From trailblazers like Estée Lauder and Coco Chanel to modern-day leaders like Indra Nooyi and Sophia Amoruso, women have been at the forefront of innovation and business success throughout history.
Despite facing systemic barriers and discrimination, women have broken through glass ceilings and paved the way for future generations of women entrepreneurs.
Let’s explore and celebrate the stories and accomplishments of some of the most inspiring women entrepreneurs who left a lasting impact on the business world.
42% of small businesses are owned by women in the United States.—Zippia
Madam C.J. Walker
This name might sound familiar as Netflix released a series based on her life titled Self Made. Madam C.J. Walker was the first self-made millionaire in the United States. Born Sarah Breedlove in 1867, she created a line of hair care products specifically designed for black women, which revolutionized the beauty industry.
Her products were not only effective, but they also empowered black women to embrace their natural hair and take pride in their appearance. With a keen sense of marketing and business understanding, she built a vast network of sales agents, who helped her products reach a wider audience.
Through hard work and determination, Madam C.J. Walker built an empire that not only created wealth for herself but also provided economic opportunities for thousands of other black women.
Despite facing significant challenges as a black woman in the early 20th century, Madam C.J. Walker’s unwavering determination and entrepreneurial spirit allowed her to achieve remarkable success.
She not only shattered gender and racial barriers in business but also used her wealth and influence to support various philanthropic causes. From funding scholarships for black students to supporting the NAACP, Madam C.J. Walker’s legacy extends far beyond her business achievements.
Her story serves as an inspiration to aspiring entrepreneurs, especially women and people of color, who continue to face systemic barriers in the business world today.
Mary Kay Ash
Seeking a path to create a business that would empower women, Mary Kay Ash founded Mary Kay Cosmetics in 1963 with just a $5,000 investment. Her philosophy of putting people first, recognizing and celebrating the achievements of others, and giving back to the community allowed her to build a successful brand that still thrives today.
Ash’s leadership style inspired her sales force of beauty consultants to achieve their goals, and her business model provided them with opportunities for financial independence and personal growth. Her commitment to women’s empowerment and entrepreneurial spirit has made her an icon in the business world.
Thanks to her innovative approach, Mary Kay Ash became one of the most successful female entrepreneurs of her time. She was the recipient of numerous awards, including the Horatio Alger Award, which recognizes individuals who have overcome adversity and achieved success.
With innumerable consultants still making sales today, it’s clear that Mary Kay Ash’s legacy continues to inspire women around the world to pursue their dreams and make a difference in their communities.
Women-owned businesses employ over 9.4 million workers.—Incfile
Another shining example of a successful female entrepreneur with just $5,000 and a dream is Sara Blakely. Blakely is the founder and CEO of Spanx, a clothing company that specializes in shapewear and leggings. Blakely’s journey to success began in 2000 when she launched Spanx.
After failing to give up when she struggled to get her products into stores, Blakely landed a deal with Neiman Marcus, which turned out to be a game-changer for her business.
Today, Spanx is a global brand that has sold over 500 million products and generated billions of dollars in revenue.
Blakely’s success can be attributed to her innovative product design, her tenacity in the face of rejection, and her ability to create a brand that resonates with women around the world.
She has also been a champion for female entrepreneurship and philanthropy, using her success to support other women in business and to give back to her community.
Whitney Wolfe Herd
Let’s shake up this list with a young woman who kicked down the door in the male-dominated field of tech. While you may not know her name (yet), you surely have heard of (and maybe joined) a few of her apps.
Whitney Wolfe Herd is the female entrepreneur who co-founded Tinder, the popular dating app, before leaving to start her own company, Bumble.
With Bumble, she created a platform that empowers women by giving them control over the initiation of conversations in heterosexual matches. Her innovative approach to online dating has made Bumble a household name, and the company is now valued at over $8 billion.
Wolfe Herd’s success has not gone unnoticed as she was recognized as one of Time’s 100 Most Influential People in 2018 and Forbes’ 30 Under 30 in 2017 and 2018.
Wolfe Herd’s success extends beyond Bumble, as she has also become a prominent voice in the tech industry advocating for gender equality and women’s rights. She has spoken out against sexual harassment and discrimination and has taken action to ensure that Bumble’s workplace culture is inclusive and supportive of all employees.
Wolfe Herd’s leadership has set an example for other female entrepreneurs, showing that it is possible to succeed in a male-dominated industry through hard work, innovation and a commitment to social responsibility.
From co-anchoring the evening news at 19 years old to creating a media empire, Oprah has become a household name, and her story is a testament to what is possible when you are willing to take risks, work hard and never give up.
After moving to Chicago and turning a failing talk show into a national phenomenon, she went on to create her own production company, Harpo Productions, which includes television, film, publishing and even a cable network before launching her own magazine, O, The Oprah Magazine. O rakes in a hefty $300 million per year due to her diversified media companies.
Needless to say, women entrepreneurs have made significant contributions to the business world and continue paving the way for future generations of women to follow in their footsteps.
As we celebrate Women’s History Month, let us not forget the remarkable achievements of groundbreaking women and continue to support and empower other women in entrepreneurship. By doing so, we can create a more equitable and inclusive society for all.
If you’re looking to start making your own history, we’re here to help.
Check out The Guide to Running an Efficient Small Business to get the practical tips and expert advice you’ll need to organize your business, boost efficiency, and get one step closer to achieving the success of the women entrepreneurs that came before you.