For understanding how we really want to work out
It’s safe to say that Brynn Putnam, a former professional ballerina and the founder of Refine, a group of three fitness clubs in New York City, knows a thing or two about exercise. But, after having a baby, she found herself in an unthinkable position: she was a gym owner with no time to go to the gym. Putnam also noticed her Refine members loved it when she installed more mirrors, something Putnam had been used to as a ballerina. Putnam hooked up a Raspberry Pi computer to a mirror to create a hacked-together mirror-slash-fitness instructor. Many iterations later, that product became Mirror, which streams fitness classes and is second only to Peloton as the breakout fitness product of the pandemic. Retailing at $1,495 plus subscription fees of $39 a month for on-demand classes, Mirror is not for everyone. In July, though, Lululemon decided it definitely was for them, and purchased the company for $500 million. –Gabrielle Bienasz
Walker-Miller Energy Services
For making an energy services company a tool for social justice
In Michigan, where the current minimum wage is $9.65 an hour, Carla Walker-Miller took a stand in 2018 when she began hiring workers at a minimum of $15 an hour. She didn’t stop there: She adopted a policy where people with criminal records are still fairly considered for employment. “I believe in modeling decisions that put the team first,” says Walker-Miller. “That way, everyone from the receptionist to the security guard to your customer experience manager knows that you’re invested in them, and they’ll put that same investment in you and your company.”
Walker-Miller Energy Services was initially founded in 2000 to be an energy product supplier, but grew to focus on energy efficiency for residential and commercial clients after Michigan passed 2009 legislation requiring better efficiency in energy use. Walker-Miller’s company landed on the Inc. 5000 list of the fastest-growing private companies for five of the years between 2007 and 2016. – Anna Meyer
For introducing term sheets that make it easier for founders to get rid of harrassing investors
Carolyn Rodz is no stranger to entrepreneurship: She’s started two digital marketing businesses (one successful, one less so) and ran a luxury retail copmany. More recently, she launched a virtual accelerator aimed at women and people of color, then teamed up with fellow entrepreneur Elizabeth Gore to evolve that program into Hello Alice, a learning platform for under-represented founders. The platform has partners including eBay and PepsiCo and is free to entrepreneurs.
The partnership between Rodz and Gore has been key to the success of Hello Alice: Rodz and her family moved in with Gore and her family in the Bay Area – so four kids total -- to get Hello Alice off the ground. When Rodz’ dad died right before Hello Alice launched, Gore jumped in, and Rodz took over when Gore’s mom was diagnosed with cancer. And when possible, they’re looking out for their larger community of entrepreneurs. When Hello Alice raised its most recent round of funding, it designed legal language to make it easier to get rid of investors who turn out to be harassers or assaulters – and is making that language available to other founders, too. –Gabrielle Bienasz
For reimagining the gyno visit
In her early 20s, Carloyn Witte she had set of frustrating healthcare issues that showed her just how depersonalized and fragmented our healthcare system has become. That experience became the inspiration for Tia, which is a reimagining of what healthcare would be like, work like, and feel like if it were designed with women at the heart of it.
Tia started as a digital platform with a pre- and post-doctor's office tool, and has evolved into something more comprehensive. Last year, Tia launched its first physical clinic in New York, which now includes 15 physicians, physician assistants, registered nurses, therapists, and other treatment providers. The shelter-in-place order forced the clinic to close its doors, but Tia very quickly pivoted into telehealth and virtual services. Witte's goal is to eventually open offices in other cities around the country, delivering integrated women's healthcare that includes gynecology, primary care, behavioral health, and acupuncture.
Despite recently raising $24 million, Witte says funding is secondary to creating the right product. "Female founders and getting funded is very much in the spotlight right now for a good reason, but I think sometimes there's a little bit too much focus on the raising money part and not enough focus on building a product and getting product-market fit.” That fit, she says, is “the best thing women can do to get funded."
Because you shouldn't have to worry about what's in your fragrance and skincare products
Los Angeles-based Skylar, founded by Cat Chen, is a clean fragrance and personal care brand started three years ago. Her infant daughter's allergic reaction to a perfume she was wearing inspired Chen to go on a mission to find a 'clean' fragrance, only to discover there weren't any on the market.
Before Skylar, Chen worked at the Honest Company, Jessica Alba's clean baby products company, which gave her an insight into clean products and ingredients. Chen left Honest and bootstrapped Skylar from the ground up. Her goal was to create something designed for people with sensitivity but made for and available to everybody.
Skylar saw success early on, when only a few months into the business, Sephora reached out and expressed interest in launching the brand. “Because I bootstrapped my company, I was almost forced to stay close to [my customers],” says Chen. “I packed all my packages and made all my products. I answered all my emails. I answered comments on social media. I had to because I had to do everything. Through that process, I was able to iterate really fast because I got customer feedback really fast."
It’s paying off. A year and a half later, Skylar is found in 300 Sephora stores throughout the US and Canada. Last year also saw Skylar’s first investment from Kara Nortman of Upfront Ventures. Now, all of Chen’s significant investors and her board are women.