Lessons from female entrepreneurs

Madlen Popignatova 17
Article by: Sophie Poulsen
Lessons from female entrepreneurs

In 1905, at the age of 37, a young black woman moved to Denver, Colorado, where she met and married her husband. After selling hair and beauty products door-to-door and teaching other women how to groom and style their hair, she decided to develop her own product line.


She went on to become the first female self-made millionaire in the United States.


Her name was Madam C.J. Walker. Her company, the Madame C.J. Walker Manufacturing Company, which created beauty and hair products for black women, became one of the most widely known and financially successful businesses of the early 20th century.


Today, female entrepreneurs make up approximately one-third of all entrepreneurs worldwide. Many of the world’s top brands were founded by women, including 23andMe, Hulu, Coursera, and Eventbrite.


Even though women still face gender discrimination in the workplace and limited access to funding, they are trailblazers, discovering and applying new technologies and processes to strengthen their businesses.


Whether it's paving the way for future women in STEM or advocating for gender equality, women across the globe are creating new approaches to business and leadership.


Here are some lessons learned from THNKer entrepreneurs:

1. Lead with your values

Madeleine Shaw

THNKer Madeleine Shaw is an experienced social entrepreneur. She is the Co-Founder of natural menstrual health products pioneer Lunapads and the Founder of G Day, a rite of passage celebration series for tween girls and their adult caregivers. Her latest venture is Nestworks, a shared, family-friendly workspace.

Madeleine explains, “The way entrepreneurship is constructed by media these days is not serving us and it’s not serving women. We have this idea of a unicorn: this billion-dollar Silicon Valley, tech-savvy, rockstar entrepreneur that’s almost invariably male and who is the icon of the entrepreneur in the current media.

I’m not saying they don’t exist but 90% of entrepreneurial startups are small businesses that are being started primarily by women, who are not unicorns, who actually have reasonable, sustainable business models that make sense and products that provide good value to their customers.”

Madeleine also encourages aspiring entrepreneurs to lead with their values, and include social and environmental impact alongside financial metrics and KPIs. She points to the BCorp movement as a global benchmark for corporate social responsibility: “Lunapads is a founding Canadian BCorp. The rigor of having our impact so thoroughly quantified pushed us to up our game well beyond just being a green products company. BCorp provides an incredible community as well: social impact and achieving true sustainability are the highest goals that a business can aspire to.”

If you’re a female entrepreneur who’s trying to turn an idea into a reality against all odds, find inspiration in the change that you seek in the world.

2. Get ready to fight for funding

Sofana Dahlan

For women, securing funding can be a struggle. Only 4% of all venture capital funding goes to women-owned organizations.

Madeleine Shaw says this isn’t because they lack ideas; “It’s because of straight-up gender bias for starters, as well as this notion of scale. A woman will get into a room and tell a story that she thinks is reasonable about what’s going to happen with that business and then does not get funded. A guy will get in there and say, ‘We’re going to 10X this business and blah blah blah’ and just make up this huge fiction that often even lacks a credible business model, and the investors will look at it and go, ‘Wow! He’s really got balls and a big vision.'”

VC deals by gender

Female-led firms, however, have a higher rate of return on average than male-led firms, so it’s not a surprise that more and more funding is going to women-led organizations. Perhaps this is because, with limited funding opportunities, women have had to find other ways to grow and sustain their businesses, resulting in stronger businesses that appeal to investors across the board.

THNKer Sofana Dahlan is the Founder of Tashkeil and one of the first women to practice law in Saudi Arabia. She recalls how difficult it was to obtain funding for her new business, but opportunities arose once she shifted her focus towards creating an impact-driven community.

By organizing events that elevated the cultural dialogue between policymakers and creatives, Sofana was able to naturally attract potential funding opportunities.

When it comes to funding, Sofana says: “As long as you have the mindset that with every fall you’re going to rise again, you’re training yourself to be more resilient.”

3. Believe in yourself

Carrie Rich

In 2011, THNKer Carrie Rich co-founded The Global Good Fund, an organization that aims to accelerate the development of high potential young leaders who tackle the world’s greatest social issues through entrepreneurship.

With an entrepreneurial career that began at the age of 14, Carrie says it’s important to invest and believe in yourself. She says, “You can make all kinds of excuses about why you’re not good enough to do it. But the reality is it’s not about you, it’s about helping other people. And you’re good at that. If you invest in yourself and believe in yourself, other people will do the same.”

Similarly, THNKer and CEO of communications agency Heartcore-Lab Agavni Jessaijan says she learned to prototype her fears at THNK. For her, unlocking the skill to not be afraid to use her gifts and talent was the key to becoming a better creative leader.

lessons from female entrepreneurs
If you invest in yourself and believe in yourself, other people will do the same. – @MsCarrieRich, Co-Founder & CEO @GlobalGoodFund #womeninleadership #womenentrepreneur #genderequality Click To Tweet

Madame C.J. Walker laid the groundwork for the millions of women entrepreneurs in the world today. Today in the U.S. alone, there are 9.4 million businesses owned by women, employing 7.1 million people and generating almost $1.5 billion in sales.

In other words, women aren’t just creating innovative products, building successful businesses, and generating jobs, they are redefining the notion of leadership and making the world a better place.

Are you a female entrepreneur looking to expand your business and/or leadership potential? Join the THNK Executive Leadership Program!