On my toughest days, I think about women business owners who “made it.” After all, if they succeeded as entrepreneurs, then I can too.
In celebration of Women’s Small Business Month, I’d like to share some of the female entrepreneurs who inspire me. These are women who rose above challenges to make their entrepreneurial dreams reality.
If you’re in need of an inspiring story or two, read on.
Pamela Slim, CEO of K’é, Business Coaching Services
For 10 years, Pamela Slim worked a 15-hour day. She spent her days working at an office, evenings volunteering for a martial arts school, and late evenings finishing up more work. Eventually, the pace caught up to her.
At age 29, Pamela came down with pneumonia and realized her workhorse lifestyle wasn’t sustainable. It was time for her to move up—and have more control over work/life balance. But after trying for a promotion and applying for new jobs, she saw no success.
Fortunately, by working hard, she prepared herself for entrepreneurship. Seamlessly, Pamela made the shift from corporate worker to owner of a business coaching service. Today she is an internationally renowned business coach and an author of best-selling books, including Escape from Cubicle Nation.
Audrey Gelman, Founder of The Wing
I didn’t know a lot about Audrey Gelman, Founder of The Wing, until recently when she appeared on the cover of Inc. Magazine, visibly pregnant. My first thought? That’s AMAZING.
When I was pregnant with my son, I purchased baggy shirts to hide my growing bump until I had to tell my coworkers and clients. Even then, I was nervous that pregnancy would slow me down, and motherhood would hold me back professionally.
But Audrey Gelman is telling me otherwise. Founder of The Wing, an all-women’s coworking space in New York, Boston, San Francisco, Chicago, and London—Audrey is proving to women everywhere that they can successfully lead businesses and have families.
As a mom, and a business owner, nothing inspires me more.
Barbara Corcoran, Owner of The Corcoran Group
Ever watch Shark Tank? I’m addicted. And Barbara Corcoran is one of my favorite cast members. In the early 1970s, waitress and former teacher, Barbara Corcoran quit her job, borrowed $1,000 from a boyfriend, and launched her own real estate business.
That $1,000 quickly turned into billions of dollars. And today Barbara is a notable real estate expert, appearing on Larry King Live, as well as regularly contributing to CNBC and The Today Show. In the evenings, you can watch her evaluate other entrepreneurs on the popular reality show, Shark Tank.
MaryBeth Hyland, Founder of SparkVision
Sometimes, painful life experiences have a purpose. For MaryBeth Hyland, Founder of SparkVision, that’s exactly the case. Her startup helps create healthy workplace environments where employees and companies thrive.
Growing up, MaryBeth had a difficult childhood. She was abused and manipulated by her own father, and so had to develop a unique set of survival skills. During that time, she learned a lot about human connections, and how to win people over (including her own father).
MaryBeth admits that her childhood prepared her for leading SparkVision. She’s an expert in understand human emotions and the dynamics of relationships. And now, she’s using her life experiences to build healthy environments for others.
Nellie Akalp, Founder and CEO of CorpNet.com
Nellie Akalp was born in Iran and immigrated to the United States in 1976, along with her family. The family was trying to escape the Iranian Revolution and seek a better life in the U.S. When the family arrived to their new home, Nellie’s grandparents started their own business, a shop selling Persian antiques that they had brought from abroad.
Nellie grew up inspired by her grandparents’ hard work and dedication to a better life. Fast forward to 1997. Nellie took $100 and started her first business, which was later sold to Intuit for $20 million.
Today she runs a software company, CorpNet.com, which manages legal documents and early stage legal paperwork for entrepreneurs.
Harriet Mills, Founder of Wine & Design
Having a baby is one of the most stressful (but amazing) times in a woman’s life. And, returning to work can be hard.
So when Harriet Mills, Founder of Wine & Design got laid off after having a baby and returning to work, it was particularly devastating. She had minimal savings, and like many of us, was still adjusting to her new life.
But instead of falling apart, Harriet went to a sip and paint studio. By the end of the evening, she had a business idea. And now, her company, Wine & Design, has become one of the most popular paint and sip franchises in the nation. Today there are 82 studios in the U.S.—with more to come.
Sara Blakely, Founder of Spanx
Chances are, you’ve heard of Sara Blakely, the youngest self-made female billionaire in America. But do you know how many times she failed before inventing Spanx, the discreet undergarment in nearly every woman’s drawer?
Before launching her ingenious product, Sara attempted stand-up comedy, failed the LSATs (twice), and sold fax machines. But one day, she cut the legs of her pantyhose and discovered a new product. Behold, the Spanx. It could hide her figure’s flaws, without anyone ever knowing.
Nights and weekends, Sara worked on the Spanx prototype, and then relentlessly sought funding. Through sheer persistence, she fought skeptics and eventually launched a timeless product—and a billion-dollar business.
These women all have vastly different stories, but one thing in common: their incredible persistence. The odds were stacked up against them, and they rose to the top. So whenever you’re feeling discouraged in your business, read up on the ladies who have gone before you. Learn how they did it.
Then go for it.
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