Women own more than 11 million small businesses in the U.S. and, according to the National Association of Women Business Owners, are responsible for nearly $2 trillion in economic activity every year. However, these businesses are just 39% of all small businesses in the U.S.—and, like so many other aspects of the American economy have been disproportionately affected by the Covid-19 pandemic, with a greater proportion of female entrepreneurs saying they expect lower revenues as a result of the virus.
The good news is that among the Next 1000—the Forbes list of small-scale superachievers defying the odds, bootstrapping and scaling businesses built for Main Street, not Wall Street—women dominate. Female-identifying entrepreneurs constituted 56% of everyone who applied to be on the list (so far; nominations are still open) and of the 250 names released today, 155, or 62%, identify female.
Here’s a look at five standouts:
Pinky Cole, Founder, Slutty Vegan
Cole is the founder of Slutty Vegan, a plant-based burger joint in Atlanta. She is also a philanthropist, doling out support through The Pinky Cole Foundation to people who need it most. In 2020, she partnered with Clark Atlanta University to provide the children of police brutality victim Rayshard Brooks $600,000 in scholarships to the historically Black university. And in January, she teamed up with Steve Harvey and Georgia Power to help more 100 Atlanta residents with past-due utility bills get services restored and bills made current for the new year. “Yes, the food is good,” Cole told Forbes last summer, “but it’s bigger than food. We’re putting our money where our mouth is.”
Ellie O’Neill, Cofounder and COO, Powwater
Five years ago, O’Neill was working as an analyst at JPMorgan, working in a team that oversaw investments for some of Silicon Valley’s richest figures. She loved her job, but when her partner was nearly killed in a car accident, they both began to wonder if their careers would be better spent trying to make a difference for others. And so, in 2018 and with no business plan or funding, O’Neill quit JPMorgan to cofound Powwater, a public benefits corporation helping people access sustainable clean drinking water in areas around the world where it’s needed most. Funded by The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Powwater is currently piloting a technology in Mombasa, Kenya, to create a more efficient water system.
Alex Steinman, Cofounder, The Coven
Steinman and her three cofounders met in the Minnesota advertising industry and, in 2017, founded The Coven, a community space to help other women, nonbinary and trans folks become confident leaders. “We built this space for folks like me. For folks who didn’t have a voice, haven’t found it yet or have never heard their own voice,” Steinman said in a 2019 TedX talk. “We did it for people who need a space to show up as any version of themselves—show up as their whole self and be treated with respect and kindness.”
Membership starts at $25 per month, and its 1,000 members have access to events and speaker series designed to help personal and professional growth. The cofounders initially raised $350,000 through crowdfunding on iFundWomen and were profitable in their first year of business.
Toyin Kolawole, Founder and CEO, Iya Foods
Kolawole grew up in Lagos, Nigeria, helping her mother’s businesses, gaining experience that fueled a life of entrepreneurship. “We sold bucket water, we ran a small fast food and a pharmacy shop where my mum leveraged her nursing training to help people who could not afford a hospital,” Kolawole says.
Kolawole got her CPA accreditation in 2001 and joined African Capital Alliance as a private equity analyst managing a fund with a $750 million capital commitment. She immigrated to the U.S. in 2003, received her M.B.A. from Kellogg and, frustrated by the a lack of African-inspired food brands, founded Iya Foods, which sells flours, sauces and spices.
Jessie Medina, Founder, FEMX
Born in Mendoza, Argentina, and raised by a single mother, Medina came to the United States as a Dreamer who knew little English. She would eventually test out of her high school ESL programs and go on to graduate from Utah Valley University in 2014. But it was experience with harassment as a female executive in the corporate world that inspired her to combat gender inequality with FEMX Quarters, one of the first 100% Latina-founded co-working spaces in the U.S. She bootstrapped the entire business, saving money by doing all the design and decorating herself. “I bought the furniture on credit,” she says.
FEMX now reaches more than 1,000 customers with online courses and workshops, holds an annual summit and also provides podcast production and co-working sessions for entrepreneurs. Though she had to close FEMX for three months because of Covid, Medina says that they’ve now reopened and are on track to achieve $1 million in revenue.
These are just a handful of the 155 women in the first installment of the inaugural Next 1000; to see more, click through here.
Photo: Iya Foods