johnson Deals and Steals on ABC-TV, and they had the top-selling crossbody and handbag on Amazon in December 2018.

How she became successful: Reinvention. “The company has become successful by continuing to re-invent itself and to move forward with the trends of the industry. For example, as retail shops began closing, we saw the risk in our wholesale business and decided to ramp up our online business. When the company first started, the wholesale division was the primary income source. Today, that has completely flip-flopped and our online business is now the income leader for the company,” she explained.

What’s next: Getting to know their customers — and asking for their feedback — so they can become their go-to source for fashionable, affordable accessories.

Minnesota: Jacquie Berglund from FINNEGANS Brew Co.

Founded in 2000 in Minneapolis, Minnesota

Why the company is cool: What if by meeting your pals for a drink, you could help someone get a meal? That’s exactly what Berglund thought when she started her venture, nearly two decades ago. To date, they’re the first beer company in the world to donate 100% of their profits to feeding the hungry. Though they’ve been in business for a while now, it wasn’t until 2018 when they officially opened their own tap room, where they are able to brew their own business and see growth. They now donate more money to charities across the midwest, including Wisconsin, Iowa, North Dakota and South Dakota.

Where the idea came from: When Berglund was working in marketing for a Minneapolis restaurant and pub owner, she attended a lecture about eradicating hunger. The idea changed something in her, prompting her to investigate a business to fund non-profits. She quickly became so passionate about the concept that she quit her full-time job and charged forward.

How it’s growing: To date, they’ve generated more than one million dollars in donations through their profits, partnerships, and events that raise awareness on hunger. A year ago, they also went from offering three beers to 65.

How she became successful: Calculated risks. Like taking on a team of dedicated in-house brewers, which gave FINNEGANS the opportunity to really expand their selection. Throughout every milestone of her company, it’s being smart about risks and partnerships that have helped her stay the path, be successful and help others.

What’s next: She’s chasing after ambitious goals: surpassing two million dollars in donations by 2025, all by turning beer into food, one pint at a time.

Missouri: Lori Coulter & Reshma Chattaram Chamberlin from Summersalt

Founded in 2017 in St. Louis, Missouri

Why the company is cool: You want to look fly at that bachelorette party you’re going to or the beach vacation you booked with your partner — but you can’t find the right suit that meets your needs. Comfortable enough for traveling, effective in the water and well, stylish, Coulter and Chamberlin set out to create travel essentials that solve every need women have while on the go. As they put it, they believe fashion and function should always play well together, and packing for a trip doesn’t have to be a stressful endeavor.

Where the idea came from: It’s been said before, but allow these two superstars to say it again: Women’s bodies aren’t one-size-fits-all. And with suits, it can be difficult to find the right fit and look that does its duty and isn’t hyper-sexual. Seeing this opportunity in the market, they set out to create suits they’d want to wear.

How it’s growing: They’re raised more than $8 million, including $6.1 million in Series A after exceptional growth.

How they became successful: They remained focused on their brand. Though it isn’t always an easy task when you’re starting out, there are a few principles this dynamic duo has stayed true to, including inclusive sizing, designer-quality that’s affordable and sustainable materials. By maintaining a direct funnel to their customers, they stay up-to-date on every shift and change required to evolve. In fact, their technology-enhanced swimwear is based on 1.5 million measurements from 10,000 women.

What’s next: They’re expanding into similar markets including PJs and underwear, and introducing even more sizing. They also intend to grow their content platform, The Forecast as a new digital product.

Nebraska: Angela Garbacz from Goldenrod Pastries

Founded in 2015 in Lincoln, Nebraska

Why the company is cool: We don’t need much to explain why this sweets shop is Insta-famous (and awesome). This all-women-run bakery not only creates gorgeous, delicious pastries, cakes, and other delights, but it prides itself on being dietary-sensitive by providing options for the gluten-free, dairy-free and vegan folks. They post inspiring #girlpower posts, gorgeous creations and constant updates to their 17 thousand – and growing – following. We predict they’re on the runway to takeoff.

Where the idea came from: Garbacz attended the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and the French Culinary Institute, bringing home degrees in Culinary and Food Sciences and Classic French Pastry Arts. And she also took something else to heart — or rather, to tummy — a realization she had an intolerance to dairy. She landed a job in international marketing, but couldn’t shake her love of baking, prompting her to find diet-inclusive options she could nibble on. To chronicle her journey, she started a blog, sharing photos, recipes, and anecdotes, and quickly garnered a following. For a year, she made catering orders out of her home. And once she realized she had tapped into a market, she quit her job, opened a shop — and well, the rest has been quite delicious.

How it’s growing: Her creations are definitely getting the sweet tooth seal of approval, especially when Food & Wine magazine recognized her as “one of the most innovative women in food and drink.” And when she made Cherry Bombe magazine’s coveted 100 List of inspiring and creative women. Did we mention she was also named one of Plate magazine “Chefs to Watch.” To give back to others, she created “Empower Through Flour” in 2017, recruiting 20 female chefs from across the United States to raise money and awareness for the non-profit, I AM THAT GIRL. In a year, it raised more than $5K.

How she became successful: Social media — and talent. Though she doesn’t regret being behind a desk for some time, her home is in the kitchen. That, and being able to grow her business through the new rules of marketing via social media. This creative approach is a lot like her pastries — artfully-designed and well, smart.

What’s next: Empower Through Flour returns this year with a higher goal — and she’s working on a cookbook.

North Dakota: Kari Warberg Block from EarthKind

Founded in 2000 in Bismarck, North Dakota

Why the company is cool: Consider the products you use in your home for cleaning: most of them have skewed cleaner and planet-friendly in recent years, eh? As a trend that has definitely received more traction in the past decade, Block has been working tirelessly to introduce chemical-free rodent and pest-repellent products for nearly twenty years. Officially started in 2000, and taking off in 2007 after their federal EPA (environmental protection agency) registration, this hard worker isn’t just passionate, she’s a force to be reckoned with.

Where the idea came from: Block says she started EarthKind with “nothing more than a 99-cent pack of garden seeds and a dream.” She spent her childhood on a farm and was exposed to the harsh, chemical-and-kill methods of the pest-control industry. This experience inspired her to create a safe — yet powerful! — alternative, and over time, she realized she’d need to be the one to create it. Her entrepreneur moment came when a mouse ran up her leg and she grabbed a perfume bottle to repel it off: “That’s when it occurred to me, instead of killing the pest, why not just make it stay away, without the harmful chemicals and toxic baits? I delved into research, determined to find what in nature could naturally repel pests away – and that’s how my first product, Fresh Cab®, came into fruition,” she shared.

How she’s growing: IRI data shares info from retailers on UPC codes and for EarthKind, they indicate a 539% growth in unit sales from last year to this year. You can find her vast variety of products at Target, Lowe’s ACE Hardware stores, tractor supply stores and many more. Last year, they were valued at 20 million, when they received their first equity capital valuation.

How she became successful: She’s stuck her ethics. “I wanted to do work that would make a real difference, and when I first started EarthKind, 98% of pest control products sold were made of poisons. Despite the odds of breaking through a male-dominated, chemical-and-kill based industry, I knew change had to be made, and I was relentless in seeking ways to disrupt the market. I networked and went to every industry event and trade show I could. I was lucky to have a home state ecosystem that supported me in the early years, along with incredible people to hire. I’ve learned to never get too comfortable — I’m always passionately seeking out new bio-innovations to create effective solutions — and I never settle for the status quo — if you do, you’ll lose momentum,” she shared.

What’s next: Quite the goal. In fact, Block wants to reduce people’s reliance on harmful pest control products from the 90% it is today, to 50% by 2020. Her company has a 98% carbon-free footprint, certified by the USDA Bio-Preferred Program, and she wants to make that 100% soon.

Ohio: Adiya Dixon Wiggins from YUBI Beauty

Founded in 2018 in Columbus, Ohio

Why the company is cool: Some entrepreneurs are big thinkers. Or idea generations. Or visionaries. And others, like the impressive Wiggins, are inventors. A little over a year old, Yubi Beauty is a cosmetic tool brand, is hoping to simplify every woman’s collection of makeup brushes and sponges. Their patent-pending Yubi slides onto your fingers, becoming an extension of your hand, and you can swap out a sponge, a foundation brush, blush brush and more. Why Yubi? It’s the Japanese word for ‘finger’ — illustrating the ease of the product.

Where the idea came from: Wiggins knows what it’s like to be stretched thin, consideration she is an international lawyer and a mom of two. She experienced first-hand how often women sacrifice their beauty or self-care routine to meet the needs of others and wanted to take one less headache away in their day-to-day demands. Using a hot glue gun, plastic, wood, and some ribbon, she spent weeks in her basement creating prototypes until she was ready to take her Yubi Buff Brush to an engineering firm.

How it’s growing: In 2018, her product was named one of TIME magazine’s 50 Best Inventions of the Year — and the only beauty product to be listed.

How she became successful: Talking to women. “I felt like we were onto something with the final round of prototyping. Earlier ones just didn’t cut it. When we finally had something I loved, we set out to test it. Testing was easy: I just gave them away to friends and family and used them myself religiously. Moreover, when I got the first positive feedback from strangers, I was blown away. One woman told me she had switched from fingers to brushes due to breakouts, but never felt comfortable. She was thrilled to have a brush that let her feel comfortable again while applying makeup, without worrying about breakouts. Other women raved about how soft it was and that they looked forward to using it in the mornings. It was amazing to see the vision come to life.”

What’s next: This year, they’ll be launching new products to streamline the makeup process, so stay tuned.

South Dakota: Heather Metz from Xtrinsic Athleisure Boutique

Founded in 2018 in Harrisburg, South Dakota

Why the company is cool: When you take stock on your wardrobe, you’ll notice one must-have item that frankly, is far more necessary than a little black dress. A little black pair of leggings. Athleisure has flooded the fashion market and infiltrating everything from work to fitness and travel. With anything, leggings definitely aren’t one-size-fits-all and Metz had a different idea for her approach to this trendy industry.

Where the idea came from: Wanting to start a company of her own, she thought what made women feel comfortable, provided function and boosted confidence: leggings. As a mom, she knew these things had to be present, and thus, athleisure became her new passion. “Leggings are of course always comfortable, and they can easily be worn so many different ways. Because of that, I feel that you can never have too many ‘workout clothes’ if you can wear it to the gym, to the grocery store, out at night, to work,” she shared. “This makes the athleisure-style very versatile, which to me is the best part being a busy mom.”

How it’s growing: Still a very new company, Xtrinsic doesn’t have tangible numbers quite yet, but Metz is taking the process slowly. “In retail sales, there will be months that are not as good as some others, but if I compare similar months and I am more successful than the last then I am happy. I am not looking to grow fast. I want to do this right and enjoy the process,” she shared.

How she became successful: A three-part recipe. “I am very driven and will do whatever it takes to succeed. I have an amazing team that helps me do what I need day-in and day-out. And, I have learned from previous jobs how important it is to provide the best customer service. Your customers are your business. Without them, you have none, so do what’s right for them and they will always be there for you,” she shared.

What’s next: They just moved … upstairs. Even though this took them away from the ‘foot traffic’ of the streets, they were growing so fast, they needed more space. “We want to be able to reach more people in the US and beyond, but to do that you have to have a big online presence and well-kept website, so we moved into a space that is three times the square footage which gives us a lot of backroom space to do photoshoots and hold more inventory, with a smaller, more private retail storefront,” she shared. Looking to the future, she hopes to design her own clothes and launch an athleisure line of her own work.

Wisconsin: Elizabeth Rees from Chasing Paper

Founded in 2013 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin

Why the company is cool: You’ve probably seen or purchased Chasing Paper products, with colorful, smart and inspiring designs. From removable wallpaper to home decor, everything Rees creates is printed on high-quality fabric and backed with a low-tack adhesive, sold in panels that measure two-feet by four-feet. If you don’t want to commit to even wallpaper, no worries — she also offers wall stickers, art prints, a growth chart for kids, and fun ascents. Especially as this generation prefers to rent instead of own, her products aren’t only modern — but practical.

Where the idea came from: She credits her entrepreneurial spirit to a decade worth of working, studying and traveling. Since she moved frequently over these years, she had to figure out a way to make each space her own. This created an idea: what if there was a way to do this easily — but with style? After discussing her thoughts with serial-movers, fashion-forward parents, renters, and DIYers, Chasing Paper started to come alive.

How she became successful: A mix of things: “Hard work! Listening to my gut, knocking on doors, putting myself out there to create opportunities for growth,” she shared.

What’s next: An awesome cool new product that innovates framing for large format art.

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Click below to read more from our series celebrating female leaders in the United States:

International Women’s Day: Celebrating the female leaders making moves in the Northeast

International Women’s Day: Celebrating the female leaders making moves in the Southeast

International Women’s Day: Celebrating the female leaders making moves in the Southwest

International Women’s Day: Celebrating the female leaders making moves in the West

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