Founder Profile

Ellington West

Sonavi Labs

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

Company Information
Location
Baltimore, Maryland
Inc. Honors
Inc. Female Founders
2021

Chari Cuthbert

ByChari

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

Company Information
Location
Los Angeles, California
Inc. Honors
Inc. Female Founders
2021

Stacey Abrams

NowAccount

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

Company Information
Location
Atlanta, Georgia
Inc. Honors
Inc. Female Founders
2021

Viola Davis

Shoulder Up

For boosting the odds for more women.

Viola Davis, known for her brilliant acting and advocacy for equal rights for women of color, is also a successful entrepreneur. Along with her husband, Julius Tennon, Davis co-founded JuVee Productions, which currently has two television projects and three films in development with Amazon Studios. Her newest company, ShoulderUp, launched with co-founder Phyllis Newhouse in 2019, aims to mentor, connect, and support other women who want to bring about positive change in their lives and businesses. The company's investment arm, ShoulderUp Ventures, specifically backs women-led media, tech, and sports entertainment companies. "It is vital right now that we take this opportunity to understand what we are going to do with the baton that we have--literally we have the power to change history," Davis says.--Teneshia Carr

Company Information
Location
Atlanta, Georgia
Inc. Honors
Inc. Female Founders
2021

Jennifer Martin

Pipsnacks

For feeding America's snack addiction with bettter-for-you products.

Jennifer Martin, the co-founder of Pipsnacks, grew up with an autoimmune disease and many food sensitivities. As much as she enjoyed popcorn, she couldn't eat it until she was a college student, when a farmer showed up at the health food store she was working in with the small kernels that changed her life "I tried them and could 100 percent eat them. It didn't hurt my stomach, and it was the most delicious popcorn I've ever had in my life," she says. Martin popped the kernels for her brother and co-founder Jeff, and together with her best friend and Jeff's wife, Teresa Tsou, they knew they had something special, so they launched Pipsnacks in 2012. Today the company makes a line of snack food made from heirloom corn and, when possible, upcycled ingredients, such as repurposed excess ground heirloom corn flour. With Pipsnacks, Martin says she discovered her calling. "I couldn't see myself in corporate America. I couldn't see myself teaching or being a doctor. My brain just doesn't work that way. And so, for me, this was the only path and I think we found something that all three of us felt really passionate about," she says. That passion has paid off. In 2020 Pipsnacks’ revenue grew from $2.3 million to $6.1 million and the company expanded its offerings to five product lines, all with fewer than four ingredients that are whole grain, gluten-free, and non-GMO. When Covid shut down in-store sampling, Pipsnacks partnered with Ibotta, a cashback app, to allow consumers to send a free product to their friends. Last year also made the founders focus on e-commerce offerings—with highly successful results. Pipsnacks’ direct-to-consumer sales went up 520 percent. In 2020, Pipsnacks also committed to mission-driven initiatives, including Pipcorn Grants, which offers support and mentoring to Black and minority-founded brands. --Teneshia Carr

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