Posted: Thu 16th Nov 2023
The businesses they run may be very different (we're talking everything from twerking classes to HR platforms). Still, these remarkable women have two big things in common – fascinating start-up stories driven by purpose, and the accumulation of a wealth of business knowledge.
And when we say business knowledge, we don't just mean the practicalities of running a successful company. We mean other things that male entrepreneurs don't have to deal with on the same level – overcoming bias, being taken seriously and where to find the right support.
Let's find out who these female founders are.
1. Bami Kuteyi: 'Protect your peace'
The interview concludes with some powerful advice:
"For my Black queens and Black sisters trying to get into the entrepreneurship game, the most important piece of advice I have is: protect your peace.
"People will take and take until you have nothing left. Look at the opportunities that come your way and ask whether they're adding to you or taking from you.
"After Black History Month, I was exhausted. So many of the 'opportunities' that people were trying to give were unpaid. People want to hear Black voices, but if by sharing yours, you're not adding to your bigger vision, or your bottom line, then you have to protect your peace and say, 'Honestly, it's not working for me.'"
2. Seema Malhotra: 'I want to show other British Asian women out there that you can live your dream'
When we spoke to Forever Unique founder, Seema Malhotra, she told us how she went from selling to market traders from a tiny unit in Manchester to building a fashion brand with multiple offices around the world. She still, though, calls herself a "glorified market trader".
Her journey wasn't without its challenges. At one end of the spectrum, there was the issue of Manchester not being seen as a fashion hub. On the other, she essentially had to defy her parents.
"This is why I'm on The Real Housewives of Cheshire. I want to show other British Asian women out there that you can live your dream.
"You don't have to sit at home and have lots of kids. Of course you can do that, but you have choices."
3. Scarlett V Clark: 'See failure as data acquisition'
Founder of the UK's number-one female empowerment organisation, host of the top-rated Smart Girl Tribe Podcast and author of The Smart Girls Handbook, Scarlett V Clark is empowering entrepreneurs to embrace their personal failures – something she spoke about at StartUp 2021 in January.
"In The Smart Girls Handbook, there is a whole chapter dedicated to fear and failure because they are two topics I am particularly passionate about. I quit a job three weeks in and moved to New York, with no friends out there, no apartment and no job. I couldn't have been more scared.
"Our bodies react to fear in the same way as our caveman days; our brain can't differentiate between a charging lion and creative endeavour. Fear is a positive because it is trying to keep you safe and warn off danger but remember, it is going to try and protect you from going after your dream too.
"See failure as data acquisition – the process of your soul trying to speak to you. It is your inner guide telling you what you should be doing, not what you shouldn't."
4. Trishna Daswaney: 'I've gone through it all'
Beauty entrepreneur Trishna Daswaney's start-up journey hasn't exactly been smooth. In the early days, she had to adopt an alias, Grayson, to be taken seriously over email. When she later launched a genuinely innovative product, recognition was very, very slow.
"There were people with vitiligo, alopecia, burns and scars – all manner of physical issues, really – who felt disempowered. So I decided to train as a make-up artist and run free workshops in my free time.
"[But] if I was going to scale it was obvious I needed a product. I initially wondered how to create something that fits with my values. It had to be genderless, colourless, cruelty-free, sustainable. 'What I'm going to do,' I thought, 'is create a make-up brush'."
Trishna has since been stocked in Boots and Harvey Nichols, while she's also appeared on Dragons' Den.
5. Sonya Barlow: 'We have to break genderalised social norms and stereotypes'
In our interview with award-winning entrepreneur, Sonya Barlow, Sonya highlighted the need to break the "genderalised social norms and stereotypes" that exist not just in the start-up space, but in workplace culture more generally.
"These are both oppressive and biased on ourselves as much as they are from other people. [This means that] a lot of people already think the system isn't there for them, so they don't even try."
6. Jess Heagren: 'I'll quite happily talk about the future of work'
That Works For Me founder, Jess Heagren, is on the cusp of becoming an industry disruptor. Her company isn't merely plugging a gap in the recruitment world, but a chasm that the pandemic only made wider. The world of work will probably never look the same again, as Jess knows only too well.
"When you describe That Works For Me as a platform where you can find amazing, experienced UK-based people who happen to be parents, or who have other things going on, you don't quite hit the nail on the head.
"It's only when you describe the issues – the fact that there are so many people good at what they do, yet they can't find work. And so many small businesses out there that need a bit of help with their social media or Google Analytics, or whatever – that it really lands.
"Now I'll quite happily talk about the future of work and where I think things are going."
7. Louise Hill: 'One of our mantras is to give things a go, even if they sound a bit crazy'
Back in 2009, Louise Hill had an idea – debit cards for children with unique parental controls. Within a decade, gohenry, the prepaid card company she founded, had attracted one million customers.
As Louise told us:
"One of our mantras is to give things a go, even if they sound a bit crazy, and keep testing. This has really helped in not just acquiring customers, but also developing our product.
"Money habits are formed as early as seven. If we can help parents start teaching those basic messages, those basic pillars of money management – earning, spending, saving and giving – will stay with you in adulthood. A money-confident child will end up a money-confident adult."
8. Lauren O'Donnell: 'Enterprise Nation gave me the confidence to launch a business of my own'
Towards the end of 2019, Lauren O'Donnell took part in our Next Generation programme, which aimed to engage and educate the UK's next generation of entrepreneurs. She was so inspired that she left her job to launch her own plant-based breakfast business, Oatsu.
After discovering overnight oat recipes on TikTok, Lauren started prepping them as a convenient at-desk breakfast. She wanted to help the UK's 33 million working professionals start their day with a healthy, convenient breakfast, and become the UK's first dedicated overnight oat brand on retail shelves.
As Lauren told us:
"I wanted to harness my marketing and communications experience to help inspire people to eat more plants.
"I considered joining an existing plant-based food start-up, but Enterprise Nation's programme gave me the confidence to launch a business of my own."
9. Natalie Sherman: 'I'm so passionate about digital as a force for social good'
"This is our USP. If someone asks us: 'How are you going to make us more money?', I don't want to work with them. If they want to make money as an outcome of good ethics, and a strong moral standpoint, I will work with them."
10. Karolina Ba: 'It's our responsibility to make sure our products are as sustainable as possible from the start'
Ever since her mental health diagnosis, Karolina Ba has been looking for an alternative to being on antidepressants. Working with a nutritionist and clinical herbalist, THEENK TEA was officially launched in 2019, a 21-day programme of three distinct herbal tea blends for different stages of the day.
In our Member of the Month interview, Karolina talks about normalising mental health, preventative care and giving back by being one of the “good guys”.
"Every single small business has a responsibility right now to show the big guys the new way forward. It's much easier to implement something from the very start rather than when you have a multi-million-employee organisation where you have to go through millions of forms to get anything done.
"It's our responsibility to do our best and make sure that our products are as sustainable as possible from the start."