Female Founders 100: Movement Makers Why sell a product when you can spawn a movement? These entrepreneurs have been strategically brilliant when it comes to getting people to rally around their brand, turning customers into evangelists, and having their business embody a cause bigger than itself.

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Amy Sterner Nelson

The Riveter

Nelson once worked on Wall Street, did a stint on President Obama's national finance committee, and was a corporate litigator. But when she was fund­raising for her first startup last year, an investor questioned whether the mother of three was "physically up" for it. Biases like this, along with post-election galvanizing, were precisely what fueled Nelson to open the Riveter, a Seattle-based co-working space aimed at empowering women entrepreneurs. Since raising $4.75 million earlier this year, the Riveter has expanded to Los Angeles, with outposts planned in Dallas and Denver. While some female- founded co-working spaces cater only to women, 30 percent of Riveter members are male. "If you want to change the future of work for women, you have to include all genders in that conversation," says Nelson. --Michelle Cheng

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Gregg Renfrew

Beautycounter

When Renfrew was getting ready to pitch investors on her toxic-chemical-free beauty brand, she kept hearing one piece of advice: Do not tell them that you want to go to Washington and lobby for stricter regulation of the personal-care industry. She promptly ignored the warning, and managed to raise money anyway. The Santa Monica, California-based company launched in 2013 and employs a Mary Kay-like army of 30,000 independent salespeople. It also has doubled down on growing its other sales channels, including e-commerce, partnerships with retailers like J.Crew and Target, and its own brick-and-mortar stores--the first will open in New York City this fall. Meanwhile, Renfrew has enlisted her army of salespeople to help lobby lawmakers, and recently brought 100 of them with her to Washington. "Rather than win a white Lexus or a pink Cadillac," says Renfrew, "we do incentive trips to come to Capitol Hill." --Tom Foster

Pat McGrath

Pat McGrath Labs

After two decades of transforming runway models for Prada, Gucci, and other high-fashion houses with Swarovski-studded masks and lightning-bolted cheeks, Mother--as those in the industry call the Jamaican-born, British-raised New Yorker--finally unveiled her own makeup line in 2015. Pat McGrath Labs began with a limited-edition metallic "dust" that sold out, online, within six minutes. Three years later, the brand is doing $60 million a year in sales, and, after a July investment by Eurazeo Brands, has a valuation that tops $1 billion. --Kevin J. Ryan

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Reese Witherspoon

Hello Sunshine/Draper James

Every year seems like Witherspoon's year, but the past few set records. In 2016, she launched Hello Sunshine, a new storytelling vehicle that aims to change the narrative around women--then went on to produce, star in, and win Emmys for HBO's Big Little Lies while running her fashion and homewares brand, Draper James. Whether it's through Hulu and Apple TV--she's locked in development deals with both--her own on-demand TV channel, or her book club rivaling Oprah's, Witherspoon is channeling her smarts and financial power to fix the gender imbalance in entertainment. --T.F.

CREDIT: Courtesy company

Sarah Leary

Nextdoor

"Twenty-nine percent of Americans can't name a few of their neighbors, and 28 percent can't name a single one," says Leary, co-founder of Nextdoor. "It costs us in terms of public health, in test scores, in crime." Her mission is to change that: The networks created on Nextdoor help people find babysitters, share tips, stay safe during big storms, and buy, borrow, and sell their stuff. Scaling such a necessarily intimate enterprise takes big bucks: Leary and her co-founders have raised $285 million, with a valuation well north of a billion. Nextdoor is now rolling out in Europe, with 180,000 U.S. neighborhoods already on board. --Kimberly Weisul

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Emma Mcilroy

Wildfang

Soon after launching her tomboy apparel company, Mcilroy got an introduction to Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh. She flew to Vegas to meet Hsieh for lunch, and he asked, "If I had a magic wand, what could I do for you?" Mcilroy, unprepared, babbled something about wanting to work with his head of operations and customer service. "When I got home I was like, 'Fuck! I did not do that question justice,' " says Mcilroy, who had previously worked at Nike with her co-founder, Julia Parsley. She more than salvaged the conversation--eventually getting Hsieh to invest twice in her Portland, Oregon-based company--but she's also since built a brand imbued with social justice. Mcilroy, who is queer, vocally pro-choice, and pro-immigration, animates her six-year-old company's product line with these tenets. "It's so much more than just money," she says of running a mission-based retailer that's developed a cult following among celebs including Miley Cyrus and Evan Rachel Wood. "You have to live and breathe it in every facet of your business." --Hannah Wallace

Meika Hollender

Sustain Natural

For the first four years of Hollender's no frills, female-focused sexual health startup, it was all about condoms. But 2017 marked a significant expansion in the company's "vagina-friendly" portfolio, with new product lines including organic tampons and pads, and, as of August, Thinx-style period undies. Hollender was able to move so swiftly, in part, because her co-founder and father, Jeffrey, started Seventh Generation. "We had the experience in this space and relationships with manufacturers, so we were able to bring these products to market quickly," says Meika, noting that condoms are still 50 percent of the company's sales, which have increased 300 percent in the past year. --Jemima McEvoy

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Anya Fernald

Belcampo

Before founding Belcampo in 2012, Fernald was a serial entrepreneur and food business consultant, working with Sicilian cheesemakers, major hospital networks, the USDA, and Alice Waters's 2008 Slow Food Nation festival. After the festival's success, she decided to step back from social-impact businesses, "hang out for a while, look at what was happening, and figure out what my big play was going to be--and it ended up being Belcampo." The company's Northern California farm and butchery is vertically integrated, certified organic, and Animal Welfare Approved. Belcampo also runs seven restaurants, a burgeoning e-commerce site, and wholesale businesses, along with a hospitality arm that includes "Meat Camps," where wellness-minded participants learn to butcher and cook meat. Fernald predicts revenue of $20 million to $30 million this year, and 2019 will be a new chapter of expansion: A box-subscription service for meat, bone broth, and jerky is in the works, and a new restaurant and butcher shop will open soon in New York City. Fernald has her eye on Washington, D.C., Atlanta, and Boston next--but don't think Belcampo will be the next Chipotle. "We're not going to open a hundred restaurants, ever." --Sophie Downes

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Fran Dunaway

TomboyX

Peek at TomboyX's ads, and you'd be hard-pressed to find anyone even wearing a shirt--let alone a Robert Graham-style button-down shirt that first drove Dunaway to start the company with her wife, Naomi Gonzalez. That's because in 2014, the year after Dunaway launched TomboyX to bring cool shirts, belts, shoes, and hats to a gender-neutral market, she realized that the boxer briefs were what women actually wanted. "We sold out in two weeks--and the interest didn't die down," she says. Rather than fight the frenzy over gender-neutral skivvies, TomboyX leaned in it: By late 2015, the company had stripped the site of everything else to focus on underwear (and, later, loungewear and swimwear). Diversity and inclusion became sewn into every strategy of the duo, from offering all items in sizes XS to 4XL to filling ad campaigns with a spectrum of body sizes, shapes, skin tones, and gender expressions. Last year, the Seattle-based company hit $5.4 million in sales--a 2,049 percent growth rate over three years. And in August, the company announced it had raised another $4.3 million, bringing total investments to $6.3 million. --Kate Rockwood

Ayah Bdeir

LittleBits

When Bdeir built the first prototype of littleBits, and co-workers at the design firm where she worked would spot it on her desk and ask where they could buy one for their kids, she knew she was on to something. Eight years later, the devices are in 20,000 schools and about 70 countries. Essentially electronic building blocks, littleBits encourage elementary school-aged kids to invent whatever they'd like. Bdeir has secured $65 million in funding and has partnerships with the National Parent Teacher Association and education giant Pearson. In August, the New York City-based company completed its first acquisition, buying educational content company DIY for an undisclosed sum. Bdeir hopes her product can get more girls interested in the fields of science, technology, engineering, and math. So far, it seems to be working: Nearly 40 percent of the kids who use littleBits are girls. "We want all kids to feel like they have the power to invent the world they want to live in," says Bdeir. 

--K.J.R.

CREDIT: Sharon Suh

Moj Mahdara

Beautycon Media

Mahdara does not wear makeup, so when she heard about Beautycon--a small invite-only gathering of beauty bloggers at YouTube's Los Angeles headquarters--it was hardly the obvious choice for her next gig. But having built and sold her own digital strategy firm, Mahdara, 40, knew that the beauty world lacked a truly experiential retail event. In 2014, she took over as Beautycon's CEO and majority shareholder and began transforming it into the "Super Bowl of the beauty industry." With an emphasis on embracing diversity, Beautycon has become much more than one of the beauty world's largest conventions: Beautycon Digital distributes content to more than five million global viewers each month, and Beautycon Shop serves as a marketplace for the company's retail partners. The company has reportedly raised $20 million, including $6 million from the New Voices Fund, which specifically invests in businesses run by women of color. "I am constantly evaluating how I communicate and how I can be a better leader," says Mahdara. "It's hard to hold yourself accountable, but it's the only way to grow." --Tim Crino

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Polina Veksler

Universal Standard

When the founders of SoulCycle, Toms, Allbirds, Sweetgreen, and Goop invest in your brand, you know you're doing something right. Veksler knew from the start that launching Universal Standard with her business partner, Alexandra Waldman, was the right thing to do. After learning of Waldman's long-time dream of starting a clothing brand to address the scarcity of plus-size options for women, Veksler's eyes were opened to what she calls "the rift between the 'haves' and the 'have nots' of the fashion world." In 2015, the two friends set up shop in Waldman's Manhattan apartment, leaving their jobs in finance and marketing to reimagine what plus-size fashion can and should be: one-of-a-kind items specifically designed for plus-size bodies. Since then, expansion has been a common theme for Veksler--in addition to growing Universal Standard at a rate of 200 percent, she's added two children to her family, and grown her own worldview exponentially. --T.C.

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Limor Fried

Adafruit Industries

Fried is determined to get the masses soldering, coding, and generally hacking their way to DIY glory. Her company, Adafruit Industries, uses its website to sell kits for all kinds of STEM projects, from LED-powered sequins to a camera board for the Raspberry Pi. Founded in 2005 and named after Ada Lovelace--the daughter of Lord Byron and the first-ever computer programmer--Adafruit now has more than 100 employees and about $46 million in revenue. It's shipped a total of about 1.8 million orders, without ever taking any outside investment. --K.W.

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Nichole Mustard

Credit Karma

As co-founder and chief revenue officer of Credit Karma, Mustard helped create one of the most highly valued startups in the country. Her 12-year-old personal finance site provides free credit scores and earns referral fees by recommending credit cards, loans, and other financial products. The San Francisco company, co-founded by CEO Ken Lin and chief technology officer Ryan Graciano, has been valued at $4 billion and has $682 million in annual revenue. Mustard, who oversees partnerships and international expansion, is regularly on the go; in Credit Karma's early days, she spent more than a third of the year on the road, drumming up business. She's also a mother of four children under 15--three of whom were born after she started her company. "We didn't want to slow down the family and we didn't want to slow down with the work," she recalls. "There's never a perfect time, right?" --Maria Aspan

Brené Brown

Brené Brown Education and Research Group

Social worker. PhD. Ted-talk speaker. Best-selling author. And founder and CEO. Brown has spent the past five years trying to build a sustainable, satisfying consulting business out of her cult of celebrity--and her work as a leadership adviser to big organizations, including Pixar, IBM, Nutanix, and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. After shutting down some successful products, making others nonprofit, and tying her operations more closely to her best-selling books, Brown is ready for the next business challenge: focusing on what she does, and doesn't, want to spend her time doing. "When I first started, I didn't say no to anything, because I wanted to prove I could do it," she says. Now she's ready to "say no to a lot of things, and get really clear on who I want to be." --M.A.

CREDIT: Courtesy company

Ruthie Schulder

The Participation Agency

Few branding wizards would have the gumption to launch a 3,500-square-foot event space along a nondescript stretch of road well outside of a major city center, let alone several. But in the past year, that's just what Schulder did in El Paso, Jersey City, New Jersey, and Asbury Park, New Jersey. The point, says the marketer, who founded the Participation Agency in 2011, is to attract musicians and artists from across the country and get them to engage with communities that have been largely absent from the national conversation. The activation, which at the outset didn't have a single sponsor--though giant brands and companies like West Elm and Califia Farms soon came knocking--was both a product of the 2016 election and changes to the marketing world more generally. "Marketing in the major markets only makes sense before Instagram," says Schulder. Now, she says, brands must do a better job engaging with Americans outside of major metro areas. "Your biggest consumers are not necessarily in New York, L.A., Miami, or Chicago," says Schulder. "Brands should really go where these people are." --M.C.

CREDIT: Courtesy company

Katie Forrest

Epic Provisions

The former vegan and her husband, Taylor Collins, sold their three-year-old meat snack company to food behemoth General Mills in 2016 for a reported $100 million, but according to Forrest, they're only getting started. Since then, Forrest has been working to scale Epic's regenerative agriculture practices throughout her new parent company's other brands and suppliers. The couple is also using their recently purchased 900 acres of ranch land located 60 miles west of Austin as a laboratory for pushing big food to adopt healthier practices. "When I think about our role within General Mills, it goes way beyond the product itself. It's about the mission," Forrest says. "The way that our agriculture system works, we're not going to be able to produce food with any nutrient value if we don't change what we're doing. If Cheerios could do cover crops or if Nature Valley could incorporate regenerative practices, those two brands alone could change the direction of modern-day agriculture." --Danielle Sacks

Published on: Oct 4, 2018