Founder Profile

2021 Female Founders 100

Introducing the Top Women Entrepreneurs of the Year

Meet the leaders, the fighters, and the trail blazers you should be watching now.

Phyllis Newhouse (L) of Xtreme Solutions, ShoulderUp, and Athena Technology Acquisition Corp; Stacey Abrams of NowAccount Photograph by Kennedi Carter
Inc. Honors
Inc. Female Founders
2021

Tammy Hsu

Huue

For detoxifying the denim industry.

Most mass-market denim brands rely on petroleum-based dyes and other nasty chemicals like formaldehyde and hydrogen cyanide—which are both polluting and carcinogenic. In China, rivers near denim mills run blue with chemicals, which kill fish and cause rashes and lesions in residents who swim in the waters. Seeking a greener solution, Hsu, 30, and her co-founder Michelle Zhu, 28, launched Huue in 2019. Hsu, who is Huue’s chief science officer, makes the company’s mind-blowing technology sound simple. She and her team of scientists look at, say, indigo plants and study how they create the indigo dye molecule. “Then we take that recipe—the genetic information—and we instruct our microbes to make indigo the same way.” The microbes, which the company grows in enormous, thousand-liter vats, thus become indigo excreters, resulting in a consistent, high-quality indigo that doesn’t rely on the toxic chemicals typically used in denim manufacturing. Crucially, the technology is scalable. The promise is a natural-but-synthetic indigo supply that could transform the denim industry and bring greener jeans to consumers. Huue’s team of eight color and textile scientists is also working to create a catalog of other dyes and colorants. Graduates of the Bay Area biotech accelerator IndieBio, Hsu and Zhu received $4 million in venture capital from Melinda Gates’s Pivotal Ventures Fund, Microsoft’s M12 fund, and the Mayfield Fund. They were also listed on global venture capital firm SOSV’s 2021 ClimateTech 100. But the true heroes of this startup are the microbes, or, as they like to call them, “nature’s most powerful manufacturers.”--Hannah Wallace

Company Information
Location
Oakland, California
Inc. Honors
Inc. Female Founders
2021

Michelle Zhu

Huue

For detoxifying the denim industry.

Most mass-market denim brands rely on petroleum-based dyes and other nasty chemicals like formaldehyde and hydrogen cyanide. “Not only are most fast-fashion jeans made of fossil fuels,” Zhu says, “but other toxic ingredients are polluting to the planet and carcinogenic.” In China, rivers near denim mills run blue with chemicals, which kill fish and cause rashes and lesions in residents who swim in the waters. Seeking a greener solution, Zhu, 28, and her co-founder Tammy Hsu, 30, launched Huue in 2019. Their scientists take indigo plants and study how they create the indigo dye molecule. Then they take that recipe—the genetic information—and instruct their microbes to make indigo the same way. The microbes, which the company grows in enormous, thousand-liter vats, thus become indigo excreters, resulting in a consistent, high-quality indigo that doesn’t rely on the toxic chemicals typically used in denim manufacturing. Crucially, the technology is scalable. The promise is a natural-but-synthetic indigo supply that could transform the denim industry and bring greener jeans to consumers. Huue’s team of eight color and textile scientists is also working to create a catalog of other dyes and colorants. Graduates of the Bay Area biotech accelerator IndieBio, Zhu and Hsu received $4 million in venture capital from Melinda Gates’s Pivotal Ventures Fund, Microsoft’s M12 fund, and the Mayfield Fund. They were also listed on global venture capital firm SOSV’s 2021 ClimateTech 100. But the true heroes of this startup are the microbes. “We call them nature's most powerful manufacturers,” laughs Zhu. “They can multiply rapidly, and we can harness them for great use.”--Hannah Wallace

Company Information
Location
Oakland, California
Inc. Honors
Inc. Female Founders
2021

Adriene Mishler

Yoga with Adriene

For helping the stressed-out masses find what feels good.

With over 10 million subscribers, the 36-year-old founder and star of Yoga With Adriene is now the most popular yoga teacher on YouTube. Mishler, goofy and lovable—and usually in the company of her blue heeler Benji—offers hundreds of yoga classes for every possible predicament, from Yoga for After a Disaster to Yoga for Text Neck. During the pandemic, with yoga studios and gyms across the world closed indefinitely, she has gained thousands of new subscribers every day, with the total growing by over four million between March 2020 and now. She seems a bit dazed by the success. In a recent interview with British comedian Russell Brand, she said, "I see a lot of yoga businesses and beautiful teachers that I dig, but it’s almost like the community is a branch of the business. Versus for us. Chris [her business partner] and I woke up one day and were like ‘Oh, man, we have a business. We need to open a bank account!’” But don’t underestimate her business savvy. She charges $10 a month for access to premium content at her Find What Feels Good site, where she also sells apparel (Benji T-shirts, tote bags). But she never flogs her wares in her newsletter or social media.--Hannah Wallace

Company Information
Location
Austin, Texas
Inc. Honors
Inc. Female Founders
2021

Jaclyn Fu

Pepper

For making small-chested women look and feel beautiful.

When Jaclyn Fu and her co-founder Lia Winograd launched Pepper, a bra company for small-chested women, on Kickstarter in 2016, they knew they had a winning idea. “Our goal was $10,000,” Fu says. “We had about 1,000 people on the waitlist before we even launched the Kickstarter.” They met their goal in the first 10 hours. Within 13 days, they had raised $50,000. They officially launched the company in 2018. The Denver-based startup found its audience quickly: It grew 400 percent from 2019 to 2020. Fu thinks the pandemic has helped their growth because people’s shopping habits have shifted so dramatically and everyone wants comfy clothes. But they also at one point had a captive audience for their YouTube and social media ad campaigns. "Everyone was home, scrolling through Instagram,” Fu says. Last year, as Black Lives Matter protests raged across the country, they launched a Startup Grant for Black Women—a $5,000 award to a Black woman founder—and they’re making it an annual commitment. This year, for Pride Month, they donated $10,000 to For the Gworls to support Black trans people. They also put trans women front and center on their website—the Pepper homepage featured trans models and their Instagram was full of first-person accounts by trans women. And, like small-chested cis women, trans women are excited about the bras—which are sexy, comfortable, and for cup sizes AA to B only. This year, in addition to new fall colors, they’ll be launching their first strapless bra and a mesh underwear collection.--Hannah Wallace

Company Information
Location
Denver, Colorado
Inc. Honors
Inc. Female Founders
2021