For diversifying the toy bin.
Before Avani Modi Sarkar had her daughter, she hardly thought about children's toys at all. Avani and her co-founder brother Viral, both first-time parents, couldn't find any toys on the market that connected to their specific cultural experience. So they started Modi Toys, a children's brand of plush toys and books rooted in the Hindu faith. Since launching in 2018, they've sold nearly 40,000 products across 49 states and 27 countries, including to celebrities Mindy Kaling and Jay Sean.
To demonstrate a real need for these types of toys, Sarkar immersed herself in dozens of Facebook mommy groups worldwide to get mothers' opinions of all backgrounds. The feedback convinced her she was on to something. When she was laid off from her corporate job in September 2020, she decided to give Modi all her focus. "I had my ear to the ground and understood what was driving our customers during the pandemic: As homeschooling became the norm, families began seeking ways to diversify their toy bins and bookshelves. Our toys and books helped make their playrooms more culturally diverse and representative of their family's faith and background."
Her gamble paid off when her first launch, which the founders expected to take six months to sell, sold in three weeks. Several launches later, and Modi Toys has garnered attention as well as awards for Sarkar. The Tory Burch Foundation Fellow and FedEx Small Business Grant winner also hosts virtual discussions to counsel fellow South Asian small businesses.--Teneshia Carr
For making lash extensions easier on the eyes.
Ann McFerran, CEO and founder of Glamnetic, did not plan to become an entrepreneur. Born in Bangkok, Thailand, McFerran immigrated to America at 7 years old with her single mother, and went on to graduate with a degree in psychobiology from UCLA. While growing up, she looked toward makeup as a creative outlet, which made her feel beautiful and confident. McFerran noticed how lashes especially transformed her face, but she was not a fan of the typical glue application, which can be messy and irritating to the eyes. After a year of research into better and safer solutions, in 2019 she founded Glamnetic, which makes and sells fake lashes that adhere to a customer's existing lashes using six magnets. "Lashes have been around for around 100 hundred years with not much innovation, and I wanted to make something different," McFerran says. "Glue is really costly. People are allergic to latex. I knew there was a clear gap, and I became passionate about trying to figure out how to solve it." Her passion has paid off with $50 million in sales in 2020 alone and Glamnetic products stocked in more than 1,000 Ulta locations.--Teneshia Carr
For devising a new way to diagnose respiratory diseases.
Ellington West, CEO and co-founder of Sonavi Labs, comes from a family of incredible minds. She's the daughter of Dr. James West, who owns 250 patents for the production of microphones. And her grandmother was one of the "Hidden Figures" human computers who worked for NASA at Langley Research Center. Ellington West started her career as director of sales at a national health care company but soon saw an opportunity to take the acoustic technology created by her father to market. Her company Sonavi Labs, which she launched in 2017, creates medical devices and software rooted in artificial intelligence to transform the way respiratory diseases and infections are detected and managed. Sonavi's current focus is solving the infant mortality rate related to pneumonia. The company developed a stethoscope that can listen to the sound of a patient's chest and, with the same accuracy as a physician, identify and diagnose that respiratory disease. These breakthroughs have put Sonavi Labs and West in the spotlight. She has been named one of Cartier Women's Initiative's North American Fellows and made history as one of fewer than 100 Black women ever to raise more than $1 million for her startup venture.--Teneshia Carr
For knowing what women want--and delivering it with style.
Chari Cuthbert, CEO and founder of ByChari Jewelry, says she went into the business in 2012 "blindly." "I had to learn quickly going into jewelry--a male-dominated industry, especially on the production side--how to hold my own, ground myself, and figure out what I needed." You wouldn't know that today, judging by the success of the Jamaican founder and her company.
ByChari now does $2 million in annual sales. The brand gained a cult following of celebrity wearers, including Michelle Obama, who wore ByChari's VOTE necklace in 2020 during the First Lady's Democratic National Convention speech. Cuthbert says listening to her customers and asking questions has been the main reason for the growth. "Ask questions, and continue to educate yourself in the industry that you're in, use that information wisely, and you can break barriers," she says. "You can create something that's better than there was before."--Teneshia Carr
For giving business owners a lifeline.
Political leader Stacey Abrams knows what it's like to have a great business idea fail from lack of funding. Along with her co-founder Lara Hodgson, Abrams started Nourish, a line of formula-ready baby bottles prefilled with water. Unable to find the cash to fulfill big orders, Nourish failed to take off. "The impediments we faced getting financing meant that even though we had a great idea, great execution, and actual proof of product, we couldn't translate that into sales because we couldn't get the financing," says the entrepreneur, lawyer, writer, and former legislator. "We failed; we grew to death."
Where many business owners might have seen a door close with Nourish's failure, Abrams saw another one open. Her experience led her in 2010 to start NowAccount, which buys invoices from qualified small businesses so they can get paid right away, rather than wait the sometimes 30 or 60 days it takes to get paid by a customer with an outstanding invoice. NowAccount recently received a $9.5 million investment, which Abrams plans to use to take the platform national.--Teneshia Carr