Even in this day and age, female entrepreneurship isn’t as common as one would hope. That’s why it’s time to celebrate these strong innovative women who make The Cradle of Liberty such an amazing place.
From presidents and CEOs, to serial restaurateurs, these are the women entrepreneurs who are making a difference in Boston and all business can learn something from their success...
1. Sheila Lirio Marcelo - CEO of Care.com
For many, the word “marketplace” is associated with one major goal: turning a profit. For Sheila Lirio Marcelo, this is not the case. As founder and CEO of Care.com, an online community that makes it easier for families to find caregivers, a “marketplace,” at least in this instance, is a place that achieves a social mission first. That’s not to say the company isn’t turning a profit. In 2015, this startup became one of the select few in the startup Ecosystem to be revenue positive, after a very successful Initial Public Offering (IPO) in 2014, that broke the Boston drought of venture capital backed IPOs. This “double bottom line” is one of the main goals of the company, according to Shelia, who spends much of her time traveling and speaking to other women, inspiring them to follow their dreams. What we learn from Sheila is a very basic lesson- finding a gap in the market can help people out, and making a profit isn’t in opposition of helping people.
What we learn from Marcelo is a very basic lesson - finding a gap in the market can always help people out, and making a profit isn’t opposite of helping people.
2. Karin Agness - Founder and President of NeW
In 2004, on a warm September evening, Karin Agness and some of her fellow students on the University of Virginia campus convened for their first monthly book club. This book club was significant because of the subject matter- conservative books and figures that were often left out of syllabi and college campus discussions. The name of this book club was NeW, The Network for Enlightened Women. Soon, neighboring campuses caught wind of this new (see what I did there?) and exciting club, which answered a need that was often unmet- a conservative discussion group in the stereotypically liberal campus setting. New chapters of NeW began sprouting across college campuses, and currently, it’s the biggest organization for conservative women on campuses in the United States. Karin may have graduated, but she continues to lead the organization started in the small book club meeting in Virginia.
Her story supports a salient truth; stereotypes don’t hold up in the real world. If you believe your audience is out there, you’ll find it, you just have to believe in yourself and tell a compelling story.
3. Jules Pieri - Founder and CEO of The Grommet
Being the first designer of any kind to graduate from Harvard is no small feat on its own, but Jules Pieri didn’t stop there. She went on to work for huge brands like Keds, Stride Rite, and Playskool. While working for them, she discovered a gap in how products are made and discovered by the public, and decided to act on it. Thus, she launched The Grommet, a service that finds unique, undiscovered products and launches them to a mass audience. This isn’t a crowdfunding site; these aren’t people in need of money. These are products that are ready to go to market. The company is based on the idea that unique products sometimes fail because they have a hard time finding an audience. This is an interesting insight from Jules, that she probably got in one of the many industrial design positions she held previously.
What we learn from Jules is if you have a good idea, then just go for it. There is no limit to success, if you have the right drive, ambition and proposition act on it, don’t let it go to waste.
4. Sarah Hodges - Partner at Pillar
Sarah Hodges’ story is a common one in the world of tech. She was an early stage high ranking executive at RunKeeper, which was sold to Asics, Smarterer, which was sold to Pluralsight. So what does a serially successful, high ranking executive do after so many victories? Well, you would think she would move on to the next one, but instead she became a partner at one of the most interesting Venture Capitalists (VCs) around. Pillar is a VC built on the premise that successful serial CEOs make for good investors for early stage startups, and that nurturing entrepreneurs is the best way to achieve success. Pillar is also focused on one of the driving forces of the future, machine intelligence.
Sarah teaches us that once you’ve mastered your own success, it might be time to take a break and help others succeed. You could create more opportunity by supporting, rather than building it yourself.
5. Rica Elysee - Founder of BeautyLynk
Rica Elysee says her upbringing, which she defines as the generic first generation American story, had a lot to do with her entrepreneurship. After being a part of Americorps and helping the homeless, and of course having the comfy job that most entrepreneurs leave to start a venture, Rica decided to join the on-demand economy movement by founding BeautyLink, a service that links hair specialists with women. The service has a very specific focus, most of its clientele are women of color, who in fact have very specific beauty needs.
Rica teaches us that our history can, and usually does, affect what we do. Our heritage is not something to run away from, but to embrace, and maybe even turn into a business.
6. Nancy Cremins - Co-founder of SheStarts
>Nancy Cremins is another instance of a woman who went the entrepreneurial route in order to help other women. In this case, other female entrepreneurs. SheStarts is an ecosystem created by women, dedicated to helping female who want to start their own business. Just like any other ecosystem, this one offers networking, talks, panels, and other resources to help its members. But unlike all the others, SheStarts focuses on the hardship and challenge that come hand in hand with being a woman in business.
Nancy teaches us the status quo is never something you should just accept, but instead try to change for the better.
7. Emily Levy - Founder and CEO of Mighty Well
Mighty Well is an amazing company. The company combines some of the best business philosophies in the world, filling in an overlooked gap and building value by creating a premium alternative to an existing (terrible) product. And of course doing good by doing well. The company is dedicated to medical fashion, which basically means creating fashionable alternatives to the current utilitarian choices given to patients with illness or injury. The idea came to Emily when she was suffering from Lyme disease. She wanted to hide her PICC line, and was instructed by her doctor to use a cut off sock.
She shows us that what works for you is likely to work for others, meaning that you can go into a venture almost knowing that it’ll be a success.
8. Melissa James - President and CEO of The Tech Connection
Melissa James is President and CEO of The Tech Connection, the premier marketplace for purpose driven, diverse technical talent. Her mission is to help people reach their highest potential by accelerating their individual pathway to success. She has a strong track record of building high performing teams for elite companies such as Google, RA Capital, Teradata, and Sample6.
At the root of her work is a passion for community service. On top of running her business, Melissa is also the founder of the ﬁrst ever Black Tech Boston Meetup, a platform to celebrate and introduce the impact of technology within African American communities. She previously served on the board for Youth Institute of Science and Technology and the Young Black Women’s Society. Melissa has been recognized as a “Woman on The Move” by Boston Business Journal and recently received the U.S. Presidential Service Award for her relentless commitment to the community.
Melissa was first in her family to go to college and work at Fortune 500 tech company, Google. She was the 1% of African American employees at Google. Now at the The Tech Connection she inspires diversity candidates to think strategically about their career.
Melissa teaches us that when we see a problem we can create solutions by working together to make positive change and inspire others.
9. Barbara Lynch - Leading Restaurateur
A well accomplished restaurateur, Barbara Lynch comes from small beginnings. Born and bred in south Boston, this high school dropout once stole an MBTA bus just for fun and regularly ran money for bookies. Her first cooking job was putting together subs at The Soda Shop. Now, she has six restaurants, and a demonstration cookbook store. This “out of left field” chef is a strong willed, self-actualized woman in an industry dominated by men, and is only the second woman in history to win the highly coveted James Beard award for "Outstanding Restaurateur”.
Barbara teaches us that history doesn’t matter, once you find your passion, you can achieve success, no matter what the circumstances. Oh, and she loves the T.
10. Michelle Fournier - CEO of Slobbr
Michelle Fournier’s entrepreneurship story is one that is rarely told, but often experienced. Culturally, the tech community doesn’t like to talk about non-technical entrepreneurs, but they are common, especially in Boston. Still, the story of Fournier is particularly interesting, due to the tumultuous origins of her dog-centric startup, Slobbr. After commissioning a development house to build version one of her product for $100,000 in 12 weeks, she learned the hard way how startups need to be built by driven teams. The development ended up taking 36 weeks, costing $150,000, and producing a sub-par product. Michelle, who was feeling overwhelmed, got certified as a Yoga instructor to find her zen and used AngelList to make a connection with the man who would become her CEO. Since recently launching, Slobbr has received fantastic reviews.
She teaches us that no matter how much time or money you spend, you can always go back to the drawing board, figure out what you did wrong, and fix it. Failure is not the end, it’s just part of the journey.
11. Rhonda Kallman - CEO of Boston Harbor Distillery
Rhonda Kallman's business is centered on something many adults enjoy - alcohol. In 1984, she co-founded The Boston Beer Company, now regarded as the nation’s leader in craft beers. You heard that right, those awesome craft beers that are ‘all the rage’ recently, she was ahead of the curve back in 1984, when most of the hipsters driving the current craft beer craze weren’t even born yet! Her business career, however, is not without hardship. In 2011 she lost a well-publicized battle with the FDA about caffeine in beer from a new brewery she started in 2001. Currently, she’s a founder and CEO of the Boston Harbor Distillery.
Rhonda teaches us that serial entrepreneurship is not something to shy away from. If you have a talent and a passion for something, take it with you to the next project.
12. Tania Green - CEO of PMSbites
While there are many interesting aspects to Tania Green, the most intriguing is that her entrepreneurship started by following the most basic rule out there - listen to your body. Rather than looking for an idea, or a new startup, her innovative notion found her - once a month, every month. Green founded “PMS Bites”- a company that makes chocolate cake balls with herbs designed to alleviate PMS symptoms. Another more interesting turn in her story is that after a successful Kickstarter campaign Tania turned to the show “Shark Tank” where none of the sharks bit. Despite the lack of enthusiasm on the big screen, she wasn’t deterred and leveraged her appearance on the show into a 1400% increase in sales. While the need for her product is, and will continue to be, in high demand, Tania isn’t done yet! She’s working on Diet Bites, Hangover Bites, Insomnia Bites, and Menopause Bites.
Tania teaches us that if you’re facing everyday problems, it’s likely others are facing those same problems, so a solution is not only helpful for yourself, but others - as well as a lucrative business opportunity.
13. Sheryl Marshall - CEO of Capital W
Another lover of the T, Sheryl Marshall is one of the reasons lists like the one you’re reading right now exist. After 30 years of managing capital for big banks, Sheryl decided to use her understanding of money and considerable resources to help female entrepreneurs raise funds, as well as invest in female-led startups. She is the founder of Capital W, a Venture Summit completely dedicated to female-led companies. Capital W is a place where women from all over the country can meet with venture capital funds and other investors.
Sheryl decided to use her considerable experience to help other women, and teaches us that, sometimes, the smart business decision for yourself can bring benefits to others too.
14. Heather Abbot - Founder of The Heather Abbot Foundation
Heather Abbot is a very special addition to this list. After losing her leg below the knee from a piece of shrapnel at the Boston Marathon Bombing in 2013, she decided to not let go of the things she loved. When people started donating money for her for a prosthesis, she found out that in order to keep up with her previous life, including wearing high heels, jogging and Zumba she would need a special prosthesis, ranging from between $15,000 and $150,000. When she realized insurance companies only cover the most basic walking apparatus, she decided to start the Abbot Foundation - dedicated to gifting amputees custom made, high-end prosthesis.
Heather’s inspiring story is a lesson to us all - from every hardship we can learn something and positives can come out of adversity.
15. Emily Broad Leib - Founder and Director of The Harvard Food Law and Policy Clinic
Emily Broad Leib is the Founder and Director of the Harvard Food Law and Policy Clinic. She was named by Forbes and Food & Wine Magazine as ‘The Most Innovative Woman in Food and Drink’. As director of the Harvard Food Law and Policy Clinic, Emily helps create solutions on a legislative level for today’s hunger and donation problems. One fight she mentions is expiration date labeling. Currently, the dates mentioned on food packages indicate freshness, not when the product goes bad, making buying food and food donation way more expensive. One of the clinic’s duties is to create federal guidelines and rules for issues such as these.
Emily shows us that when we see a problem, it is our responsibility to use our professional expertise to fix it, and help others.
16. Kelly Pelletz - President of Chariot
It’s no secret that the best products made for women are made by women. Chariot, the company led by Kelly Pelletz, is a prime example of this. When women use ridesharing services, or even cabs, they can feel unsafe. Chariot is a ridesharing service for women by women, ensuring women’s safety while driving them about quickly and effectively. Men are not really aware of the dangers that face women when it comes to ridesharing, so it took a woman like Kelly to take the first step towards safer transportation for women. The security doesn’t stop at sign up, all drivers are required to answer a random security question at the beginning of their shift, to verify their identity. In order to make sure riders are taking the right car, a safe word appears for both the riders and the drivers, and is used as confirmation for the right driver.
What we learn from Kelly is that even the simplest idea, aimed at the right audience, can fill the void and make a difference.
17. Malia Lazu - CEO of EpiCenter
When Malia Lazu decided to mentor startups in an accelerator, she didn’t just want to find ones with good business ideas. When she saw that even in tech, a field that prides itself on innovation and forward thinking, there was obvious institutional and personal discrimination, she decided the best way to make change is from within. Malia, a Hawaiian native who came to Boston from Honolulu, decided it’s time to act on her greatest personal philosophy, that building a business community of people of color is the most radical thing she could do. She moved on to mentor over 100 startups led by minorities through the Accelerate Boston program run by the Dorchester-based non-profit Epicenter Community Inc. Focusing on the fields of food, fashion, and design, she set her goal at making the entrepreneurship community more inclusive and receptive to minorities.
We can learn a simple lesson from Malia - inclusion and social change are key elements in the future of business.
18. Emily Welsch - Founder and CEO of Pixi
An emerging theme in this list is products made by women, for women, filling a gap that can be found in the overall market. Emily Welsch’s story continues with that theme with Pixi, a startup making cycling wear exclusively for women. Emily, a Boston University graduate, was a member of their cycling team back in 2011. She noticed cycling and cycling wear was overwhelmingly dominated by men. After she graduated and worked for Boston's Halloran Consulting Group, she decided to address the problem. After doing some research, she found that the cycling industry’s solution to the “gear for women” problem, was solved by using the same designs made for men’s frames but making them in smaller sizes, and coloring them neon pink. She uses her background in science (gained from her Bachelor's in chemistry) to create accurate cycling apparel for woman.
Emily’s story teaches us one of the oldest rules in the business book, but one there’s no harm in being reminded of - see a gap, fill a gap.
Each and every one of these women is doing something amazing that’s changing the world, one step at a time. Being a successful woman in business is changing and shaping the way the world looks at women on a professional level and affects the future for millions of young girls out there, with big dreams and even bigger ideas. The lessons they have learned along the way are useful to all businesses, no matter who runs them.
The companies I mention or link to in this post are just examples that I thought you’d find useful – I don’t endorse them or their services. I have no affiliation with them and make no representation about their services.