International Women’s Day: 6 female leaders making moves in the Southwest

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 Southwest.

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

Arizona: Megan Finnerty from The Storytellers Project and Storytellers Brand Studio

Founded in 2011 in Phoenix, Arizona

Why the company is cool: In an age where speaking your truth and being vulnerable with your experiences is encouraged and welcomed, Finnerty has found a sweet spot. Her company hosts evenings of first-person storytelling in 22 cities within the USA Today Network of Newsrooms. In addition, they also provide storytelling coaching and consulting services to businesses, branded contented and custom events. Though it is part of an ‘intrapreneurial’ effort within mega house Gannett, Finnerty is at the helm.

Where the idea came from: Finnerty participated as a reporter for The Arizona Republic with other storytellings for the Arizona Centennial Celebration. Inspired, she started creating her own storytelling shows as part of the newsroom in 2014, and in 2015, the project was brought to the USA Network. When businesses started approaching Finnerty for branded content, an agency concept was fostered.

How it’s growing: They’ve averaged a 77 net-promoter score for all of their shows in 2018, with 19,000 attendees to 108 nights of storytelling in 2018. They also have an impressive 89% total profitability margin.

How she became successful: Support—and taking chances: “We had a lot of support from the editor-in-chief of The Arizona Republic, now the editor-in-chief of USA TODAY, Nicole Carroll, as well as from other senior leadership within the company. They gave us advice, time to fail, and room to grow! That and a ‘say yes’ attitude made a big impact on the business early on,” she shared.

What’s next: They’re continuing to grow the project to new cities and larger venues — and potentially moving into reality and network television.

Colorado: Shauna Blanch from Color Up Therapeutics

Founded in 2017 in Denver, Colorado

Why the company is cool: As more states—and countries—legalize marijuana and CBD, entrepreneurs are taking note of how to make their infused products a household brand. One entrepreneur who is well on her way is Blanch, who created an advanced, comprehensive skin care line, featuring CBD. Plant-based and cruelty-free, Color Up Therapeutics offers skin and body care formulas, as well as sublinguals and internals, and products for animals. Taking it a step further, she also developed a full-facial protocol for both professionals and for those who want to give themselves TLC at home. Hoping to educate her local community, she also hosts workshops and informational events at the Color Up Therapeutics CBD Wellness & Education Center.

Where the idea came from: It was a tragedy that prompted Blanch to research more about CBD, along with her other two co-founders. “We started making CBD products when our dog Kali was diagnosed with cancer. The experience with extending Kali’s life, combined with success stories from those who were trying our products for animals, led us to growing the brand into internal and body care products in 2017 and skin care in 2018,” she shared.

How it’s growing: In just two years, they’ve developed an extensive product line — and opened a 12,000-square foot wellness center. Given her background as a massage therapist and yoga teacher, the large space fosters a healthy lifestyle balance with an art gallery, demo kitchen, retail store, massage room, event spaces, and of course, their manufacturing facilities and research labs. They’ve also received awards from DAYSPA Magazine and Spa & Wellness MexiCaribe.

How she became successful: It’s in her blood. Before co-creating CUT, Blanch spent a decade in the pharmaceutical industry, where she focused on dermatology and internal medicine, which served as her training to become a business owner. Really though, her whole life has been in this space, as an ethical herbivore and conscious consumer, she comes from a family of entrepreneurs.

What’s next: This year, they’re launching an SPF, focusing on new packaging and bottles, and an overall rebranding. Oh, and if you’re interested — yes, they’re hiring.

New Mexico: Shyla Shepperd from Bow and Arrow Brewing Co.

Founded in 2016 in Albuquerque, New Mexico

Why the company is cool: It not only crafts incredible brews — but it welcomes anyone, everyone and all of the above. It’s the only Native American brewery in the country, owned by a lesbian woman who is a member of three tribes. Alongside her business and romantic partner, Sheppard not only offers a landslide of variety in terms of flavor, but also support. Wanting to create a place that gave everyone a safe harbor, the brewery is active in the community, supporting local non-profits. She has also opened her doors to celebrations and rallies, hosting Pride parties, panel discussions and beyond, she’s not only winning in this typically male-dominated industry—but she’s helping others, too.

Where the idea came from: Though she went and graduated from Stanford University, one of her greatest interests and passions was found on the tap. “I’ve had a love of and fascination with craft beer since college and always wanted to start my own business, so it just made sense,” she shared. So after research and of course, tenacity, they served — and sold — their first pint of beer in February 2016.

How it’s growing: If you visit Sheppard in New Mexico, wish her a happy third anniversary! And congratulate them, since their year-to-date revenue is up by 40%, year over year.

How she became successful: She gets uncomfortable. “I regularly push myself to step out of my comfort zone which is challenging and sometimes exhausting, but it’s essential to entrepreneurship. My grandfather who raised buffalo taught me to be like the buffalo in life. He made clear that buffalo do not turn their back on the fiercest storms and blizzards — they face it. He told me I’d experience challenges in my life and to strive to be like the buffalo and his words have always stayed with me. That advice was instrumental in helping me to transition from a 9-person senior class in North Dakota to Stanford, then into the world of venture capital for nearly a decade and finally into craft beer entrepreneurship,” she shared.

What’s next: Feeling as if her company has hit her stride, Sheppard says they’ll continue to get creative. They’ve recently released special bottle-conditioned beers in limited numbers, and this year, they’re exploring canning and potentially opening their first off-site taproom.

Oklahoma: Rachel Cope from 84 Hospitality

Founded in 2016 in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma

Why the company is cool: For foodies, there’s always another level to aspire to. If you have a refined palette and love to interact with others who share it, it’s time to read up on 84 Hospitality. Spearheaded by Cope, this company is a group of passionate young people who are ‘hell-bent’ on furthering social dining and the late-night food scene in OKC. Made up of six concepts, including a ramen house, a pizza joint and more, they hope to make OKC known as a destination for culinary goodness.

Where the idea came from: Cope realized her hometown was missing a very important thing: a pizza-by-the-slice joint. So, she opened one. As it became uber-popular and she was making a profit, she decided she had the opportunity to make more interesting spots that would attract crowds and fulfill taste buds. Thanks to her experience in front-of-house and managerial positions during and after college, she was equipped to tackle the process of creating her own restaurants and empire.

How it’s growing: In 2018, Empire was named #48 on the Independent Pizzerias in the country by Pizza Today. They also served 1,800,000 people in a year. And 62 die-hard fans got tattoos.

How she became successful: Local connection. By making an effort to connect to the city on a granular, local level, she’s created not only a group of restaurants, but 84 Hospitality has become part of the community. She’s helping tourism in her hometown — and that’s something she’s supremely proud of.

What’s next: A seventh concept is opening ASAP.

Texas: Kathy Terry from inLieu

Founded in 2017 in Austin, Texas

Why the company is cool: There’s been a noticeable trend in the wedding industry where couples make donations to charity in their guests’ honor, instead of favors. Facebook also has made birthday celebrations an opportunity to give back. With all of this buzz, Terry saw an open market—and jumped on it. Her brainchild, inLieu is the only social giving app that has combined a social network with an interesting and easy way to securely donate to any non-profit. You can think of it as Venmo, but instead of tagging your friend or paying them back, you send them a note and donation in their honor.

Where the idea came from: Terry wanted to change the narrative of how we show up for our friends and support them. Her philosophy and thought process was that no one really needs another bottle of vino, candle or gift certificate, considering there are more than $45 billion dollars sitting in unused gift cards. Instead, she thought making a difference in a cause important to your pal is a much more thoughtful — and useful — gesture.

How it’s growing: In the first nine months, inLieu donated $157K to 825 charities. They host 1.6 million different charities on their app, and 85% of all donations made in the app are gifts to honor someone else, fulfilling her mission. In fact, user reviews even comment on how the app alone makes them more thoughtful.

How she became successful: Passion. “I believe success has different meanings for different people. For me, I think success is something you are always striving to achieve, but never really fully attain. Success for me is not how much you have, but how you feel. I never want to stop learning, seeking, exploring and bettering myself. With anything we choose to do, there are challenges and bumps in the road and if you don’t have passion then getting through those challenges are very difficult. Passion is the secret sauce,” she shared.

What’s next: Their goal this year? To make ‘InLieu’ a verb that everyone uses: “InLieu me.”

Utah: Cydni Tetro from ForgeDX

Founded in 2017 in Salt Lake City, Utah

Why the company is cool: If you’re looking for a SaaS company that’s transforming customer experience and using data to inform technology — you have to know about ForgeDX. Here’s what they do, under the leadership of Tetro: By using IdeaCloud, they work with their clients to create simulations that illustrate the power and the use cases for technologies. This drives digital transformation and implementation across several industries—from travel and healthcare to manufacturing and science. With each report, they show three pillars of success — customer, user, and business — are able to scale to any online or offline format for easy sharing.

Where the idea came from: Their first client was a Fortune 10 company, where they were able to help accelerate the pipeline and technology innovation adoption. This gave Tetro an idea to create a platform that could do just this, on repeat for large Fortune 100 companies. Throughout last year, they developed and implemented the SaaS platform—and have been taking off ever since.

How it’s growing: They’ve helped many of those Fortune 100 companies take advantage of million-dollar deals. They’ve also driven customer development, operated as a lean start-up, and have met every goal. In their first year of operation, they’re hired, taken on investors, invested in sales and marketing — and yet? They broke even.

How she became successful: Creativity and business savvy. Before she created ForgeDX, she already developed her entrepreneur chops, leading the venture-backed 3DplusMe, a personalized 3D-printing platform. Before that, she worked at Disney for five years, worked on the faculty for Goldman Sachs 10K program, and is the founder and president of the Women Tech Council. She gives credit to her innovative ideas and strategic mindset for her ability to work with everyone from Microsoft and Star Wars to the MLB, Target and beyond.

What’s next: The company grew five times last year and expect to surpass that number in 2019. She’s also working double-time to be a pioneer for all women in tech in Utah. As one of her employees, Sitori Holbrook shared, “She will not only inspire women, but she will do anything she can to bring women within the state together and help them become successful, not only through her business endeavors but through the not-for-profit, Women’s Tech Council she co-founded several years ago to help women shatter the glass ceiling in what is generally considered a male-dominated industry.”

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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 Midwest

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

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