Founder Profile

Kristin Karst

AmaWaterways

Because cruise ships don't have to be impersonal

Company Information
Year Founded
2002
Location
Calabasas, California
Industry
Travel & Hospitality
Data as of Publication on Aug. 11, 2020
Company Description

Kristin Karst was raised to bootstrap. Her parents took the family on vacations around the world, but required their kids to contribute to the expense, which Karst and her brother earned by recycling paper products or selling vegetables from their garden to the neighbors. Raised in Dresden, Germany, the executive vice president and co-founder of AmaWaterways speaks English, German, Russian and French, and helps lead a company that, pre-pandemic, supplied consumers with 25 ships sailing rivers throughout Europe, Asia, and Africa.

The draw of the Ama experience, which Karst founded with Rudi Schreiner and Jimmy Murphy in 2002, is a high-quality luxury river cruise with healthy food, panoramic river views, and morning yoga lessons on the deck. Ama had to shut operations entirely from March until July. The fleet remains moored until November 30, with the exception of a five-night cruise of the Rhine for locals.

Karst is committed to living up to the optimistic ethos embedded in the name of the company – Ama meaning “love” in Latin—during the pandemic. “It’s our choice to get up in the morning to try and keep it positive--whatever we do today for our customers, they will never forget.” –Gabrielle Bienasz

Kristy Kim

TomoCredit

For making it easier for Millennials to build a credit history

Company Information
Year Founded
2019
Location
San Francisco, California
Industry
Financial Services
Data as of Publication on Aug. 11, 2020

Laureen Asseo

Fresh n' Lean

For bootstrapping -- and winning -- in the overcrowded mealkit space

Company Information
Year Founded
2010
Location
Anaheim, California
Industry
Food & Beverages
Data as of Publication on Aug. 11, 2020
Company Description

Laureen Asseo was 18 when her father, who had been sick from a poor diet, recovered after eating organic and clean foods, cooked by Asseo herself. In 2010, Asseo and her brother Thomas co-founded Fresh ‘n Lean, an organic preheat-and-eat meal delivery service. It started as friend and family packing meals in tupperware, but by 2019 it had grown to $30 million in sales. Then the pandemic hit, causing orders to suddenly spike by 250 percent.

Asseo was ready: She’s says she’s been “obsessed” with scalability since starting the company, which is entirely bootstrapped. “When you don’t have a lot of money you have to be creative about the risks, because it might be the last risk you take,” she says. The company now has 400 employees, ran a pilot in 120 Whole Foods this year, and is on track to make $82 million in 2020. –Gabrielle Bienasz

Lisa Curtis

Kuli Kuli

Because superfoods are made, not born

Company Information
Year Founded
2011
Location
Oakland, California
Industry
Food & Beverages
Data as of Publication on Aug. 11, 2020
Company Description

As a PeaceCorp volunteer in Niger, Lisa Curtis often turned to moringa leaves when her diet left her with little energy. Locals wrapped the leaves around a peanut snack and called it kuli kuli. In 2014, energized both by the plant’s nutrients and by the idea of launching the next superfood in the U.S., Curtis created a company that sold moringa bars, sourcing the leaves from the village she had lived in. That proved too expensive, and the company now has moringa farms in 13 different countries and seeks to employ small women farmers. Still, Curtis got her big break when a buyer from Whole Foods saw her stand at a farmer’s market, and paved the way for Kuli Kuli to get into the chain’s Northern California stores. Now the company’s moringa-based bars, energy shots, teas, and powders are available in Albertson’s and Walmart as well. –Gabrielle Bienasz

Lisa Love

Tanoshi

For working to close the digital divide long before Covid sent 6-year-olds -- and almost everyone else -- home from school

Company Information
Year Founded
2015
Location
Oakland, California
Industry
Education
Data as of Publication on Aug. 11, 2020
Company Description

Less than one percent of venture capital funding goes to Black female founders. “Personally, I think it’s shameful,” says Lisa Love, who recently appeared on Shark Tank and received an offer for $500,000 for 20 percent of her company, Tanoshi. Back in 2017, a friend took Love to a pitch contest, where she heard Brad Johnston talk about an affordable 2-in-1 tablet and computer just for kids. He called it Tanoshi, which means fun in Japanese. She knew she had to meet him. “I told him about myself and my mom, and we just hit it off.”

Love’s mom, Arlene Richards, was a teacher in South Central Los Angeles for 50 years. Using learning materials that often didn’t “resonate with six-year-old black and brown students,” she taught them how to type, which meant they would quickly learn the alphabet, and she hoped words would follow. When Love met Johnston, she had just left a stressful job working for “the good-ole white boys of the corporate world, where you don’t get promoted, and you’re left just sitting there” and was trying to figure out a way to keep her mother’s lesson plans alive for lower-income families, who she says are getting “a raw deal on their education.”

According to the Boston Consulting Group, 15 to 16 million school-aged children in the U.S. don’t have access to a computer or a Wi-Fi connection. With a $200 price tag, Tanoshi wants to close this digital divide. “With the pandemic and schools, who knows?” says Love. “They’re still trying to figure out how kids are going to learn this year.” In other words, those kids need a Tanoshi now more than ever. —Una Morera