100WomenChi: 001. Corielle Heath Laaspere & 002. Rachel Jones

Rachel Jones (left) and Corielle Heath Laaspere

Had you been looking over my shoulder, you may have thought I was having a casual afternoon chat with friends.

On my laptop screen, two young women in tank tops smiled wide and waved. Behind them a perfect blue August sky stretched above a charming suburban house and just a glimpse of a backyard pool.

This is a picture of two best friends soaking up the last rays of summer — chatting, laughing, swinging flip-flopped feet. But make no mistake; here by the pool sit two entrepreneurs driving change and creating opportunities in the name of women business owners worldwide.

One year ago, Corielle Heath Laaspere was living the busy life of director of marketing at a local women-owned app agency. As part of her job, she immersed herself in the women in tech community. What had started as strategic networking quickly turned into something deeper; speaking and connecting with inspiring women every day sparked a passion. She discovered that empowering women in business filled her head with dreams and her heart with fire: it was clear what she needed to do.

“As soon as I had this moment where I felt like I could make a change, I had to go out and do it. I couldn’t find a place that already existed that was specifically focused on women. The only way I could make it happen was to do it on my own.”

So, Corielle left her job and set up shop in her parents’ living room. She started strategically laying out plans to create an environment where women could empower one another. Soon, her childhood best friend, Rachel Jones, joined her. Together, they founded LiftUpLift, a new online marketplace where consumers can shop directly from women-owned businesses.

LiftUpLift differentiates itself in the e-commerce marketplace in a number of ways. First and foremost, it will be the only marketplace dedicated solely to women-owned businesses all over the world. Second, the site incorporates the functionality of a social network — businesses and consumers create their own profile and can share and comment on posts through a timeline feed. Corielle and Rachel created this social marketplace hybrid with the understanding that women are highly influenced in their shopping purchases by the opinions and decisions of their friends. They hope that meaningful interaction between users will spur the growth of a supportive community, where store owners can provide feedback to one another.

LiftUpLift is open to business owners through invitation only. Corielle communicates one-one-on with each business owner to ensure that she will fully embrace an online environment and contribute to the community. Additionally, every businesses must meet certain fair trade and non-toxic standards.

LiftUpLift also has a philanthropic aim. Corielle and Rachel learned that many women worldwide were already using their businesses to provide services such as counseling, healthcare forums, etc. LiftUpLift will provide funds directly to store owners using their space and their standing to create positive change in their local communities. In particular, they will support efforts to combat sexual violence.

“Part of our mission as a technology service provider is to make it easier for women entrepreneurs to be allies of all women.”

The strategic vision and business acumen behind the marketplace is impressive, but what truly shines through when speaking with Corielle and Rachel is the passion and purpose behind their work.

“It’s what we care about. We both just care a lot about the people we work with. They continue to amaze us with what they are capable of, what they’re out there doing, and how generous they are.”

Despite their persistent optimism, they have experienced challenges and setbacks. Rachel, whose role is more public-facing, has encountered opposition from those who don’t see the purpose of focusing on women-owned businesses. Additionally, their launch date was threatened after their contracted developer failed to deliver on multiple deadlines.

However, they found the support to overcome these obstacles from the very network of allies they are building. They credit the women they work with as the source of their indefatigable dedication.

“We went into it with the mentality that all women are our ally, but we didn’t expect them to be so amazing. Every woman we work with wants to use her power for good. You can’t find a woman entrepreneur who doesn’t care about her community, the quality of her products, or doing something more.”

In only a year, Corielle and Rachel turned the seed of an idea into the roots of an inspiring business and community.

This article is part of 100WomenChi, a project aimed at interviewing the 100 most interesting women in Chicago. It was originally published in September 2015.

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