Founder Profile

Cate Luzio

Luminary

For keeping women connected--and her company in business.

“In March of 2020 we were just 14 months old. Panic around the world set in,” said Cate Luzio, founder and chief executive of Luminary, a networking and professional-advancement hub for women and their business allies. A significant aspect of Luminary was its sweeping Manhattan work-and-meeting space. “I didn’t have the word digital in my business plan,” she said. She didn’t close the business--despite the fact that things looked bleak. Instead, the banking-industry veteran went into survival mode, as much for members as for herself. Within a week, she and her team created a digital platform for events for members. Doing so allowed Luminary to scale its events, coaching, membership, and instruction operations—the company has held 1,500 events virtually, and can now count members from 30 countries. Luzio says she’s been tested thoroughly as a leader and owner over the course of the pandemic--but she’s also seen the time alone and space to think as a gift that’s allowed her to forecast the future more clearly. “My brain is able to focus on what I have to get done today and tomorrow, but also to plan for 2022 and 2023,” she says. “Its helped me shift our plan for growth and for the future.”--Christine Lagorio

Company Information
Year Founded
2018
Location
New York, New York
Industry
The New Girls' Networks
Inc. Honors
Inc. Female Founders
2021
2019

New York City-based Luminary founder and CEO Cate Luzio left her two-decade finance career at the end of 2018 to start Luminary, which differentiates itself from other female-first co-working spaces by emphasizing that membership is open to everyone (no applications; you can be an intern or a CEO), and that men are warmly welcomed in the space. “I had many male mentors,” Luzio says, “and if we're ever going to change all of the statistics we hear about [workplace inequality], we need men as part of the journey.” Since opening in a 15,000-square-foot space this January, Luminary has hosted 150 events and has grown to over 500 members, with 37 percent of members being women of color. --Anna Meyer

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Sasha Plavsic

Ilia Beauty

For stepping on the gas when the world slowed down.

Sasha Plavsic had worked for years to grow her sustainable, natural-beauty brand, Ilia. She’d started with just a small line of credit, courtesy of her father, hoping to get her out of a slump. But she took a leap in 2018, using $3 million in seed funding to bring in a CEO and new game-plan: use the safest of synthetic ingredients to create products that weren’t just pigment--that actually improved skin. It was clean beauty, amplified. A big re-launch in Sephora was ill-timed, though: “We had a big coming out party, front of store. And it was the day the mall shut down in March,” Plavsic, now Ilia’s chief creative officer, says. She took her sales and field teams and repositioned their jobs to online marketing and customer service. “We bought ads, even as other people pulled back,” she says. “We stepped on the gas. It worked.” Most of Ilia’s sales are now in-store--the brand’s best-selling foundation is something individuals match to their skin tone before purchasing. Super Serum Skin Tint, $48, has zinc-based SPF 40, as well as moisturizers that target damage and wrinkles, including hyaluronic acids, plant-based squalane, and niacinamide. It also sells an anti-pollution primer, and talc-free eyeshadows. Plavsic and her team used the pandemic slowdown to hone their giving-back efforts, too: the company partnered with Feeding America, 1 Percent for the Planet and One Tree Planted. “This isn’t just marketing for us; as we grow it’s really important we minimize our impact on the planet,” Plavsic says.--Christine Lagorio

Company Information
Location
Laguna Beach, California
Inc. Honors
Inc. Female Founders
2021

Reshma Saujani

Girls Who Code

For coming up with the audacious plan moms need right now.

Reshma Saujani, the founder of Girls Who Code, has long worked to close the gender gap in technology. But after seeing the exhaustion on the faces of many moms on her team as the pandemic unfolded, she was inspired to use her nonprofit to tackle the broader challenges women face in the workforce. They earn less than men; they get passed over for promotions more than men; and they tend to take on more of the caregiving responsibilities for children and elderly parents. The pandemic made things worse. Census data reveals that as of July 2021, nearly a million fewer mothers were actively working than in July 2020. So, on December 7, 2020, Saujani wrote an op-ed for The Hill asking for paid family leave, affordable child care, and pay equity policies. The following month, the mother of two bought a full-page ad in The New York Times, addressed to President Joe Biden from 50 prominent women, urging him to adopt a Marshall Plan for Moms, so-named for America’s 1948 initiative to invest in rebuilding Europe after World War II. “It’s about getting rid of the motherhood penalty at work—and really reimagining motherhood in America so it works for moms,” Saujani says.--Diana Ransom

Company Information
Location
New York, New York
Inc. Honors
Inc. Female Founders
2021

Devaki Raj

CrowdAI

For giving companies a better software platform, no coding required.

Making a splash at Y Combinator helped CrowdAI, then a geospatial imaging company, land on Inc.’s 30 Under 30 list in 2017. But last year offered a different kind of popularity, says CEO and co-founder Devaki Raj. Demand for CrowdAI’s product, which by then had evolved into a no-code platform to help clients better understand visual data like imagery and streaming videos, had surged. CrowdAI managed to raise a Series A within days of the pandemic's hitting the U.S., while interest in the former Googler’s business drove Raj to double her team—all while the entire staff worked remotely. With the sudden need for social distancing, she says, customers such as factory owners were placing a premium on being able to shut off machinery remotely if CrowdAI spotted something out of the ordinary. And she doesn’t see companies going back from that. “The pandemic is giving them pause to rethink their current workflow,” says Raj. “This is just the beginning. The fact that we’ve been able to morph and expand our reach beyond starting in geospatial to now working with the largest beer manufacturer in the world and the largest roof tile manufacturer in the world, it’s really just a testament to the flexibility of the team, and the tech that we’ve built."--Diana Ransom

Company Information
Location
San Francisco, California
Inc. Honors
Inc. Female Founders
2021

Mary Blackford

Market 7

For helping Black-owned companies tackle food scarcity.

In some neighborhoods within Washington, D.C., residents have as many as 16 grocery stores to choose from. East of the Anacostia River, in the city’s lowest-income wards, 7 and 8, the area’s roughly 150,000 residents have just three full-service grocery stores. To Mary Blackford, the founder of community marketplace Market 7, that’s not just the worst food insecurity, it’s “food apartheid, stemming from a long history of discriminatory practices that have happened in communities of color--particularly Black communities--that have left them economically disenfranchised and unable to support retail.” She’s out to change that. After launching her business in 2017 with a series of pop-up markets in parking lots, she is now developing a 7,000-square-foot food hall that will feature Black-owned vendors. She separately operates a Market 7 space, with products made by Black-owned businesses, within every Whole Foods in the District, plus two in Maryland and one in Virginia. “In my mind, this is only the beginning,” says Blackford. “I would love to help communities all over the country that need access to more food retail that also suffer from food apartheid.”--Diana Ransom

Company Information
Location
Washington , District of Columbia
Inc. Honors
Inc. Female Founders
2021