For unpacking the power plants can have on our health.
The Covid-19 pandemic is the sort of biological challenge that Sofia Elizondo’s company, Brightseed, was born to address. The San Fransisco-based research company created Forager, an artificial intelligence tool that maps plant compounds, which are remarkably complex, to learn how small plant molecules called bioactives might impact human health. Covid fueled the commercial interest in what Brightseed might discover by exploring the 99.9 percent of plant compounds that are as yet unknown. The company hit its revenue goals, both last year and this year. The team also closed a $27 million funding round. "In spring of 2020, we didn't know what financial markets were going to be like. There was so much uncertainty," says co-founder Elizondo. "But we continued to surround ourselves by really awesome investors who get how we want to grow the company and the impact we want to have. And in the middle of all of that I had a second daughter. So it was not only growing the company and the team, financing the company, and quadrupling our partners—but it was also like doubling the size of our family all at once. It’s a chapter that I'll look back at and probably think, what on earth was I thinking?"--Anna Meyer
For staying nimble--and keeping things spicy.
During Thanksgiving weekend 2009, Jennifer Cramer and her husband needed to orchestrate a plan to make use of a recent, bulk purchase of artisan salt. At the time, if you wanted a spice or salt that was fancier than generic grocery store offerings, your only option was to go online and buy it by the pound. Or pounds. So, they decided to fill vials of salt to sell to friends and family; they also thought listing them on Amazon would be a convenient way to make them available. Providing pinches instead of pounds would become her high-growth startup--a marketplace called the Spice Lab. The orders kept coming, and Cramer adopted new products and production processes. Today, the Spice Lab’s products are processed and packed in a 125,000-square-foot facility in Pompano Beach, Florida, that includes a design department, R&D kitchen, offices, and a showroom. With six production lines, the company says it can produce more than 100,000 units per day. In 2020, when the pandemic created all kinds of supply chain issues, Cramer jumped in to fill in the gaps. “We did it all to fulfill orders that other, larger companies that can’t pivot as quickly were unable to do,” Cramer says. “We were able to get extra supplies here and there and piece things together, and we ended up garnering a lot of new business. Last year, we grossed just over $17 million. We plan on doubling it this year.”--Anna Meyer
For using the beauty business to fight for social justice.
Sarah Chung discovered that beauty can be a vehicle for social justice. As founder and CEO of Landing International, Chung runs an agency that helps indie beauty brands get discovered by larger retailers by working with them to present their products, and manage and fill orders. When multiple social justice concerns took precedence in 2020, Chung and her Los Angeles-based team wasted no time in finding ways to help underserved communities. “With the Black Lives Matter movement, we thought about how our little corner of the world could make a difference for the positive. We reached out to Black-owned brands and offered our services for free, and with the rise in Asian hate crimes, we highlighted more Asian brands. Consumers want to buy from brands that understand their needs. We’re bringing them more choices,” Chung says.--Anna Meyer
Xtreme Solutions, ShoulderUp, and Athena Technology Acquisition Corp
For opening more doors for more women.
After 22 years in the U.S. Army--much of it in cybersecurity and counter-terrorism, which was called “information security” then--Phyllis Newhouse set out to apply her Pentagon chops to the private sector. In 2002 she founded Xtreme Solutions, an IT and cybersecurity company that started in telecom before branching into industries as diverse as banking and retail--and working with military and government clients as well. While growing Xtreme to thousands of employees across 46 states, she’s also founded a womens’ empowerment organization, ShoulderUp, mentored dozens of women, and helped dozens more get involved in startup investing. For her next act, she’s aiming to get more women of color into boardrooms and onto Wall Street.--Christine Lagorio
Baked by Melissa
For coming into her own in the middle of a crisis.
In December of 2019, Melissa Ben-Ishay’s board made a decision: She would become CEO of the company that she’d founded a decade earlier. “My name was on the door and I still didn’t feel worthy!” she said. Three months later, the pandemic forced her to close the doors of all Baked By Melissa stores, which sell mini cupcakes with names such as “electric tie-dye” and “midnight munchies.” “There is no playbook for getting your company through a global pandemic,” she said. Yet she says she never lacked confidence in doing exactly that. Baked By Melissa pivoted immediately to e-commerce, treating its homepage as its flagship store and remaking the organization into a direct-to-consumer gifting company. (The closed stores were revamped to make them look more like showrooms than serving counters.) Even as retail bounces back a bit in 2021, 70 percent of Baked By Melissa’s sales are online. And while the company is confident in the gift-able nature of its online product, the pandemic has given Ben-Ishay confidence. “Now we are completely prepared to pivot, anytime, again,” she says. “We know that Baked By Melissa makes people happy during good times and bad, and it’s our greatest honor to do that through these challenging times.”--Christine Lagorio