8 Women-Run Businesses That Inspire Us

In ever-increasing numbers, women are starting fulfilling businesses that also impact communities.

Female-founded, women-run businesses are on the rise. The numbers of women rising to the corporate c-suite are slowly increasing, but women are redirecting their ambition, and most importantly, their creativity and drive, toward starting and nurturing companies that fulfill them. The reasons for women to strike out on their own range from millennials that burn out from corporate life and look for something more, to women who have hit the glass ceiling, to those, overwhelmingly, who want to be in control of their own future, define their own work/life balance, assert their independence and fulfill the need they see in their own and other communities.

Here are eight inspiring companies and their founders.

Drop the Chalk (Kickboard)

Founder Jennifer Schnidman Medbery studied computer science at Columbia, but joined Teach for America after graduation. While she was teaching, she realized how much time teachers spent recording data, and how little time they had to analyze and act on it. Kickboard allows teachers to enter student data, analyze trends and customize learning for students. Medbery piloted the software in several New Orleans schools and more schools are adopting the system by leaps and bounds.

Style Seat

Style Seat‘s business allure is its two-pronged approach: it boosts local businesses and taps the lucrative hair salon industry. CEO Melody McCloskey got the idea when she was looking for someone who specialized in cutting curly hair. Hair salons are extremely individualized local businesses, so when you move to a new town it’s hard to find a stylist other than through word of mouth. Hair salons are also slow to adopt online tools to grow their businesses, so Style Seat provides a unique set of options, including online profiles, price ranges, and stylist’s schedules so clients can see who is available in a certain timeframe. On the other side, stylists can track trends like which days they traditionally have fewer clients and then have the option to run a promotion. Growing local economies has been touted as one of the ways our society can recover from this slump, so Style Seat is imminently sustainable and infinitely scalable. Since its start in May 2011, hundreds of thousands of stylists and clients have found their matches.

Solar Sister

When Katherine Lucey was an energy executive, she noticed that the large-scale energy projects she was helping implement in Uganda, weren’t reaching the rural population. She conceived and started Solar Sister, an Avon-type business model where women can start their own businesses for a nominal fee, bringing solar lamps to homes and communities. Before solar lighting, many families spent the evening in the dark, or used unsafe and expensive kerosene lamps. Solar Sister is expanding its operations from Uganda into other communities in rural Africa.

Nom Nom Truck

The food truck industry is booming recently. Co-founders Jennifer Green and Misa Chien met as undergraduates at UCLA, and after graduation they took $25,000 of family money and life savings and rented their first Nom Nom truck. The pair launched their Vietnamese cuisine on the LA scene to a waiting Twitter following. An appearance on The Great Food Truck Race introduced their unique menu to the nation. Nom Nom uses healthy, local ingredients, and eco-friendly products while serving banh mi cuisine to more than 800 people a day in both LA and San Francisco.


Gianna Driver spent part of her childhood living in a women’s shelter with her Filipino mother. At 16, she was the first in her family to go to college (later attending Wharton) which led to a career in commercial insurance. She left the business world behind when she realized that she wanted to empower women like the ones she saw in the shelter growing up. Gianna employs women in India, Laos, Thailand and the Philippines to handcraft accessories and items for home decor. Gianna focuses on fair trade for the severely disadvantaged in rural villages or urban slums. First, she identifies a group that already produces a craft and constructs a business support system aimed at empowering the women and allowing them to achieve independence. Gianna works to preserve both the cultural heritage and the environment, using organic and recycled materials.

Code for America

“Fundamentally, it’s all about helping American cities use web technology to do a better job of providing services to citizens.” Founder Jen Pahlka patterned Code for America after Teach for America, aiming to tackle municipal issues by recruiting the best and brightest coders to focus on specific city issues. Each year the organization accepts applications from both cities and web developers to participate. Teams are matched with cities and specific problems are identified and scoped. The projects run for 11 months, and the goal is to develop web applications that enable cities to engage their residents in ways that reduce administrative costs, move toward transparency and collaboration, and are shareable – which means that an application built for one city can be used by any other city. In a time when city government budgets are being slashed, yet communities need local government to implement important measures to help cities grow, Code for America can be instrumental in helping municipalities move forward.

Alabama Chanin

Yes, we love Natalie Chanin, but she belongs here due to her sustainable focus and benefit to her surrounding communities. Alabama Chanin crafts limited-edition, handmade products for individuals and the home, focusing on slow design and sustainability. Talented artisans from and around Florence, Alabama use new, organic and recycled materials to create unique items.

Women 2.0

Finally, we give a nod to Women 2.0, a new media company that supports and champions women-founded businesses. Founders Shaherose Charania and Angie Chang work to “Inform, inspire and educate a new generation of females that are entrepreneurial and successful.” The business incorporates a blog to give women a voice, events to bring female entrepreneurs together and “enables entrepreneurs with a network, resources and knowledge to take your startup from idea to launch.”

Images: Victor1558, Solar Sister, Alabama Chanin, ThinkPublic, Flavia Brandi, Jek in the box, Gianna, Trey Ratcliff, Tara Hunt

Andrea Newell

Andrea Newell is a Michigan-based writer specializing in corporate social responsibility, women’s issues, and the environment.