Marlo Thomas knows more than a few things about being a prolific artist and business leader. The actress, activist, and national outreach director at St. Jude Children's Research Hospital, shepherded a nearly $600 million charity campaign to support cancer research.

According to recent data from the U.S. Small Business Administration, the number of women-owned companies is on the rise, now representing 36 percent of all businesses in the U.S. Still, women founders are demonstrably at a disadvantage. Between 2011 and 2013, they captured just 15 percent of venture capital investment. And there continues to be a large gender pay gap, as women make just 83 percent of a man's salary.

The best way to start a company, Thomas says, is to pitch your idea to the local community first. For women looking to start a business -- and especially a social venture -- she emphasizes the power in numbers.

"It's important to get involved with other local groups, and speak to them, and see if they're interested in what you're interested in," Thomas said. "Whether it's the junior league, the PTA, or the community theater, go to them and say: 'This is what I'm interested in, and I think we could do this together, and I'd like you to join me.'"

Thomas went on to trumpet the value of the "leaders" and the "do-ers" in your company. It's also important to understand the distinction between the two. On one hand, she says, you'll need people who are willing to "roll up their sleeves" -- by posting flyers, hosting cocktail hours, luncheons, and other events to raise awareness for your cause or company. On the other hand, you'll also need people who are organizationally adept.

In choosing partners, she adds that it's a good idea to look for those who have a reputation for treating their employees well. (Of course, in the spirit of Thanksgiving, she flags that founders should always be grateful for what they have, and how far they've come.)

"Gratitude is a very big thing to have in your life," she said.

EXPLORE MORE Female Founders COMPANIESRectangle