Posted: Mon 8th Mar 2021
It's International Women's Day, so what better time to celebrate the successes of 10 fabulous female founders, each of whom has played - and continues to play - a hugely valued role in the Enterprise Nation community.
The businesses they run may be very different (we're talking everything from twerking classes to HR platforms), but 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.
In a few days' time we'll be publishing an interview with fitness entrepreneur Bami Kuteyi, in which she talks very openly about the challenges she faced when joining Google in 2015 - and how these sparked the idea for Bam Bam Boogie.
It 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.'"
When we spoke to Forever Unique founder Seema Malhotra back in October, she told us how she went from selling to market traders from a tiny unit in Manchester to building a fashion brand with 10 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. At the other, she essentially had to defy her parents.
"This is why I'm on The Real Housewives of Cheshire," she told us. "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."
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," she told us. "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 - it 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."
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 get 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," the Kohl Kreatives founder told us back in October. "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.
We published an interview today with award-winning entrepreneur Sonya Barlow, in which she highlights 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," she explained. "[This means that] a lot of people already think the system isn't there for them, so they don't even try."
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 is only making 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," our December Member of the Month told us.
"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."
Back in 2009, Louise Hill had an idea: debit cards for children with unique parental controls. Within a decade, gohenry, the pre-paid card company she founded, had attracted one million customers.
"One of our mantras is to give things a go, even if they sound a bit crazy, and keep testing," she told us back in October. "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 - we refer to the four pillars of money management: earning, spending, saving and giving - those good habits will stay with you in adulthood. A money-confident child will end up a money-confident adult."
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 - which, by the way, was a very good job - to launch her own plant-based breakfast business.
"I wanted to harness my marketing and communications experience to help inspire people to eat more plants," she told us in January. "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.
With new products being launched and talks with manufacturers underway, 2021 is shaping up to be quite the year for Oatsu (whose overnight oats taste really quite amazing; honestly, I've tried all of them).
In 2015, Natalie Sherman - our October Member of the Month - set up Naturally Social, a communications agency with a difference. It doesn't just take on any old company as a client, oh no. Its clients have to be driven by purpose.
"This is our USP," Natalie told us. "If someone asks us 'How are you going to make us more money?' then 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, then I will work with them."
In November 2020, Alisha Zhang launched Accio, a tech challenger brand whose current focus is smart lighting. Make no mistake: this is not an easy industry to break in to, but Alisha has worked out how to do so.
"I wanted to have something beautiful in my home that I wanted to buy, that is very easy for people who aren't techy to use, and is sustainable," she told us in a soon-to-be published interview. "So I started solving the problem from seeing what I wanted as an end result. I almost acted like a project manager.
"I worked with many specialist teams. I told them what I wanted, what my vision is, and then we walked through the designs, the colour schemes and the technologies.
"Smart tech is so essential to the future home space. We don't want to just be following this trend; we want to be driving it by changing people's perception of tech products."
If you've been inspired by these stories, check out Entrepreneurial Women - a new campaign we're running with TSB to provide ambitious female founders with access to inspiring events, relatable role models and inclusive business support.