Founder Profile

Saundra Pelletier

Evofem Biosciences

For offering women a new, non-hormonal choice in birth control

Company Information
Year Founded
2009
Location
San Diego, California
Industry
Consumer Products & Services
Data as of Publication on Aug. 11, 2020
Company Description

“It really is suggested to women that there is nobility in putting yourself second,” says Saundra Pelletier, CEO of Evofem Biosciences. Perhaps that’s why she took on the challenge of commercializing a new form of non-hormonal birth control. Evofem’s flagship product is a contraceptive gel called Phexxi. The gel was first developed in the 1990s. After a bruising application process that Pelletier took over midway through, Phexxi was approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in May 2020 and went to market in September. Pelletier has raised more than $400 million from many investors, most of them male, to bring Phexxi to market. –Gabrielle Bienasz

Sharon Waxman

TheWrap

For taking Hollywood to task

Company Information
Year Founded
2009
Location
Los Angeles, California
Industry
Media
Data as of Publication on Aug. 11, 2020
Company Description

Among the mementos Sharon Waxman has posted on her bulletin board in her Los Angeles offices is a quote: “That dame refuses to get on the team.” The quote is from Harvey Weinstein, the sinister movie producer later prosecuted for rampant abuse of women—crimes that were long enabled and covered up by the industry he led.

“That dame,” is Waxman herself. Weinstein’s gripe about her was allegedly uttered in a meeting years ago, in response to a tough story she wrote about his company while she was still a reporter at the New York Times. It exemplifies a motto she kept in both reporting and business as she built TheWrap, now a top Hollywood trade publication: Better to be stolid, rigorous, and trustworthy than coddling, callow and compliant.

“If you do something and I find out about it, you know that I won't be afraid to publish it.” She says. “But you also know that I’ll give you a chance to respond and take the time to say maybe there’s another way to look at this.”

Hollywood big shots, whether they knew her personally or simply by reputation, knew she was top-notch at her job, and true to her word—crucial when she picked up the phone to ask some of them to invest in her fledgling site, and others to sit for its first interviews. She believes that reputation continues to give her site a competitive edge in the notoriously slippery town.

I was able to leverage 15 years’ worth of relationships in the entertainment industry to [create TheWrap],” says Waxman. “But I didn't say everybody liked me.”

The words she repeats to her reporters: Be essential. “We have to remember, nobody has invited us to this party. Nobody is asking for us to be here,” Waxman says of TheWrap. “We have to prove our value pretty much every day.” –Burt Helm

Sheila Mikhail

Asklepios Biopharmaceutical

Because while some companies help us manage disease, Asklepios finds cures

Company Information
Year Founded
2001
Location
Research Triangle Park, North Carolina
Industry
Health; Engineering
Data as of Publication on Aug. 11, 2020
Company Description

Most of today’s therapies are focused on relieving symptoms. With her Research Triangle, North Carolina-based company, AskBio, Sheila Mikhail wants to treat—and maybe even cure--diseases at the molecular level. Scientists at the company start with the shell of a non-pathogenic virus that’s capable of penetrating human cells, then remove its harmful DNA and replace it with genetic material that can create proteins the defective genes couldn’t. The treatment is injected into the patient’s body with the hopes of mitigating genetic disease such as cystic fibrosis or muscular dystrophy.

Mikhail co-founded AskBio in 2001, long before gene therapy was in vogue in the medical world--so much so that the entrepreneur says she was once booed off a stage for speaking about it. “They thought I was giving false hope, she says. They thought it was science fiction. Today, AskBio has treatments for heart disease, Pompe disease, Huntington’s disease, and Duchenne muscular dystrophy underway or set to begin. It has secured $235 million in funding, earned more than 500 patents, and has 185 employees spread across offices in Scotland, Spain and France.

For Mikhail, success has been about remaining dedicated--even if being early made that extra challenging. “Find the thing that you’re so passionate about that you won’t care about the haters,” she says. “Be tenacious about it, passionate, and persistent no matter what.” – Kevin J. Ryan

Shelly Sun

BrightStar Care

Because caregiving is big business, but not always treated as such

Company Information
Year Founded
2002
Location
Gurnee, Illinois
Industry
Health
Data as of Publication on Aug. 11, 2020

Shivani Jain

Cubii

For adding just a little more activity to our days

Company Information
Year Founded
2014
Location
Chicago, Illinois
Industry
Consumer Products & Services
Data as of Publication on Aug. 11, 2020
Company Description

In the year of remote work, many people's daily exercise consists of the walk between the kitchen, their couch, and perhaps to check the mail. But getting enough exercise was a problem pre-Covid as well, and it inspired Shivani Jain and two other University of Chicago business students, Arnav Dalmia and Ryota Sekine, to dream up Cubii, a small elliptical machine that fits under a desk that’d keep otherwise sedentary cubicle workers peddling while they worked.

The trio’s idea took off in 2014 when they raised around $300,000 through a Kickstarter campaign, and the product’s fanbase grew not only among desk workers, but those with limited mobility or recovering from surgeries. In 2016, the company released an accompanying app that helps users keep track of calories burned and other fitness statistics, and last year, the company took in $26 million in revenue and landed at No. 300 on the 2020 Inc. 5000 list.

Shivani attributes her company’s success in part on running any new idea past a value system for the company’s core customer. Says Shivani: “As a company, it’s very easy at times to see lots of growth and so much happening around you that you chase any and every opportunity and you forget to put your core customer first.” – Anna Meyer