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Lead Your Team Women in Business

10 Popular Businesses Founded by Women

10 Popular Businesses Founded by Women
Credit: PathDoc/Shutterstock

Women are natural-born leaders, so it's no surprise that women have founded so many of today's most interesting and powerful companies. According to the National Association of Women Business Owners, more than 9.4 million companies are owned by women, employing nearly 7.9 million people, and generating $1.5 trillion in sales as of 2015. 

Here are 10 successful businesses that were started by inspiring female entrepreneurs:

Carly Strife co-founded Bark & Co. with Matt Meeker, Henrik Werdelin, who were brought together by their love of all things pups. The trio launched Bark & Co’s first product, BarkBox, with little thought as to how popular it was going to be, according to the website.

Strife, who serves as the COO, was also the NYC operations manager at Uber, in addition to working for management and consultation firm Deloitte before Bark & Co. According to Forbes, the company has an approximate valuation between $150 million and $200 million.

Rashmi Sinha is the female mastermind behind the popular presentation-sharing platform, SlideShare. Sinha co-founded the company with CTO Jonathan Boutelle in 2006, a year after launching another project called MindCanvas. Before launching SlideShare, Sinha was doing lab work after earning a Ph.D. in cognitive neurospychology, when she realized her passion for web technology and co-founded another company called Uzanto.

SlideShare was acquired by professional social networking giant LinkedIn in May 2013 for a reported $118.75 million and now has more than 16 million registered users.

Birchbox, one of the top monthly box-subscription services, was co-founded by two entrepreneurial women: Katia Beauchamp and Hayley Barna. The duo met at Harvard Business School and created their company in 2010 with the goal of improving the beauty industry and making it more customer-friendly. In 2012, Barna made Forbes' "30 under 30" list of marketing and advertising influencers.

Initially, Birchbox was a subscription service for women looking to try new beauty product samples, but the company expanded in 2012 with the addition of Birchbox Man. As of 2014, Birchbox had more than 800,000 subscribers and was bringing in approximately $96 million a year in sales.

Sandra Lerner founded what would become technology giant Cisco alongside then-husband Len Bosack, after the pair was unable to email each other from offices in different buildings while working together at Stanford University. Lerner's desire to connect with her husband led to them designing the multi-protocol router — the platform that launched Cisco in 1984.

While she was eventually ousted from the company in 1990, Lerner reportedly walked away with $170 million from the sale of stock options. She went on to start Urban Decay, a cosmetics company, and today she's running a certified organic and humane farm in Virginia.

At age 35, Caterina Fake, who had worked as the art director for Salon.com, founded the popular photo-sharing website Flickr in 2002. The site was actually an offshoot of a game Fake was developing with Stewart Butterfield, her husband at the time.  While the game quickly went bust, the photo-sharing technology they designed was a hit.

In 2005, Fake and Butterfield sold Flickr to Yahoo for a reported $35 million in cash and stock options. Fake has since co-founded the website Hunch, a site that makes recommendations based on detailed user preferences, and been named to the board of directors of the handmade online marketplace Etsy.

Liquid Paper was the brainchild of executive secretary Bette Nesmith Graham, who in the 1950s began using white, water-based tempera paint and a thin paintbrush to cover her typing errors. She sold her first bottle, originally called Mistake Out, in 1956. Graham later patented the must-have office product and renamed it Liquid Paper.

After starting with just 100 bottles a month in sales, Liquid Paper was selling 25 million bottles a year when Graham sold it for a reported $47.5 million in 1979. She passed away six months later at age 56. (And, yes, the rumors are true, she was the mother of Mike Nesmith of The Monkees).

After trying her hand at running a hotel and a restaurant, Anita Roddick started The Body Shop in 1976 in England to create a livelihood for herself and her two daughters while her husband was traveling the globe. The bath-and-body-product concept caught on, and she opened a second shop within six months. She soon launched The Body Shop's franchise program, which has opened stores all across the world.

The company went public in 1984 and in 2006, 30 years after its founding, Roddick sold The Body Shop to L'Oréal for a reported $1.4 billion. Today, there are more than 2,500 stores in 61 countries.

Following a career that included teaching and horse training, Ruth Fertel mortgaged her house in 1965 to buy a little restaurant, Chris Steak House, on the corner of Broad and Ursuline in New Orleans. A fire ravaged the restaurant in 1976, forcing her to open in a new location under a new name, Ruth's Chris Steak House.

That same year, Fertel agreed to let Tom Moran, a regular customer, open the first Ruth's Chris franchise location.  Today, there are more than 130 company and franchise-owned locations around the globe.

Fertel, who passed away in 2002 at age 75, sold her majority interest in the chain to private equity firm Madison Dearborn in 1999 for an undisclosed amount.

Maxine Clark came up with the idea for Build-A-Bear Workshop after shopping with a 10-year-old who questioned why she couldn't just make her own stuffed toy when she couldn't find one she liked. Clark turned the idea into a business when she opened the first Build-A-Bear Workshop in St. Louis in 1997.

There are more than 400 stores worldwide have helped people create more than 100 million furry friends. Clark, who remains the company's "Chief Executive Bear," was inducted into the Junior Achievement National Business Hall of Fame in 2006 and named one of the 25 Most Influential People in Retailing by Chain Store Age in 2008.

Classmates studying dermatology together at Stanford University, Katie Rodan and Kathy Fields felt strongly about finding a better treatment for acne because both of them had lived with it at some time in their lives. After starting separate practices, the pair noticed the problems acne posed for people of all ages. The realization led them to start working on a new way to treat facial blemishes.

Over a five-year period, Rodan and Fields developed a comprehensive acne skin care system, Proactiv Solution, which combines acne medicine with soothing botanicals to create an acne-fighting system designed to leave skin smooth, clean and clear. The product, which has found success via 30-minute television infomercials, has become one of the top-selling acne medications in the U.S.

Additional reporting by Chad Brooks.

Shannon Gausepohl
Shannon Gausepohl

Shannon Gausepohl graduated from Rowan University in 2012 with a degree in journalism. She has worked at a newspaper and in the public relations field, and is currently a staff writer at Business News Daily. Shannon is a zealous bookworm, has her blue belt in Brazilian jiu jitsu, and loves her Blue Heeler mix, Tucker.