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5 Most Successful Female Entrepreneurs

successful female entrepreneurs

The uphill battle facing any budding entrepreneur is a steep one but the mountain female entrepreneurs must climb is even higher. Obstacles come fast and furiously at female entrepreneurs which makes their success even more impressive. There are so many incredible businesswomen who are inspirations for the next generation of female entrepreneurs to admire and learn from.

In this article, we will take a look at 5 of the most successful female entrepreneurs and see how they reached the top of their respective industries. 

Melanie Perkins

1. Melanie Perkins

Most people in the design/marketing world are familiar with the fantastic, ultra-user-friendly design software, Canva. What many may not know, however, is that Melanie Perkins co-founded the company in 2013 in Sydney, Australia with her husband Cliff Obrecht and technical co-founder Cameron Adams. 

Perkins showed an aptitude for entrepreneurship from as early as 14 years of age. She started sewing handmade scarves and selling them at the local markets in Perth. Perkins dropped out of university to start her first business, Fusion Books, a yearbook publishing company that utilised user-friendly design software that students could use to design their own yearbooks. 

This idea of simple, user-friendly software that anyone could use, even without experience, would become the foundation of Canva and within five years, Fusion Books was the largest yearbook publishing company in Australia. Perkins went to San Fransisco in 2010 to pitch the idea for Canva to investors. She made more than 100 pitches that failed and it took more than two years to get the funding to start Canva.

Even after the initial investment, many people were still sceptical of the idea of Canva being a successful business model because there were (and still are) so many free users, but now Canva has more than 60 million active users per month in more than 190 countries. They have introduced an enterprise plan with companies such as Intel, Salesforce, and Marriott as satisfied customers. Canva says approximately 85% of Fortune 500 companies are using some version of their platform. 

Perkins and her husband have donated 30% of ALL Canva shares, or about £10bn to charity but she is still estimated to have a current net worth of £5.4bn.

Denise Coates

2. Denise Coates

If you had to guess who was the highest-paid boss in Britain, would you believe it if I told you it is a woman? Denise Coates is the co-CEO and co-founder, along with her brother John Coates, of online bookmaker bet365. Despite earning a paycheck of over £421 million in 2020, Coates is known for being a quiet, private and philanthropic person and has even earned the nickname the “Quiet Queen of Online Betting.”

Coates’ father started a successful catering business that was tailored to providing food and beverages at sporting events. He used the capital raised from his catering business to purchase a chain of small bookmaking shops he renamed Provincial Racing. His betting shops became so successful, that he was able to become the main shareholder in Stoke City football club in 1989. But the family’s legacy was only just beginning.

Denise took her first job at Provincial Racing and became Managing Director in 1995, being largely responsible for its exponential growth. She was an early adopter of the internet and believed the future of sports betting would be online so in 2000, she purchased the domain bet365 for £20,000 and secured a loan from the Royal Bank of Scotland to start operations. 

From a dodgy shop in Stoke, Coats turned a small-time bookkeeping outfit into a gambling empire with billions in revenue and over 5000 employees. Bet365 has experienced continuous growth since it launched in 2001 and twenty years later, the online gambling site has more than 6 million customers in more than 200 countries. In the year ending March 2021, bet365 posted annual revenue of £2.8 billion. 

Ms Coates estimated net worth is approximately £3.8 billion. She is often admired for not moving her money into tax havens and paying full UK taxes on her earnings. She is consistently the highest paying tax-payer in the UK while also maintaining an expansive philanthropic portfolio. 

Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw

3. Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw

Even in 2022, It’s no secret that women face greater challenges than men in the corporate and entrepreneurial world. So imagine the challenges Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw must have faced as an aspiring entrepreneur in the 1970s in India! She was undeterred by the difficulties she faced and cofounded Biocon, which went on to become one of the worlds leading biopharmaceutical companies. 

In 1953, Mazumdar-Shaw was born in Bengaluru, India. Her father was a brewmaster at a local brewery and she initially had ambitions to follow into the family business. She even went so far as to get her master’s degree in Brewing in Australia in 1975. Unfortunately, Mazumdar-Shaw could not find a brewery that was willing to hire a woman. This was one of the first of many sexist obstacles she would have to overcome. 

Undeterred, Mazumdar-Shaw left India to try to find a job in Europe as a brewmaster. She was offered a job at a brewery in Scotland and was due to start working when a random meeting changed the trajectory of her life forever. 

Call it fate or destiny, Mazumdar-Shaw had a chance meeting with an Irish entrepreneur Leslie Auchincloss who was looking to start a pharmaceutical business in India. He was so impressed by Mazumdar-Shaw during their meetings that he invited her to be his partner and manager of his new venture, Biocon. 

Mazumdar-Shaw returned to India and started running Biocon in her home. Again, she came up against sexism when she quickly realised men did not want to work for her. There were even women who refused to have another woman as their boss at the time but eventually she was able to find employees.

After much difficulty, Mazumdar-Shaw was then able to secure a loan from the bank and start a fully-fledged business. Biocon initially began developing and manufacturing enzymes that were used to produce alcoholic drinks, paper and other products with the majority of Biocon clients based outside of India in the US and Europe.

Biocon continued to grow into an industry leader during the 1980s and 1990s but by the year 2000, it had shifted its focus almost entirely to biopharmaceuticals. This proved to be an excellent business decision. When the company had its IPO in 2004, it was only the second Indian company at that time to be valued at over one billion dollars. 

Biocon continues to operate with a focus on developing and manufacturing insulin and generic versions of popular drugs. Mazumdar-Shaw is still Chairperson of Biocon and owns 40% of the company’s stock with her net worth estimated to be £2.5bn

Martha Stewart

4. Martha Stewart

America’s first self-made female billionaire, Martha Stewart, has created an unparalleled empire consisting of television, publishing, clothing, and even marijuana! The highs and lows of Stewart’s life have kept her at the centre of attention in the media for more than 40 years. Her story truly is one of the most fascinating tales in modern history. 

From age 10, she already showed signs of entrepreneurship when she started babysitting. But she wasn’t just babysitting for just anyone, she was babysitting for baseball players of the New York Yankees! While growing up in New Jersey, her mother insisted on teaching her household skills such as cooking, sewing, and gardening. Little did she know at the time, but these skills would lead Stewart to worldwide fame in the future. 

Continuing her entrepreneurial youth, Stewart began to freelance model when she was 13. She appeared in television and print advertisements and even modelled for the international fashion brand Chanel, which helped her pay her way through Barnard College, where she graduated with a degree in Architectural History. 

Her professional career truly started when she worked at a stockbroker on Wall Street. Unsatisfied by working for someone else, she decided to start her own catering business. Her company, Martha Stewart, Inc. quickly became famous among rich and famous celebrities, catering for many large galas and events with fabulously presented food and decorations. 

Riding the success of her catering business, Stewart decided to start writing books related to cooking and entertaining. In fact, her first book was simply called Entertaining that featured photos and recipes from some of Stewart’s legendary events. The book was a success so she followed up with more books, appearing on popular television shows and writing articles in mainstream magazines. 

In 1991, wanting to capitalise on her newfound media fame, Ms Stewart signed a deal to publish her own monthly magazine, Martha Stewart Living. At its peak, it was selling more than 2 million copies per month. She also started her own lifestyle television show bearing the same name in 1993. 

Stewart finally started her own media company in 1997, changing Martha Stewart, Inc to Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia Inc. This allowed her to gain almost total control over her media empire. In 1999, she took her company public on the New York Stock Exchange and the IPO made her the first self-made female billionaire in the United States. 

Unfortunately, Stewart did not always maintain the flawless persona she portrayed through her media empire. In 2003 Stewart was charged with securities fraud and obstruction of justice on the accusations that she participated in insider trading based on the information given to her by a stockbroker. She was convicted and sentenced to 5 months in prison, followed by 5 months of house arrest. 

Many people thought this was the end of the Martha Stewart empire but, in fact, she bounced back stronger than ever. In some ways, serving her sentence in prison made her even more legendary. She even started a cooking show with rapper Snoop Dogg that focused on cannabis-infused recipes! Her empire continues to grow with new books, TV shows, and even a private label wine. 

Sarah Blakely

5. Sara Blakely

The story of Sara Blakely and her £1bn company Spanx is one of entrepreneurship in its purest form. She originally set out to solve a simple problem that many women face during their lives, finding comfortable and functional hosiery at a reasonable price. Judging by the historic rise of her company Spanx, it’s fair to say she more than accomplished her goal. 

Born in 1971, Blakely graduated from Florida State University with a degree in Communications. Not knowing what path she wanted to take in life, she worked many odd jobs after finishing school. She tried her luck as a comedian and even worked at Walt Disney World for a while, until getting a job as a door-to-door fax machine saleswoman. While working this job, she had her revelation. She was tired of walking in uncomfortable undergarments and hosiery all day and decided she was going to create her own. 

Blakely saved £4,200 of her own money and started to develop her own, more comfortable hosiery. She pitched her idea to many different companies and manufacturers but was denied. Like so many other industries, even the hosiery industry was managed by men, even though they know next to nothing about the daily needs of female lives. 

Eventually, Blakely found a manufacturer to support her idea. She immediately filed for a patent and purchased the Spanx trademark. Once the initial line was produced, she made her pitch to the world-famous buyers at Neiman Marcus. They were keen to have Spanx in their stores and other retailers soon followed. 

With a high-quality, comfortable product and some unique retail placement such as placing the Spanx near the shoe department instead of the hosiery department, Spanx began to take off, reaching more than £3.3m in sales during its first year of operation and as they say, the rest is history. 

In 2012, Blakely was named the youngest self-made female billionaire in the world. Then, in 2015 purchased a stake in the Atlanta Hawks, an NBA team. In 2021, she sold her share in Spanx while the company was valued at £1bn. Not a bad return on her $5000 investment!

Final Thoughts

As you can see, it was no easy feat for these successful female entrepreneurs to accomplish what they did. Their careers were littered with obstacles that most male entrepreneurs would never have to face. Yet, all these incredible women overcame and persevered these obstacles to reach the pinnacle of entrepreneurship.



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