Any aspiring professional, whether entrepreneur or not, can learn from the leading, most influential and trending entrepreneurs of our time. When it comes to female entrepreneurs, they're blazing trails and helping women become powerhouses, from achieving CEO status to starting their own successful businesses.
Here are 20 top female entrepreneurs you can learn from--no matter your gender or professional goals.
1. Claire Parr, co-founder of "Live in the Vineyard" in Napa, CA: This event is a mega combination of music, marketing, local businesses, wine makers, chefs, radio programmers and corporate attendees as well as general Napa Valley supporters. Running for over eight years, the 17th installment was in April. Parr grew up in a musical family, is the third generation in the industry, and began her career as a sound engineer. After seven years as VP of Curb Records, she spent the next 14 years running The Navigator Company, a consulting firm. She says, "Overcoming obstacles in business is directly related to overcoming obstacles in your life and applying absolute integrity, passion and a sense of humor is everything in succeeding in a tough world."
2. Sarah Blakely, founder of Spanx: Dubbed one of the wealthiest self-made women in business, Blakely has a fortune of over $1 billion and it's all thanks to what began as a free invention. Frustrated with the undergarments of the time, she began snipping at pantyhose to create what has become women's go-to support hosiery of the era. Now offering jeans and yoga, she's maintained a privately owned company. "Don't be intimidated by what you don't know," she says.
4. Lori Greiner, "Shark Tank" investor and QVC Host: Most people recognize Greiner and know about her countless patents. She's a co-host on Shark Tank and has hosted a QVC show since 1998. Also a product development and marketing guru based out of Chicago, Greiner is an institution. She says, "Dear optimist, pessimist and realist: While you guys were busy arguing about the glass of wine, I drank it!"
5. Mary Kay Ash, founder of Mary Kay Cosmetics: Arguably the first famous female entrepreneur, she founded the company in 1963 although her entrepreneurial spirit was evident years before. First, she joined the Stanley Home direct sales team in the 30s as a way of making pocket money, but it became her full-time career in 1939. Having to raise and support three children on her own after her husband left (and following the death of her second), she said, "Aerodynamically the bumblebee shouldn't be able to fly, but the bumblebee doesn't know that so it goes on flying anyway."
6. Eileen Fisher, fashion designer: You probably have at least one Fisher piece in your wardrobe. The designer says, "Life fulfilling work is never about the money. When you feel true passion for something, you instinctively find ways to nurture it." That's what led to her eco-friendly, organic fashion line established in 1984. Today, there are more than 60 stores and over 1,000 employees. She's long been a supporter of placing herself first, and encourages other women to do the same.
7. Andres Jung, President of Grameen America: Also the former CEO of Avon, she moved on to manage a microfinance group that was established by a Nobel Peace Prize winning microlender. The non-profit serves the country's poorest communities, including some borrowers who are Avon sales reps. Jung says, "My parents ingrained in me early on that the perfect score is always something to strive for. I want to win and I want to succeed no matter what."
8. Tanecia Williams, co-founder of Simply Panache: This national event planning company specializes in customized parties and corporate events. Founded by three women, the event planners became famous for their gourmet mango preserves. Used to make everything from Mango Cream Cheese fruit dip to vinaigrettes, clients fell in love with the preserves so much that they're now the biggest seller. Williams adores the product herself, saying, "I gotta keep them on hand for those airport Chick-fil-A biscuits! I love the preserves so much, I'm not quite sure which recipe I would consider my favorite."
9. Sheryl Sandberg (who needs no introduction): No female entrepreneurial list is complete without the mention of Facebook's COO and the author of "Lean In." She's inspiring, courageous, and encourages women to achieve, dream and succeed. "I want option A," she famously said about her struggle with acceptance. Even in the face of great loss, including the death of her husband, she continues to be a pillar and model of excellence to women.
10. Mellody Hobson, Ariel Investments: Famous in the finance industry, Hobson is president of Ariel Investments and a chairwoman at DreamWorks Animation. She's used to discomfort and is a voice for diversity and acceptance. "Invite people into your life that don't look or think like you," she urges. "If we can learn to deal with our discomfort and just relax into it, we'll have a better life."
11. Bobbii Hach-Jacobs, co-founder of "Live in the Vineyard": Hach-Jacobs is the other half of this festival, and she comes with nearly 30 years of musical promotion experience. Her expertise is breaking artists into the industry by getting them on the radio. The goal of Live in the Vineyard was getting creative folks to be more open via technology and marrying music to food, wine and a lifestyle. Only 850 tickets are given away for the event similar to Willy Wonka's Golden Tickets. Radio station promotions and sweepstakes are touted by sponsors including Southwest and Aloft Hotels, but you have to win to get in. A small amount of proceeds go directly to charity including Kidd's Kid's and City of Hope.
12. Barbara Corcoran, real estate tycoon: Another "Shark Tank: favorite, Corcoran has always been quick to share her rags to riches story. She got all Ds in college and high school, yet went on to create one of New York's largest real estate firms with just $1,000 in seed money back in 1973. Later, she sold it for $60 million and is now the founder of Barbara Corcoran Venture Partners. "The difference between unsuccessful people and others is how long they spend time feeling sorry for themselves," she says.
13. Melinda Gates, co-founder of the Gates Foundation: Both of the famous Gates are known for their entrepreneurial drive and philanthropy. Formerly, she was GM of information products at Microsoft, and she's gone on to lead one of the most impressive foundations in the country. The Gates Foundation has many arms, including prioritizing education and global health. She says, "If you are successful, it is because somewhere, sometimes, someone gave you a life or an idea that started you in the right direction."
14. Arianna Huffington of The Huffington Post: Inspiring bloggers around the world, Huffington has remained editor in chief of The Huffington Post for years and is currently signed on through 2019. She's fast to share her trials with fellow journalists in training, including her talks at Sarah Lawrence College. She notes, "We need to accept that we won't always make the right decisions, that we'll screw up royally sometimes--understanding that failure is not the opposite of success, it's part of success" is critical.
15. Raven Thomas, founder of The Painted Pretzel: Thomas took her gourmet dipped pretzels to star status by combining a strong business sense with high quality ingredients. What began in a tiny kitchen and a side gig for a stay at home mom has exploded into a confectionary success. Products are found in high-end retailers around the country, and it's impossible to resist the temptations. They're addictive, and Thomas credits determination and passion with her success.
16. Minnie Ingersoll, founder of Shift: Along with a motley crew of Google alums, Ingersoll founded Shift after graduating from both Stanford and Harvard Business School. She spend over a decade with Google before taking what she'd learned and branching out to find her own success. The company has secured over $73 million in funding, including the whopping $50 million from Goldman Sachs. Surrounding yourself with the right contacts and support has been key for Ingersoll's achievements.
17. Melody McCloskey, founder of StyleSeat: A former manager of CurrentTC, McCloskey followed her passion when establishing StyleSeat, using her previous experience in tech and marketing to skyrocket the company to a fast success. It helps independent stylists connect with potential clients, offering a platform never seen before in the beauty industry. With nearly $40 million in venture capital, McCloskey credits building a business based on her interests and skills with her climb to the top.
18. Katelyn Gleason, founder of Eligible: If you've had trouble connecting to your health insurer, Eligible is the solution that's revolutionizing how we link up with previously impossible to pin down agents. Based in Brooklyn, Gleason has headed a startup that has quietly but wildly successfully closed the gap between customer and insurance companies. If you haven't heard of it, you will soon. A large Series A funding round was just closed earlier this year.
19. Debbie Fields, founder of Mrs. Fields: Everyone loves Mrs. Fields, and with good reason! The founder of the insanely popular cookie company says, "What I wanted was to be allowed to do the thing in the world that I did best, which I believed then and believe now is the greatest privilege there is. When I did that, success found me." She didn't compromise, and remains one of the most successful commercial bakers of the century.
20. Jenny Craig, founder of Jenny Craig: No other weight management guru has sustained success over the ups and downs of such a volatile industry. Jenny Craig, the founder and company, are skilled at adapting. "My husband always tells me that I'm the most unrelenting person he's ever met, and it's true," she says. "If I made a commitment to something, I will stick to it no matter what." This advice is critical for both business and health management.
In many cases, the fact that these entrepreneurs are female doesn't matter--they're experts at what they do and inspiring to all. Everyone can learn from the pitfalls, trials and achievements of the top leading female entrepreneurs of our time. Why reinvent the wheel when someone else has already offered a great foundation for you?