The Decade of the Female Entrepreneur

Julie Rice and Elizabeth Cutler, courtesy

By Deborah Jackson

Thank you SoulCycle.

If you haven’t tried the popular sweat-inducing aerobic exercise for 45 minutes that has caught on like wildfire in urban areas, you must be out of the country. I first discovered SoulCycle in 2011 when I was looking for an alternative to a boot camp I did with my friend, who also gave birth to two daughters at the same time over 20 years ago. We felt it was time to do something about the weight gain that naturally occurs in our age bracket. After a year of boot camp, I needed an alternative way to get exercise. I tried SoulCycle as part of a special Gilt offer that included a pair of my very own bike shoes. SoulCycle was desperate to get new customers; my 3-class package with shoes was $30.

The studio on West 18th was new, empty and candlelit. I loved the class–I was physically challenged but also emotionally and spiritually recharged. I became a devotee and at every holiday my go-to gift was more classes at SoulCycle.

SoulCycle in 2015 is similar and different. I was there today and as I was racing to catch up, I looked around and noticed what I notice at every visit: the room was dominated by women. There are always a few men who come with their partner or their girlfriend. But, the place is by women for women.

This company just filed their S1 to go public. I pondered that as I was trying to distract myself from the increasing resistance on the petal.

This is huge. This company was founded by two women who were looking to create a cycling space and approach that worked for them. The gym space and exercise options are so prolific that it is hard to image another one. Yet somehow Soul Cycle is thriving, has a cult-like following and grows through word of mouth. A founder’s dream.

The existing options at gyms and stand alones were not doing it for Elizabeth Cutler and Julie Rice, SoulCycle’s founders. These women built the first space with the features they wanted–an accepting environment that also pushes you to work hard. The ambience at SC is about plugging into something more than just physical prowess. Instructors ask you to close your eyes and visualize your dream, or think about how your soul is showing up for your body.

Brilliant, Elizabeth Cutler and Julie Rice. You knew what you wanted, and you knew that other women wanted it too.

This is what the next decade will be. This is the decade of the women entrepreneur. Women are starting to build the companies and products that they want. The competition is irrelevant–women are building things that will go viral.

Women have founded rockstar companies in the consumer product space–think Spanx; Ringly; Goldieblox. For software, we have Learnvest; for health care there is Maven. The biggest thing that has enabled women entrepreneurs is technology and the internet. You can find customers and get publicity without massive amounts of money.

The world is changing and women are taking the lead. They are building the products that they want. This is game changing because women know the customer as they are the consumer. Women are not a niche market. They control spending for food products for the the family, clothing and medical care. I predict the rise of the woman entrepreneur in this decade because she is building the products that women want.

Just like SoulCycle, women build products that connect you with more–either your soul or your values.  These products also treat you like you matter. Because you do.

Ecosystem Header

The Ecosystem for Female Entrepreneurs

There are many graphics that show the power of the male networks that supports male founders. There have been articles about the powerful and exclusive boys club. Men connect by doing business, sharing deal leads, playing sports, providing funding, and passing the hat around the table to support their buddies. It is human nature to hang with people you know and like and are similar to you. You feel comfortable and you don’t have your sense of self or ideas challenged by anyone. All of this is understandable even when it has adverse consequences.

Women of all ages are looking for ways to advance and champion each other. There are some established groups that were trailblazers as well as many new organizations springing up with purpose and commitment to open access and funding opportunity. We need all of this and more.

We have identified the organizations that have a primary and demonstrated commitment in one or more of these areas: women entrepreneurs; women building tech; women angel investors and women professional venture investors.

All of the companies and organizations in our graphic spend their time and money in the pursuit of equal access and opportunity for women and outstanding companies. This is a new age of action oriented initiatives where you use your influence and money to change things around. We did our best to include the companies we know but there are probably more to include. If you know of any additions please contact us at Keep in mind that they have to service one or more of the 3 categories above and this has to be their primary focus. Thank you.

Deborah Jackson

Ecosystem Raising Capital

Ecosystem Support Women

Graced by Grit

The Story Behind Graced By Grit

Interview by Sophie Pape

Kimberly Caccavo and Kate Nowlan laugh in tandem about the night before they opened their first store for their new women’s activewear – Graced by Grit. “We were up very late the night before sewing curtains! Our staff called to check up on us, realized we were still there, and came to help,” says Caccavo. “That is what we look for in our employees: hard work. We have women from all walks of life but hard work, they all have in common,” adds Nowlan.


It is apparent that the duo have learned to inject a sense of humor into their venture. Indeed, Caccavo says that whilst they are both giggling, realistically, they are most likely delirious with stress. “When our staff arrived to help, we were both sitting on the floor sewing and laughing,” says Caccavo, “being able to laugh is so important.” Especially since this store opening was not planned.

They had unexpectedly been backed by a bank who believed in them and they opened on the fly. “Being nimble and being able to make decisions quickly is very important as an entrepreneur,” says Caccavo. And so, when the opportunity arose, they thought it would be a good move and thank heavens, thus far, it has proved to be just that.

Their journey started when Nowlan was teaching Caccavo’s young son to swim. Caccavo asked Nowlan if she knew of anyone who may be able to train her for a triathlon and since Nowlan was something of an accomplished athlete, she turned out to be just the person. “I didn’t realize that Kimberly [Caccavo] had just three weeks to train – so we became friends quickly,” says Nowlan.

Store openingCaccavo’s son cuts the ribbon for the first Graced by Grit store

“I remember losing time on my transitions that she [Nowlan] had taught me the night before; I’d forgotten them,” adds Caccavo. Of course this may have been consequent upon the fact that she was prepping for the race like any normal woman, i.e. with a glass of red wine. (Incidentally, she finished very well that day – in the top third of her age group.)

The friends bonded over their love of the outdoors, both had been keen sportswomen in their youth and that love of activity had sustained itself through their eventual move to California – Solona Beach – just north of San Diego.

One day, they were out running; unsatisfied with the activewear they wore and that of their fellow female runners. Ask any woman, the correlation between feeling confident and performing well in full view of other “athletes” is strong. The better you feel you look, the more confident you are, the further you will run, the higher you will climb and the faster you will peddle.


“Women would try on our products and they would look better which made them feel better, and made them perform better,” says Caccavo, “Kate [Nowlan] needed a really advanced and accomplished fabric that would aid her performance and I needed a fabric that would hide my lumps and bumps. We both needed a fabric that would survive sea and land – and we developed just that – in colours and styles that suit every woman.”

Caccavo and Nowlan’s young business is doing well so far. Their customers range from eleven year old gymnasts to a lady of 87 who rides her mountain bike (without a helmet) every morning – and who is said to be one of their biggest champions. But it is their commitment to the business that is truly compelling.

“We wake up at 5.15am every morning so that we have a couple of really productive hours. We are really efficient, we make decisions really quickly and if they happen to be the wrong decision, we figure it out or renegotiate immediately,” says Nowlan. Chiming in, Caccavo says, “We try to do the right thing. Often you do the right thing if you make an instinctive decision. If Kate and I decide we are going to do something – and it’s wrong, we change course and we don’t dwell.”

Their final nugget of entrepreneurial advice came from Caccavo’s husband, “Don’t fool around and make it happen.” They laugh. “We were going to use ‘Just Do It’… but someone beat us to it.” Making it happen… is exactly what they intend to do.

Obstacle Course


Africa on Your Feet


Advances in how we eat, shop, commute, communicate, socialize, and mate, date, and cohabitate can be directly tied to the brilliant ideas that are brought to fruition by entrepreneurs each and every day.  We all know that the entrepreneurial spirit is alive and kicking in the United States.


Entrepreneurism is good for economies.  Strong, innovative start-ups scale quickly, creating jobs and consumer demand for products and services.

Women and men are innovating in every part of the world — including urban, rural, and suburban areas.  This is especially true in many countries in Africa, a continent traditionally marred by numerous socio-economic barriers to development.  The bottom 10 world’s poorest countries in the world are located in Africa.  Youth unemployment in many countries is often reported at nearly 50%, a statistic that becomes increasingly dire when you consider that close to one-third of the population in Sub-Saharan Africa is between the ages of 10 – 24.

Entrepreneurism is one space where Africa’s population — at all age categories — is making significant strides.  The Global Entrepreneurship Monitor reported the top 10 countries for Total early stage Entrepreneurial Activity (TEA), of which Sub-Saharan Africa is the leading region (5 out of the 10 reported countries) with the highest percentage of adults who are starting or recently launched a business.

Africa also leads the rest of the world when you look at entrepreneurship through a gendered lens.  Out of the top 10 countries with the highest percentage of female adults who are either new business owners, 6 are in Africa.  To put this into perspective, in Nigeria and Zambia, 40.7% of women have recently launched a business; in the United States, 10.4% of women have recently launched a company.  While there may be cultural, economic, social, and/or political differences as to why women in various parts of the world launch a business, the fact is that female entrepreneurship



Take for example the African apparel and footwear industry—industries where women often take the lead in business ownership.  An article in The Business of Fashion (BOF) recently reported that Sub-Saharan Africa’s apparel and footwear market is currently worth $31 billion. Yes, $31 billion.

I’d like to give a big congratulations to each and every female entrepreneur and woman owned business who is a part of this ecosystem, driving innovation, and bringing new and exciting products to the African market.

I would like to give a shout out to one company in particular that I’ve known for a few months that embodies the passion, creative spirit, and determination that it takes to make a company successful.

Buqisi-Ruux was founded by cousins and business partners; Nuba Elamin, Lynn Bugaari, and Tetsi Bugaari. Nuba, Lynn, and Tetsi use shoes as a platform to tell the story of African women.  And, “platform” can be interpreted literally and figuratively in this case — their 4+ inch platform heals are certainly turning heads.  While their love of fashion played a significant role in the creation of their company, these three smart women also saw a significant need in the market — comfortable, easy to walk in, high heels that create a sense of “wow” for the wearer. This is clearly how every woman wants to feel when she wears Buqisi-Ruux — bold, vibrant, and alive.  Buqisi-Ruux means “Queen of the Village.”  Buqisi comes from an ancient Egyptian word meaning “Queen” and Ruux represents their hometown of Rukungiri.  The brand — and the women behind the brand — are loyal to their African heritage, their family and community, and want each and every woman to have the same sense of pride when she wears her Buqisi-Ruux shoes.

The vibrant patterns are sourced locally. Each shoe is named after an inspirational African woman who is shaping the future of Africa.  Their first collection, “Kwanza” was named after the women in their family.


Photos courtesy of Chocolatey Prints


The first time I tried on a pair of Buqisi-Ruux, I was having lunch in a Manhattan French restaurant with a special advisor to the company.  (Insider scoop…I have a shoe closet full of unwearable, insanely high heeled shoes.  I call this my “shoe museum.” Pretty to look at….and that’s about it.)  I took a casual stroll around the restaurant to test for comfort and ease of walkability…and I have to admit, I was incredibly impressed.  Within seconds, women were commenting on the shoes, the beautiful prints and how good they looked on my feet.  Now I’m a big fan of the brand and the inspirational women that are passionate about creating worth for themselves, their communities, their country, and their continent.

Buqisi-Ruux wants to expand to new markets, sharing with the world their culture and vision.  They are also focused on sustainability and improving quality throughout their value chain.  Their newest line, the “Mukamakazi Collection” is influenced by African Queens, who simultaneously embody power, resilience, and elegance.  Buqisi-Ruux has launched a crowdfunding campaign on Plum Alley to make this expansion possible.  Please join me in supporting female entrepreneurship and Nuba, Lynn, and Tetsi in their goal to expand vision.

You can support their campaign at:

I can’t wait to see what shoes you’ve selected!

By Jan Mercer Dahms 


Last week Re/Code ran a story powerfully titled Tech Women Choose Possibility by Sukhinder Singh Cassidy, the Founder and Chair of Joyus. The article mentioned her personal experience as a successful women tech entrepreneur and also presented the results of a survey she had conducted with 230 women tech entrepreneurs and female venture capitalists. I was one of the women founders in the survey and you can see the list of women in the survey on Medium.

The survey revealed some important conclusions:

1. Women don’t need engineering degrees to have successful tech companies
2. Most successful women entrepreneurs have faced gender bias
3. The women entrepreneurs in the survey were successful at raising outside capital

Below is an infographic we created to highlight more of the survey results. Everyday we make choices about living in a way that furthers what matters to us. Join us to #Choose Possibility by supporting women entrepreneurs and those who invest in them.

By Deborah Jackson



Jenn Shaw of Bella Minds

The Value of Raising Money

Eighteen months ago, NYTechWomen Founder Jenn Shaw raised over $28,000 to launch Bella Minds in a Plum Alley campaign. The goal of Bella Minds was to create a women-only educational environment that bridges the digital divide and gives women the resources to succeed in the new economy.

Boasting 272 backers, and raising 14% more than her $25,000 goal, Shaw succeeded. She used the money to bring technological education to ten mid-career women in Nebraska. Since running her successful pilot program, Shaw’s plans have evolved. In true entrepreneurial fashion, Shaw is using this experience in creative ways to do more.

After her beta Bella Minds program in Alliance, NE, Shaw realized she needed more data on her customer and embarked upon field research in Kansas in order to better understand the needs and technology uses of the women she wanted to help. As with all early stage ventures, an entrepreneur needs to co-create their product with their ultimate user. As a direct result of her research, Shaw developed the Mastermind Program, with the intention to replicate it for mid-career women in all 50-states.


Mastermind classes are a “cross between a networking event and a class” that join women together under such themes as “Finish It Friday” and “Money Monday.” Twice a week for four weeks, eight women share their skills and experience over coffee to help each other out. It is too early to assess the impact of the sessions, but so far the feedback has been overwhelmingly positive.

Shaw believes the money she raised in her crowdfunding campaign on Plum Alley enabled her to more forward with her dream. Her successful campaign provided market validation of her idea, engagement with her customer, and real life experience in starting a venture.

Shaw is an exemplary entrepreneur: she affects real change and never stops dreaming. When a woman pursues her vision, and raises money to more forward, she inspires others. Jenn Shaw has certainly inspired us.

Bella Dream Big

Lucy Drummond

Five Tips for a Successful Crowdfunding Campaign

Geri Stengel, author, contributor to Forbes and Inc., and founder of Ventureneer, raised 145% of her goal during her wildly successful Plum Alley crowdfunding campaign. Her campaign, The Venture Crowd: Everything Ventured, Everything Gained, will fund actionable tools, insights, and training in equity crowdfunding for investors and entrepreneurs. Stengel sought to raise $7,500, and blew past this goal to raise a total of $10,915. We caught up with Stengel to hear her five tips for a successful crowdfunding campaign.

  1. “Start early and be organized.” Everything from your contact lists to your outreach plan to marketing materials should be prepped before launch. Stengel recommends starting three months prior to your Plum Alley campaign.
  2. Sending personalized emails is a must. The more personal the email, the better.
  3. If you have contacts who are familiar with crowdfunding or fundraising, make sure to reach out to them. Those individuals will understand what the process of raising money is like, and will likely be more compelled to contribute to your campaign.
  4. Set up a Customer Relationship Management System before your campaign goes live. To run a successful crowdfunding campaign, aggregating and managing all of your contacts in a single location is critical. Keep track of who you contact, method of communication, contributions, and next steps.
  5. Social media is great for keeping people informed about the progress of your campaign and providing additional details about your campaign. However, do not plan on social media bringing in financial contributions. Contributions to your campaign will come from personal modes of outreach, such as emails.

We urge all of our project creators to pay close attention to Stengel’s advice.