Founder Profile

Jenny Du

Apeel

For saving produce from spoiling too soon.

The mission at Apeel hasn’t changed since its founding in 2012: The company fights food waste, primarily with an invisible, plant-based coating that prolongs the freshness of produce. But when the pandemic disrupted supply chains and consumers’ shopping habits in 2020, the ability to extend the life of fresh food became even more valuable. “We had this important service to provide with our technology,” says co-founder Jenny Du. “We give all stakeholders in the fresh produce supply chain more time.” Du says Apeel just saw one of its biggest growth periods ever: By the end of 2021, the company’s coating will be used in at least 40 produce packing houses--up from eight sites in 2019--around the globe. That means Apeel-treated produce is on shelves in tens of thousands of grocery retailers, including Kroger. Employee headcount doubled to more than 500 people. And the company says its technology saved 20 million fruits from spoilage in 2020. In August of this year, Apeel landed another $250 million in funding, giving the startup a $2 billion valuation, from investors including Temasek, Andreessen Horowitz, Katy Perry, and others. To date, the company has raised $635 million. Du says the funding will go in part toward growing Apeel’s global footprint and also leveraging its data to create new revenue streams by helping supply chains get smarter. --Lindsay Blakely

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

Joanna McFarland

Hop Skip Drive

For pivoting her ride service into new markets.

In 2014, Joanna McFarland and her two co-founders--all protective moms--set out to alleviate parents’ transportation woes by starting HopSkipDrive, an Uber-style ride-share business created especially for kids. The service turned out to be valuable not just to busy parents, but also to school districts and government agencies plagued by thinning budgets and an aging pool of bus drivers. The L.A.-based company was bringing in over $16 million in annual revenue and providing rides in more than 10 states when the pandemic sent students home indefinitely. After HopSkipDrive lost just about all of its business in 48 hours, McFarland had to lay off most of her team. “There were multiple crises of the soul,” she says of the early days of the pandemic. The founder-CEO retrenched with a small percentage of her original staff and began rethinking the company’s service for new markets, including seniors needing rides to Covid-19 test and vaccination sites and dependent adults and wards of the state. Throughout the pandemic, HopSkipDrive became a literal lifeline for vulnerable communities, keeping them connected to meal deliveries, life-saving health care, and other essential services. As students returned to school this fall, HopSkipDrive was able to recapture all of its old business and then some--and McFarland was able to rehire about a third of the staff she’d had to lay off last year. “It feels like the beginning of a new beginning,” McFarland says.--Marli Guzzetta

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

Helen Egger

Little Otter Health

For making kids mental health services more accessible.

Helen Egger had spent 30 years working in child psychiatry when she began to see that the academic strides being made in mental health weren’t reaching families: “We can’t solve the child mental health crisis just by training more providers,” she says, noting that while 20 percent of children have a mental health disorder, 70 percent of U.S. counties don’t have a single child psychiatrist. And when families do find care, they often face months-long waitlists. Egger had, since 2016, served as chair of NYU Langone’s department of child and adolescent psychiatry, where she’d launched a digital children’s health initiative. Her daughter Rebecca, who had product and engineering chops following stints at Palantir and the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, came on as a consultant to help spin Helen’s project into a company. “After building the first slide deck with her and doing the first business model, something clicked,” Rebecca says. “I was like, ‘Wait a second--I have to do this.’” The duo founded Little Otter in 2020 with Rebecca as CEO; Helen left tenure behind and joined full-time in March 2021 as chief scientific and medical officer. In May 2021, the San Francisco-based company launched its digital health platform for children aged 0-12 and their families in California. The pandemic and the stigma around mental health care have only made the need for Little Otter’s services more urgent. “A lot of our families come to us after they’ve tried six to 10 other interventions,” Rebecca says. With $4.3 million in funding to date, Little Otter aims to offer services nationwide by the end of 2022.--Sophie Downes

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

Rebecca Egger

Little Otter Health

For making kids mental health services more accessible.

Helen Egger had spent 30 years working in child psychiatry when she began to see that the academic strides being made in mental health weren’t reaching families: “We can’t solve the child mental health crisis just by training more providers,” she says, noting that while 20 percent of children have a mental health disorder, 70 percent of U.S. counties don’t have a single child psychiatrist. And when families do find care, they often face months-long waitlists. Egger had, since 2016, served as chair of NYU Langone’s department of child and adolescent psychiatry, where she’d launched a digital children’s health initiative. Her daughter Rebecca, who had product and engineering chops following stints at Palantir and the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, came on as a consultant to help spin Helen’s project into a company. “After building the first slide deck with her and doing the first business model, something clicked,” Rebecca says. “I was like, ‘Wait a second--I have to do this.’” The duo founded Little Otter in 2020 with Rebecca as CEO; Helen left tenure behind and joined full-time in March 2021 as chief scientific and medical officer. In May 2021, the San Francisco-based company launched its digital health platform for children aged 0-12 and their families in California. The pandemic and the stigma around mental health care have only made the need for Little Otter’s services more urgent. “A lot of our families come to us after they’ve tried six to 10 other interventions,” Rebecca says. With $4.3 million in funding to date, Little Otter aims to offer services nationwide by the end of 2022.--Sophie Downes

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

Vicky Tsai

Tatcha

For using her platform to fight hate crimes.

When Vicky Tsai returned in January 2021 to her CEO role at Tatcha, the San Francisco-based, Japanese-inspired skin care brand she’d founded more than a decade earlier, she had her work cut out for her. The company’s growth and culture had faltered in the two years since she’d stepped down, she says: “My job was to not just right the ship, but to imagine a completely new future for the company that takes into account how much the world has changed.” Then, when harassment and hate crimes targeting Asian Americans surged, Tsai knew she had to speak out. “It affected us as a brand, it affected our clients, and it affected each of us at a very individual and personal level,” she says, noting that the employees and customers of her brand are largely Asian American women, which made serving that community her first priority. “We took care of them by taking very public and early stances on what we would do to support change.” Tsai donated to anti-hate groups and is mentoring other AAPI entrepreneurs through Gold House, a leadership organization. Tatcha also worked with Room to Read, a children’s literacy and girls’ education nonprofit, to gather lists of books and resources to help teachers improve Asian American representation in their classroom libraries. “What I’m most personally proud of,” Tsai says, “is something that’s hard to measure but easy to feel, which is the change in my company--now that we’ve put purpose and culture back into the heart of the brand.”--Sophie Downes

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