For taking on one of female founders' biggest hurdles: access to capital
For bringing transparency -- literally and figuratively -- to vitamins and supplements
For training and mentoring a new generation of makers
For building a wholesale marketplace with a billion-dollar valuation
How do you convince San Francisco’s top designers to join your company when you have little money, a primitive website, and an ecommerce strategy that’s mostly focused on fidget spinners? This was the challenge facing Katie Witkop when she joined Faire as its founding designer. The company aimed to become a major online wholesaler of boutique gifts across the United States, and needed an elegant merchandising, marketing, and web strategy to match. But it was still early days, and her co-founders’ early version of the online store was still limited to selling faddish, mass-produced items. This had become a recruiting challenge, and Witkop needed to figure out how to help prospective hires feel her vision for the brand in small ways before they went big.
Witkop wanted shopping on Faire to feel warm, bespoke, almost antique — reminiscent of handpainted signs of shops on cobblestone streets. Her initial recruitng tactic: printed dinner invitations. Witkop invited designers she admired to join her for intimate dinners in private rooms of restaurants like Octavia, a Michelin-rated farm-to-table restaurant which is owned and operated by a female chef. With no expectations, she let the food and wine flow and let her guests enjoy one another. “All of a sudden, I didn’t feel like I was pitching anyone,” she says. “it was a really great way to lower everybody’s guard and just have good conversation, to find where peoples’ hearts are.”
She clicked with several of them, soon wooing them to join her little company. At the end of 2019, Faire was valued at $1 billion, but Witkop still takes the same care in recruiting talent —meeting for coffee around one of the office’s Parisian-style bistro tables, then mailing handwritten thank-you notes along with bags of local candy to candidates after job interviews. “All these little things draw you away from the [mainstream] current and help you steer toward your own vision of a brand,” she says. “Think through all these little steps and hurdles, attract the right people with the biggest brains and hearts, and then the brand replicates itself with every new hire.” Today that thoughtfulness is behind even the choices around the company swag — canvas tote bags with custom illustrations themed around the cities where Faire has offices, and simple, black high-cut crewneck sweatshirts that say Faire. Tech-bro hoodies are strictly verboten. – Burt Helm
Kayla Rodriguez Graff
For taking an innovative approach to wound care
Kayla Rodriguez Graff knew she wanted to be an entrepreneur from a young age, when she saw her grandmother’s bridal business flourishing in her native Puerto Rico. “I’ve been fortunate my whole life to watch really strong women succeed,” she says. In 2014, when her brother Isaac, a biomedical tissue engineer, told her about a technology he was studying that could help wounds to heal, Graff was intrigued. “Like any good business student,” she says, “I started asking: ‘Would anyone buy this? Can we use it all over the body? Can we manufacture it for less than we can sell it for?’ And the answers were ‘yes, yes, yes.’ ”
Graff co-founded SweeBio with Isaac and her now-husband Kevin Graff the following year. The company manufactures a patch that contains gelatin, manuka honey--a natural ingredient with antibacterial qualities--and a nanoparticle called hydroxyapatite that helps tissue rebuild. All three materials are commonly used in the medical space, but SweetBio combines them on the molecular level to create an easy-to-use patch that can be placed over a wound and dissolves in several days. Graff says the treatments have shown effectiveness in quickly healing stubborn wounds, like diabetic ulcers, that can otherwise remain open for months.
SweetBio currently sells the FDA-cleared patch to doctors and hospitals, but its goal is to go directly to consumers. To help it get there, the startup has $4.6 million in funding and is in the process of raising more. Clinical trials with skin cancer patients are set to begin in October, and Graff hopes they will prove the product’s effectiveness. The startup has faced doubters along the way, but she remains unfazed. “If 90 percent of people think your idea is a good one,” she says, “you're already too late.”