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Breaking Barriers: 3 Famous Female Entrepreneurs

In the last decade, we have seen some inspirational stories of women business owners whose wit, hard work, and dedication has pushed them and their companies to inspiring highs.

Alycia Harris
Alycia Harris

Content Marketing Manager

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Women have historically faced many barriers to entry into entrepreneurship. The “glass ceiling” effect has worked for decades to make entrepreneurship systemically tough for women. 

According to the Center for Women's Business Research, female entrepreneurs generate $2.3 trillion to the American economy and employ more than 18 million people. In the US, women account for 31% of small businesses or franchises.

In the last decade, we have seen some inspirational stories of women business owners whose wit, hard work, and dedication has pushed them and their companies to inspiring highs. Here are the stories of 3 inspiring female entrepreneurs who have built incredible and powerful businesses. 

1. Melanie Perkins: Canva

How a young female entrepreneur turned a yearbook design tool into a $6 billion dollar business

Business: Online Graphic Design Tool

Founded: 2012

Melanie Perkins started working on what became Canva in 2007 from her mom’s living room in Perth, Western Australia.  She noticed a gap in the graphic design market, where designing a yearbook took work across multiple platforms that took a long time and great skill to master like Adobe and Microsoft design software. This all seemed cumbersome in the digital age. Why wasn’t there a way to do all this design in one place with one online tool?

She designed the online collaborative graphic design tool, Canva, as an easier solution to big design tools that take years to master. But she was missing something: funding. 

​In 2011, Perkins pitched Canva to prominent investor Bill Tai over dinner. The idea fascinated Bill, even though Perkins didn’t think he was interested. “He was on his phone, and I thought that meant he wasn’t really engaged in what I had to say about the future of publishing,” she said. It turned out he was on his phone starting to connect Melanie with his network.

This started the wave of interested investors helping to grow what is now the online design empire, Canva. Today, Canva now has almost 3 billion designs and has been backed by Woody Harrelson and Owen Wilson. The company currently has a valuation of $15 billion.

2. Blavity: Morgan DeBaun

How Morgan DeBaun made waves in Silicon Valley with her media platform for black millennials

Founded: 2014

Business: Online media platform for black millennials

Blavity’s founder Morgan DeBaun has a backstory beyond inspirational. Morgan graduated at the top of her class at Washington University in St. Louis. She was quickly hired at Intuit in Silicon Valley where she swiftly made herself known in the tech space. 

After securing a job at Intuit in Silicon Valley, she began feeling isolated as a woman of color in a space with a major lack of diversity. This pushed her to focus on her own vision, with her company Blavity. Morgan built an influential media empire reaching one of the most powerful yet overlooked groups—Black millennials. Morgan grew up in a deeply divided neighborhood in St. Louis, and she learned from a young age to navigate different socioeconomic backgrounds in a predominantly affluent white neighborhood as a woman of color. 

"We needed a place, a platform, and a media brand that could speak to our stories as part of the young, black creative culture,” DeBaun said.

Over the past five years, Blavity built a group of five massive media sites covering news, technology, travel, entertainment and women’s wellness. 

Debaun also leads two major SF conferences: AfroTech, for black innovators in technology; and 21Ninety, a gathering for women’s health and wellness. 

Blavity raised a $6.5 million Series A round in 2018. This became a catalyst for Blavity to ramp up ads on its site, and they began to see massive growth. DeBaun continues her mission to inspire and empower young black millennials through her media empire.

3. Emily Weiss: Glossier

How Emily Weiss went from a fashion intern to running a 2 billion dollar makeup brand inspired by natural beauty

Founded: 2012

Business: Makeup and beauty.

Glossier all started with a beauty and fashion blog that Emily Weiss ran from her apartment in 2010 as a hobby. It was called “Into the Gloss”, and its purpose was to celebrate beauty as part of women’s routines and their overall expression.

Weiss moved to New York to study art and interned at Teen Vogue. This is where her love for beauty and fashion began.

Glossier is a groundbreaking socially-driven beauty brand. It’s one of the first makeup brands with a massive social following and social promotion model. Glossier capitalizes on social media by directly selling to customers through Instagram. Each Glossier customer is her own expert and the author of her own expression.

Glossier empowers and enables young women to forgo the beauty standard that the makeup industry has developed for decades: full face, sexualized, and heavily-altered. Glossier teaches women and girls to embrace their natural beauty.  

When Weiss was searching for investors to springboard her first products, she got a lot of pushback. Out of the 12 venture capital firms she visited, Weiss was turned down by 11.

She finally scored an investment from venture capitalist Kirsten Green and in 2014 began building the business. 

As of July 2021, a Series E worth $83 million brings the total amount raised to $266 million. Glossier continues to grow, with 2.7 million followers, and continues to inspire women to embrace their unique beauty traits, highlighting their flaws instead of covering them up.

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