Female climbing ladder into cloudy sky with dollars floating around

The Most Successful and Influential Female Entrepreneurs

There’s still plenty of room for you at the top of this list

Two months ago, Forbes released its third annual list of America’s Richest Self-Made Women. The 60 women who made the cut have a record combined net worth of $61.5 billion. And because they weren’t born into these fortunes, we know they created their own wealth by relying on invention and innovation to build their empires.

One new billionaire on the list is Carolyn Rafaelian, founder of the stackable charm-dangling bangle bracelet company Alex and Ani. She turned what women wear on their wrists into fashionable statements about their hobbies, spiritual beliefs and sports team allegiances — and catapulted herself to America’s richest jeweler.

Another newcomer to the list is former news anchor Jamie Kern Lima, who began testing makeup a decade ago to help cover her hereditary rosacea. Her experiment led to the creation of IT Cosmetics, which she launched in 2008 from her living room. L'Oréal (the world’s biggest beauty company) purchased her company in August 2016 for $1.2 billion. Oh, and Kern Lima is staying on to run IT, making her the first female CEO of any L'Oréal brand (34 in the U.S. alone) in its 108-year history.

Now, let’s just stop for a moment and think about the myriad opportunities that clearly exist out there — these brilliant women found niches in industries that were, frankly, already overcrowded, and found a way to resonate with the people who drive 70-80% of all consumer purchasing (either through buying power or influence): WOMEN.

But Where Do I Start?

Too often I hear people say “every idea has already been taken” or “it’s impossible to find a way to stand out in the marketplace.” It can be done. And it’s being done every single day — by real women, just like you. They identify and solve problems. They sniff out trends and act quickly. They use creativity and business savvy to stand out.

Need more inspiration? Inc. recently named 15 female entrepreneurs to watch out for in 2017, and this list might feel a little more attainable to you (until you’re ready to make your first billion, of course). Here are a few standouts — chosen not only for their great business ideas, but also because these businesses could help you on your path to entrepreneurship:

Anna Auerbach realized that while 30% of talented women were dropping out of the workforce, 70% of them said they would still be working if they had flexibility. So she founded Werk, which helps women find jobs that advance their careers while still meeting their work-life balance needs. Auerbach is a Harvard Business School grad, former McKinsey consultant and social impact COO. Her LinkedIn profile says that “flexibility not only provides more opportunity for women, but it’s also a long-term strategic solution to reduce massive attrition and opt-out rates, helping to propel them into leadership positions over time.” If you’re a busy mom who yearns to get back into the workforce, you might find the right role here that helps catapult you to entrepreneurship someday!

Marcela Sapone created Hello Alfred to create time for people to do what they love. For a small weekly fee, you’ll get a personal assistant who can clean, shop, organize, and handle time-consuming errands as requested. Small tasks like grocery shopping and laundry can easily become burdensome to career-focused individuals, and they pull your attention away from creating your financial freedom. What an ingenious solution to the constant complaint of “there aren’t enough hours in the day.”

Sabrina Mutukisna is the founder and CEO of The Town Kitchen, a community-driven food company that employs and empowers urban youth. After graduating from UC Berkeley with a degree in film studies, Mutukisna spent eight years working in youth development projects. So when she decided to hire low-income 15-25 year olds, pay them fair wages, give them college course credit, teach them entrepreneurial skills, and train them to prepare meals for San Francisco-Bay-area businesses, it was a recipe for success. Nowadays, investors and customers love to see community betterment and social change at the heart of a start-up’s model — food for thought.

Nobody expects you to be an overnight sensation and end up on these lists next year — but these five women never would have made the lists either if they hadn’t taken that first step forward. What will your first step be?

Original publish date: July 27, 2017