Another 99 “Limit Breaking” Female Founders Share The Most Important Lessons They Learned from Their Experiences

By Yitzi Weiner and Cam Kashani

2018 has begun, and pundits and opinion makers are predicting that 2018 will be the “Year of the Woman”. That of course, is yet to be seen. And we have heard this prediction before. Yet it is hard to deny that women have made enormous progress in the past few years. I partnered up with my friend Cam Kashani, a leader in empowering female founders, to profile some “limit breaking female founders” and the lessons that they can teach us.

We hope that you can find empowering and actionable words of wisdom from this second set of profiles.


Amilya Antonetti, CEO AMA Productions, Inc.

Who She Is and How She Has Overcome Limitations:

“Ms. Antonetti has more than 30​ years combined experience as Entrepreneur, CEO, CMO, Digital Strategist or consultant ​of several innovative and fast growth companies including Sharper Image, SoapWorks, Herplex, Lucky Napkin, Eff Creative, Myos Corp and BlockChain Industries. Amilya has done extensive work with Athletes, Musicians & Entertainers including her current role with Steve Harvey World Group.

Amilya gained national popularity as a leader for women in the early 1990’s after discovering the life-threatening effects cleaning products had on her infant son. She successfully founded/CEO of Soapworks, which became one of the fastest-growing privately owned household product companies in North America. She sold the company in 2002 and it remains a wholly owned division of a major household company.

Over her career she has lead more than 40,000 employees across multiple companies. She has built a strong reputation in ​disrupting industries with her expertise and entrepreneurial spirit in ​strategy, technology, data mining, blockchain, cryptocurrencies and innovation. This expertise combined with her network in sports, media and entertainment make for a unique skill set when applied to her passion for mass consumer goods and experience marketing.

​Since 2010, Amilya has ​become a go to expert and media personality. Appearing regularly as a business expert on Fox News & CNBC as well as, Oprah and Dr. Phil. In 2014, she hosted her own radio show “Amilya!” on Cumulus Radio 77WABC.

Early 2015, she returning back to TV as a contributing business expert with “The Steve Harvey Show” and other daytime appearances. In 2017, Amilya was casted as a judge & investor on a new show “”Elevator Pitch”” with Entrepreneur magazine.

Amilya has received numerous awards and accolades for breaking ground for women including “Smart Woman of the Year Award”, Fastest Under Forty-Woman to Watch, The Kauffman Foundation Entrepreneur Award, The Wells Fargo Award of Excellence, and Inc. 500. Her management has been recognized by Working Woman Magazine in “The Best Places to Work” — a testament to her leadership style. She’s been nominated for Ernst & Young’s Entrepreneur of The Year Award and additionally, her business model, that focused on the needs from women & children, once considered “out-of-the-box,” is now a required study at many worldwide business schools.

Her passion for helping people/brands by moving them from “”where they are”” — to “”where they want to be””- remains just as strong today as we kick off 2018.”

Here are the most important lessons I’ve learned from my experiences:

“There have been SO many important lessons learned along the way, I could fill a book, especially lessons that speak to women. When I started this journey, as a woman in business, there was not role models like Oprah, Mary Barra or Melinda Gates. Learning the “rules of the game” and important lesson needed for success, came from feet on the street experience and hard knocks.

One painfully important lesson, unfortunately came from first-hand experience and reinforced to me by advice from Oprah Winfrey, “Sign your own checks.” This lesson I will never forget. No matter the size of your business or your household income, your attention to detail impacting your cash flow is critical for sustainable financial success. Helping women gain confidence and the right mindset when it comes to money and investments continues to be one of my passions. Financial independence is so deeply connected to a person’s true sense of freedom and their authenticity. There is a HUGE difference between making ends meet, being rich and being wealthy. It has become abundantly clear you can NOT get from one level to the next, without the thoughts, beliefs, habits and actions that are attached to each of these different levels. I make it my mission to continually stops people from their “broke” thinking and convert their thinking and words into healthier and wealthier ways.

Another lesson, I wish I understood earlier in life, is the value of my friendships, teams and network. I am big believer in people and still believe the most valuable asset of any company or network is its people. This lesson was so critical I became obsessed with the study of human behavior. This study has helped me become a stronger leader and gain a deeper understanding of who I am, my unique abilities and the abilities of others.

Lastly, I would say the lesson of following the fire in your belly, tenacity, relentless pursuit of your passion, however you refer to the action oriented, cross things off the list mindset that moves some people forward. Learning the power of NO and eliminating negative energy from my life by releasing the “talkers” who are ‘gonna do” something and surrounding myself with positive minded “doers” instead. The good news, I have learned that people have 100% control over which person they choose to be.


Heather Monahan, business expert, Boss In Heels

Who She Is and How She Has Overcome Limitations:

Heather Monahan started from very humble beginnings growing up in Worcester, Massachusetts. After graduating from Clark University, she began her career in sales and quickly advanced to top salesperson and Brand Manager within her first year. After being harassed in her position, she left the wine business and started working for Wilks Broadcasting as a salesperson in radio. A year later she was offered an equity partnership which required her to move to Saginaw, Michigan. She made the difficult decision to leave her family and friends behind and move alone to the Midwest for the chance to create value and potentially sell the Saginaw properties for a professional and financial gain. Within three years in Saginaw, she significantly increased the group’s value resulting in a successful sale of the properties more than doubling the purchase price from 27M to a final sale of 55M. Heather then moved to Naples, Florida to begin working for Beasley Broadcasting where she started as a Director of Sales. After one year of substantial revenue results, she pitched herself for a position that didn’t previously exist and was awarded the VP of Sales title for the company. Over the next few years she pitched herself for and was awarded the newly created EVP Sales position and ultimately the Chief Revenue Officer title. During this time Heather launched her personal brand to empower women and give them the insight and tips she had longed for as a young professional. She was the Keynote speaker at the Corinium CRO conference and held the main stage at the LOAC in NYC. Heather was recognized as a Glass Ceiling Award winner and as one of the Most Influential Women in radio in 2017 before her unexpected termination. Faced with the choice to go back to her comfort zone or take a leap of faith and pursue her passion to elevate others, Heather chose to make her company Boss In Heels her full time job. Over the next few months, Heatherwas featured on the Elvis Duran show, she completed her first book on how to build confidence and was named the Brand Ambassador for Perry Ellis International’s female brand Rafaella. Heather and her son Dylan reside in Miami, Florida.

Here are the most important lessons I’ve learned from my experiences:

1. The only limitations that can be put on you are the ones that you put on yourself. Make a conscious choice to NOT put limitations on yourself and instead challenge the status quo. I loved learning that Oprah was fired from TV to only see this woman rise up to be the media maven that she is today. Everyone will be told no and be told why something won’t work and why they are wrong or not good enough, those are the moments you pivot and find a way to make it work in spite of the negativity. If success was easy everyone would have it. Let nothing stop you in chasing your dreams and nothing will.

2. The anecdote for overcoming self-doubt is taking action and developing your confidence muscle. There are so many ways you can boost your confidence and get yourself to take action. Who you surround yourself with is everything — fire negative people in your life and watch how you take off. How you see yourself is how others will see you — speak kindly to yourself, make yourself a priority, and spend time doing things you love. Journal to see how far you have come and keep track of all of your small wins. Turn scarcity into abundance by writing down three things a day that you can be grateful for. Removing the mask and being your true self, the more you can speak your real thoughts and be the authentic you that you really are the stronger you will feel. Speak up in meetings, speak up for yourself and speak your truth.

3. Fear is a Liar. This is one of the most powerful lessons I have learned over the last decade. In the past, I was letting fear stop me from doing so much. Fear stopped me from making a commitment in my relationship, from pitching my fantastic ideas to investors, from speaking up in meetings or speaking up for myself. Fear had been holding me back and the realization that none of these fears were real has empowered me to take action and take chances. Now I see that fear is not real and there is nothing to lose in the pursuit of something I believe in. The moment you begin to experience fear accept that everything you want is on the other side of it and get moving.


Jacynda Smith, CEO and Inventor of TYME

Who She Is and How She Has Overcome Limitations:

“Jacynda Smith is the perfect example of a woman who followed her passion and transformed overnight from a simple hair stylist trying to make ends meet, to the Tony Robbins of the beauty industry. Over the past five years, she has innovated a 20 million-dollar grossing revenue (now on track for 50 million), hair-styling tool and product brand called TYME, that is changing the way women are spending their time beautifying.

In 2015, Jacynda was faced with a make-or-break moment. With two kids and a husband who played professional hockey, her family soon saw themselves between a rock and a hard place with her husband’s career-ending knee injury. It wasn’t until watching ‘The Secret’ that she learned the power of what she calls “following your excitement.” Little did they know, with Jacynda’s desperation and creativity combined with following her excitement, that their world was about to change.

At age 35, after spending 2 years in the beauty industry as a hairstylist, Jacynda and her brother Kierre launched TYME in 2014. With satellite offices in Arizona, Iowa and Colorado, TYME products are now available to purchase in 40 countries worldwide.

Here are the most important lessons I’ve learned from my experiences:

“Lesson #1: Follow your Excitement — From a young age, most people are engrained to believe that you need to be (at the very least) good at everything, from reading, writing, math and the list continues, you have to pass these subjects to move onto the next grade and then you are ultimately judged by someone on how well you performed in these areas. Essentially, we are taught to work for others approval instead of following our excitement and doing what it is that makes us genuinely happy. Once you graduate from the “grind” and those specific expectations, learn to let go of the standard and go after what you’re truly passionate about. That’s when you’ll excel.

When you learn to follow your excitement, it allows you to see things in an entirely different way. Learning suddenly becomes easier because you have a true personal investment in what you’re doing and that is one of the most powerful things when it comes to business.

Lesson #2: Insistence equals resistance — Once you have an idea that you are excited about, then start working towards that goal. The trick is to make sure you do not insist that every step on your entrepreneurial journey go a certain way. Take time to realize that better routes to reach your end goal will become available. The key is to be open-minded enough to see when a better (or different) opportunity arises. Things will not always go according to the plan, it certainly didn’t for me but the best thing I could do was be resilient and come to the realization that this course of action was meant to be.

Lesson #3: No Frustration, Just Clarification — In most circumstances where frustration arises it usually stems from needing clarification. So if you are interacting with an employee, a colleague or a customer, the best thing is to take whatever it is that they are telling you as “neutral” and aim to derive where the frustration is coming from to quickly develop the solution to the problem. More often than not, you’ll notice that simply just more information is needed to be delivered.”


Mylène Besançon, Co-founder and Chief Marketing Officer at Tunedly

Who She Is and How She Has Overcome Limitations:

Mylène Besançon is the co-founder and Chief Marketing Officer at Tunedly, a premium online recording studio. She graduated from the Dublin Business School with an MBA In Marketing and also holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Foreign Language and Business Studies from the University Du Sud Toulon-Var. Her role at Tunedly sees her dealing with all the digital marketing and promotional aspects, and has so far helped to grow the company from a handful of clients to hundreds of loyal songwriters.

Here are the most important lessons I’ve learned from my experiences:

“Top three lessons learned:

1. Nothing is done until it’s done. In business, it’s easy to get your hopes up but I learned that anything can happen as long as the ball is still in play. That lesson was learned when a potential investor “changed his terms” at the last minute, which meant not getting the funding that was initially on the table and winding up right back at square one.

2. Nothing happens before the time. When nothing seems to be happening, you might get impatient and feel like lowering your standards. You may even start feeling self-doubt. However, I learned that in business, it’s best to stick it out and exercise patience as much as possible. When the investor I mentioned above failed us, we were obviously disappointed. However, we stuck to our guns and eventually ended up copping an even better deal with another investor, which came at the right time.

3. Things only work when you make them. In other words, you have to make a conscious effort to make things happen. It’s easy to cast blame on other people, on the weather, even on failing technology, when things don’t go the way you want them to. But I learned that if I really wanted something bad enough, all those excuses were just that…excuses. Do what you have to do, but whatever you do, make it happen.”


Jennifer Schwab, CEO & Founder Of ENTITY

Who She Is and How She Has Overcome Limitations:

“Jennifer Schwab is an outspoken entrepreneur, visionary and disrupter with one goal in mind: to inspire, support and empower all women, not through words, but ACTION. As a woman of color she knows what it’s like for women who have to work twice as hard to get half as much. Which is why in 2016 she founded ENTITY (www.entitymag.com), a media company dedicated entirely to equipping young women with the skills, knowledge, and resilience they need to succeed in today’s rapidly-changing career climate.

Through grassroots efforts ENTITY has become one of the fastest-growing women’s media companies over the past year. But it’s not just a publishing platform and social media juggernaut (15M monthly reach), it also encompasses the “ENTITY Women’s Leadership Academy”, which includes a rigorous curriculum based on leadership training and digital marketing, 27 speakers, and 18 activities — taking place over one summer in ENTITY’s Boyle Heights Headquarters.

ENTITY is not only about finding women jobs, but also guiding them into a life and career they are passionate about and have the skills to succeed in. It’s about creating #WomenThatDo.

Jennifer graduated with a B.S. in Accounting and started her career at Ernst & Young, Chicago office. She went on to study environmental design and sustainability at Art Center College of Design in Pasadena. Away from work, Jennifer follows design avidly and is a long time hobbyist pilot trained in high-performance multi-engine aircraft.

Here are the most important lessons I’ve learned from my experiences:

“1. Forgive yourself. I’ve worked in corporate America, the nonprofit sector and currently I’ve taken the entrepreneurial route of founding my own women’s mentorship company, Entity Mag. No matter where I worked one thing was for sure: mistakes happen. Failure at some point, at something, is inevitable. Whether it’s screwing up an account, making a poor hiring decision, or messing up on live TV you can’t be perfect all the time. This can be a tough pill for people to swallow and an important lesson I learned is you simply have to forgive yourself. Learn from your mistake and move on. Otherwise you’ll never get anything done!

2. Never underestimate the value of a female mentor. When I was first climbing the corporate ladder at a top-tier accounting firm I was largely on my own in a sea of men. It was clear that the few women who did work there were all vying for the token “women” spots at the top, so rather than helping each other, we were seen as adversaries. But this isn’t how it should be. The past year or so has proven there is strength in numbers when women band together — from the Women’s March to taking down Harvey Weinstein, we can make a huge difference not only for ourselves but for other women. Studies have shown this as well, when a boardroom goes from one woman to two or three women ALL women are heard more. This is why women who are just entering the workforce should seek out female mentors, and women who are already in middle management or the C-suite should be open to helping other women rise in the ranks. In essence, for our gender to get ahead we need to be comfortable paying it forward. At the end of the day when women support women — rather than see them as competition — all women have a better chance at success.

3. Don’t call yourself out as an expert on something until you really are — understand with age comes mastery and mastering a skill takes time and discipline. I truly believe that putting the time and effort into building a valuable skill set is the key to success. People often start something and stop the moment they aren’t good at it, but we need to remember that skills and mastery take time. I never called myself a good pilot until I had over 300 hours of flight time, 900 landings, and 700 hours of ground study. Not until I truly felt in charge of the cockpit.

You can apply that same lesson to business. Take the time to learn from as many people as possible. Don’t think just because you worked at a company for 1 or 2 years you know everything. As business leaders we are in a constant state of learning and that’s a good thing. Not only that, it builds trust. People will know that when you do finally call yourself an expert, you’re not blowing hot air. Your word will actually mean something.

4. Your life will consist of multiple “mini-lives” — embrace each of these micro journeys for their life lessons, as well as their unique beginnings and endings. So many people get caught up in reaching the pinnacle of “success” as quickly as possible — they think they can go from intern to CEO in two years — and when it doesn’t happen they feel inadequate. An important lesson in business is to take the journey, learn as much as you can from each experience and don’t worry about what everyone else is doing all the time. You’re on YOUR journey and that’s okay


Fran Maier, CEO, Babierge, Inc.

Who She Is and How She Has Overcome Limitations:

“Fran Maier is CEO and Founder of Babierge, baby gear rental marketplace, aimed at helping traveling families “”Pack Light and Travel Far.””. This is her 5th startup, as she is a serial entrepreneur and brand builder with 25 years experience in B2C and B2B internet businesses. She is best known for her 10+ years leading TRUSTe, the leading privacy trustmark and solutions provider, and as Co-Founder and first General Manager of Match.com.

She is frequently asked to be on radio and TV shows and is quoted in the media on the topic of gender equity in Silicon Valley. When the Ellen Pao case broke, she was featured as an expert on the topic on PBS News Hour and in other national media. Recently, she commented on NBC regarding sexual harassment allegations against Dave McClure.

Fran’s broken barriers and has more to break:

At Match.com, in the mid 1990s, Fran established credibility and trust in the emerging online dating industry, making Match.com the #1 online dating brand (which it still is), even though many thought that this category was sleazy and unattractive.

In her years leading TRUSTe, she built the company’s business and brand by driving TRUSTe’s flagship web privacy seal program as well as introducing new services to address emerging privacy issues. In 2008, recognizing that privacy and security issues were only growing larger, she convinced a very reluctant non-profit board of directors to convert the company from a non-profit industry association to a for-profit enterprise (and raised $10.5M) to develop new technologies and services to enhance privacy protections.

After leaving TRUSTe in 2012, Fran became a very early Airbnb Superhost in her San Francisco home (she was reluctant to tell her friends, fearing that it would look like she was some old lady that fell on hard times and had to take in boarders). That extra money and the experience, led her to look for new business ideas that would leverage the collaborative economy, hence Babierge. Despite her experience and track record, Fran had some difficulty in raising seed capital — was the market big enough? Could this business scale? and sadly, Is she too old? (seriously was asked why she was still hungry for this!). Yet she persisted and found both prior investors and new investors to back the company in addition to attracting former colleagues from Match.com and TRUSTe.

Fran speaks widely on several topics relating to women in business, including opportunities for women in the collaborative or gig economy, addressing the lucrative family travel segment, women in entrepreneurship and on boards. With Emmy Award winning journalist Kym McNicholas, she hosted a radio show/podcast called “”Female Seeking Start-up”” which featured interviews with female entrepreneurs. She serves as an advisor to many startups including Ruby Ribbon, Portfolia, Women’s Start-up Lab, Sign-up.com, Kango, and Dabbl.

In 2010, AlwaysOn named Fran among the Top 25 Women in Tech to Watch in Silicon Valley. In 2011, San Francisco Business Times named Fran among the 150 Most Influential Women in Bay Area Business. In 2015, she was named one of the “100 Most Influential Women in Tech” by Hot Topics. In March 2016, Fran was honored by the Stanford Graduate Business School with the Latino Leadership Award. In addition, she is a Member of Women Corporate Directors and is Chair Steering Committee for Stanford Women on Boards.

Here are the most important lessons I’ve learned from my experiences:

“The biggest issue for women is that they we have to be much more confident, which is difficult when investors and media through a thousand different cuts (everything from sexual harassment to making you feel invisible) bring you down. Here’s 3 lessons:

1) Embrace the Female Market. Despite the media’s obsession with artificial intelligence or driverless cars and guys wearing hoodies, remember that women control more and more of the purchasing power in the United States — not just at home! (FYI, not implying that women don’t also do AI and other technologies). Women know the women’s market and the products that women want. Focusing on women was the key to Match.com’s success and is true now with Babierge.

2) Play to Win! Too often women entrepreneurs play to survive, not to win. We need to think big, with confidence, and see what options and ideas that opens up.This might mean taking bigger risks or spending more than you may want to, but that’s what winning takes. This past June, at Babierge, when funding was getting tight, one former team member wanted us to pull back spending and team; I argued that the Summer travel season was critical to demonstrating the market opportunity, so we forged ahead and reached a $1M run-rate

3) Get Help. With your business. With your home. For yourself. Again, women tend to short-change themselves, feeling that they have to do it all. Or not wanting to spend the money for an assistant or a consultant (see #2 above). Or having too much pride to ask for help. If I had asked for help in 1998, when Match.com was sold to Cendant for $7M and change, I could have led the investment and got what I deserved. No one told me that I could have done that (and I’m sure if I were a guy someone would have suggested it) but I failed by not asking my network for help. 10 years later, when I converted TRUSTe from non-profit to for-profit, I did ask for help which ultimately helped me get the non-profit board onboard, find the lead investor, and get what I deserved.

Other quick lessons:

Ask yourself what a guy would do (often reframes the issue””

Stop saying “”I’m sorry”” (credit to Margot Smorak at Hostfully)

Write shorter emails (makes you look more confident)

Don’t suffer jerks, life is too short.


Briana Valdez, Owner, HomeState

Who She Is and How She Has Overcome Limitations:

Born outside Houston, Texas as one of a set of triplets, Briana Valdez moved to Los Angeles in 2000 after attending college in Austin. In 2008, she jumped at the opportunity to work with acclaimed restaurateur Thomas Keller as he opened Bouchon Beverly Hills, which is where she discovered her passion for the hospitality industry. She began conceptualizing ideas for her own restaurant based on the lack of Texas cuisine in LA, and in December 2013, Briana opened HomeState, an ode to Texas cuisine in East Hollywood. In a city full of “Tex-pats” but with few truly Texan restaurants, HomeState represents the integrity, history, and culture of Briana’s roots, in her new home of Los Angeles. In early 2018, Briana will open the second location of HomeState in LA’s Highland Park neighborhood. When she’s not at the restaurant, Briana enjoys quality time with her family including her husband, Taylor, her son, Henry, and their two dogs.

Here are the most important lessons I’ve learned from my experiences:

“Lesson One

Trust in yourself is paramount. I can’t count how many times I’ve been faced with a risky situation, or one I felt unprepared for…and in those moments, you really have to believe, deep in your bones, that your passion, your vision and your resilience will get you through pretty much anything. Because this business will throw it all at you.

Lesson Two

Surround yourself with folks who interest you, not those who echo your every word. I am incredibly blessed to have a core team of people who surprise, challenge and inspire me on a daily basis, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. If a potential candidate for your team seems like someone you’d want to have over for a dinner party, that’s probably a good sign.

Lesson Three

The phrase “it’s not personal, it’s just business” is a complete lie. Business is personal. It’s about people, and interaction, and empathy. It’s about individuals with specific desires and needs, which is a truth that applies to guests, to coworkers and to vendors alike. It’s our job as hospitality professionals to invest time in learning about those desires and needs, and to work to fulfill and, if possible, to anticipate them. This is the very core of good hospitality, and should be the cornerstone of any great business.


Beatrice Fischel-Bock, CEO & Co-Founder, Hutch

Who She Is and How She Has Overcome Limitations:

“Beatrice Fischel-Bock is the CEO and Co-Founder of Hutch, the home decor tool that mixes 3D technology with online shopping to let you virtually decorate your space.

Beatrice launched Hutch (formerly known as ZOOM Interiors and Homee) in 2012 during her final year at George Washington University after coming to the realization that interior design was an untapped resource in the technology sector. She soon began virtually designing her friend’s apartments — earning $1 million in revenue, while still in school.

Shortly following graduation, she appeared on Shark Tank to pitch the concept and piqued the interest of Tinder Founder Sean Rad, who helped raise $2.2 million in pre-seed funding. Immediately following that round, she raised an additional $5 million in funding in a seed round led by Peter Thiel’s Founders Fund.

Her 2016 TEDx talk focused on how to fail fast, fix fast and learn fast, a mantra that has carried her through the trenches of the startup world. In July of 2017, she closed a Series A funding round for $10 million from real estate platform Zillow.

Beatrice was named 2018’s Forbes 30 Under 30 for Retail & E-Commerce.”

Here are the most important lessons I’ve learned from my experiences:

When I look back at some of the biggest lessons I’ve learned throughout my experience building a company, the first thing that comes to mind is to expect the unexpected. Get comfortable with the idea that everything always changes and those who can roll with the punches will thrive in the fast paced environment of a startup. In line with that, another lesson is to live with the imperfect. Your customer should feel the perfection when using your product; however, behind-the-scenes you need to know that ‘perfect’ is never possible. The last significant lesson I’ve learned is to keep your imposter syndrome in check. Especially for women, I think we feel it more. Remind yourself that is not the reality. Be confident in what you are doing!


Coly Den Haan, Owner, Vinovore

Who She Is and How She Has Overcome Limitations:

Coly Den Haan, a third-generation restaurateur and one of LA’s first female sommeliers, has the hospitality business in her blood. Raised in Santa Barbara, her first after school job at the age of fourteen was as a busgirl. After moving to Los Angeles, she quickly accumulated experience in a myriad of capacities at Fred Segal’s famous Mauro’s Café, Farfalla on La Brea, and Barney Greengrass on the roof of Barney’s New York in Beverly Hills. She became a certified sommelier with AIS & NASA specializing in Italian wines in 2008 and a certified beer specialist, in 2009. Her class of 30 had three women at most, and she knew she had to break the mold of what a traditional sommelier may look like. Opening both Downtown LA’s acclaimed bars, Perch and The Must, Den Haan has proved to be a contender in the hospitality industry, successfully carving a place amongst both men and women alike. Most recently, Den Haan has partnered up with Dean Harada on the newly opened Vinovore, LA’s first female-driven wine shop carrying predominantly female winemakers. With their combined and complementary skill sets, Den Haan and Harada will be sharing specially curated wine and gift boxes with the city of Los Angeles.

Here are the most important lessons I’ve learned from my experiences:

One of the first lessons I learned in business was — if it seems to good to be true, it probably is. When I opened my first business I was in my twenties, incredibly eager and a teensy bit full of myself. Many of the spaces we were looking at were either too expensive or we were beat out by more experienced operators. Finally, I found what seemed to be the Goldilocks of spots for my concept. At the time my only concern with it was that the space was in Downtown LA, and it was still a very rough area and not quite up and coming — all the “Downtown is super hot,” talks began about a year later. As, we started to peel back the layers of the deal, more and more things didn’t add up or didn’t seem quite right. Alas, my tremendous enthusiasm for a space that was actually very viable to opening my dream establishment in, paired with the months of heartache losing other potential opportunities, made me blind to some serious deal-breakers on the space. A year and a half later, I lost my thriving business in the middle of the night by people fueled by greed and in possession of a very lopsided contract. This leads me to another extremely important lesson — always get an awesome attorney. Contrary to all the lawyer jokes, I absolutely love them and you should too! There is great truth in the phrase “a contract is only as good as the intentions behind it,” but an iron clad contract protecting your interests will certainly help. It will definitely cost you more up front to have an attorney handle your lease and partnership agreements, but in the end, it can save you not only more money, but tremendous time and pain as well. Perhaps with an attorney present you may find that the deal won’t be worth making after all, and no matter how much you may want something (don’t be a twentysomething me!) you should always be prepared to walk away. Not all the lessons I’ve learned have always been so grim and hard though. Owning a business is tremendously fulfilling and you also learn so much about yourself and how to truly count on others. Why you may be crucial to your businesses success the relationships that you build along the way will be the foundations you can grow your business on. They say it takes a village to raise a baby, well your business is your baby, after all, and no one can go it alone. One of the biggest perks for me is being able to execute all the crazy ideas and whims I may have, and yes, if they fail I have no one to blame but myself, but when they don’t — it makes it all worth it!


Larissa Russell, CEO, Pod Foods Co

Who She Is and How She Has Overcome Limitations:

“After graduating in 2013 from Dartmouth College with a research novel about clean energy and the contemporary geopolitical landscape in South Africa, I moved to California for my first full time job as an analyst in a startup. Within about a year, I cofounded Green Pea Cookie, the first ever cookie company in the USA to bake (and name!) cookies made from green peas. Green Pea Cookie was a sensation on Kickstarter and other channels, but most importantly it exposed to my team and me the massive inefficiencies in the retail food supply chain.

Because of how products currently reach retailers, starting up a “”good food”” business such as Green Pea Cookie is nearly impossible without millions of dollars in the bank. The outdated fax-machine practices of major players in natural foods distribution have horrific environmental and food waste consequences, and push forward brands that fit their mold despite rapid growth in consumer demand for transparency and for food sourced and produced responsibly. Since 2017 we switched companies to address these issues, and have created the first data and software enabled food distributor designed primarily for local food systems, which we are piloting in the SF Bay Area. We have seen eager adoption from both retailers and food manufacturers, with interest nationwide, and are regularly identified as the “”food distributor for the 21st century,”” arriving at long last.

As former cookie makers, we’ve broken limits by looking at the larger picture and sacrificing our dear cookies to take on a multi-trillion dollar, decades-old industry. As a person, I’ve broken limits by forging my own path and living the life I had imagined… even when not many people understand what I’m doing, when people don’t see why my pealicious cookies never made it into Whole Foods, when I’m supporting myself on money made from sporadic acting jobs in the Bay Area that promote other people’s tech companies. As a female founder I’ve broken limits by considering myself just a regular, person founder, and believing that females can own companies and redesign industries that have nothing to do with fashion, birth control or tampons, too. (What’s so male about everything else?)”

Here are the most important lessons I’ve learned from my experiences:

“There are loads of challenges associated with being an entrepreneur. Anybody will tell you so. One day everything is great and the next day everything is terrible, even if nothing concrete changes. Lesson #1: take it as it comes and detach, and especially, detach your self-worth from your company (hardest thing to do).

It’s hard to be a female founder in particular, and harder still when you look like you’re still in college, if not high school. People don’t want to take me seriously. I’ve been rejected and ignored, I’ve been talked down to, and I’ve been kissed on the head. And it sucks. And it sucks even more that I can’t spend any time whining about it or fighting it because it is not productive. Lesson #2: know that people will be biased against you, but don’t let it bias your opinion of anyone else and don’t let yourself be a victim. It will only hold you and your company back. Also, don’t work with jerks. You can succeed without them.

There’s the rest of your life. Lesson #3: Have hobbies and other interests. Do work hard, with everything you have to give. Don’t get obsessed. Don’t forget your mom’s birthday.”


Sarah Cannata — founding editor, This Woman Can

Who She Is and How She Has Overcome Limitations:

“I’ve always known that I wasn’t quite like everyone else, even as a kid. One of my earliest memories was telling my parents I was going to be the first female AFL footballer when I grow up (it’s Australia’s national game that is typically played by men). Back then, that wasn’t really an option but in 2018, it definitely is for the younger generation. I like to think I’ve always been ahead of the times.

I am a big daydreamer but I’ve never been afraid to get my hands dirty to transform a dream into reality. I’m ambitious, hard working and I always remember being able to write pretty effortlessly. I lead with compassion, empathy and determination.

I have a Bachelor of Journalism and over 7 years’ worth of experience in Communications. My career began writing about movies and editing a magazine as I worked my way up to earn the promotion that would allow me to obtain the corporate role that I so desperately wanted at the time. After a lot of dedication, which involved working pretty much 24/7 (I don’t recommend it) and excelling in my field and the business I worked in for 5 years, I was offered what I felt was the dream role. Higher pay, more career opportunities, less workload… the only problem was that I was miserable and bored.

It was then that I discovered entrepreneurship and soon enough, I’d handed in my resignation to start my own professional writing business. I had zero experience in running a business and it was a pretty bold move. But in my books, there’s nothing worse than feeling empty and hollow because you know you’re capable of so much more. I knew that the next chapters of my story would see me breaking new limits.

Fast-forward almost 3 years and here I am. I’ve continued honing my skills in Communications and have extensive experience in Public Relations (PR). I’ve been published in The Huffington Post, Mamamia, The Age, Women’s Agenda, Kochie’s Business Builders, SBS Online and have helped many clients, working across numerous industries, to share their stories with the media.

When I was transitioning from my former role into running my own business, I yearned to read stories from women who I could relate to. I couldn’t find these stories anywhere so I created with This Woman Can.

Here are the most important lessons I’ve learned from my experiences:

“ “Lesson #1: The right path for someone else isn’t necessarily the best way forward for you. Look deep within, spend time alone and get to know yourself. Take care of the relationship you have with yourself because it will be the most important and longest relationship of your life. I highly recommend taking a solo vacation so that you can block out all the noise and just be with you.

Lesson #2: Invest in yourself, however you need to. Humans are wonderfully complicated so get to know yourself on a deeper level and pinpoint the areas you need help with. Whether that’s business, mental health, leading a healthy lifestyle… no investment will reap better rewards than the ones you make in yourself.

Lesson #3: Running a business is likely to be one of the most challenging things you’ll ever do. It will test you in ways you never expected and bring out both the best and worst in you. Have patience, be kind to yourself and always come back to why you started down this path — good things don’t happen overnight and always trust your gut instinct. It never leads you astray.”


Tina Hedges, Founder & CEO of LOLI BEAUTY

Who She Is and How She Has Overcome Limitations:

“Tina Hedges has spent her career creating disruptive and creative brands. Her innovative projects have spanned all categories, from luxury, to mass market, as well as direct to consumer distribution. Her reputation as a builder of successful corporate portfolios is well known in the beauty industry, with tenures at L’Oreal, Estee Lauder, and LVMH. She was the founder of a breakthrough celebrity hair care brand in 2005, which delivered top line sales of $28 M and profit of $4 M. Her unique vision of launching this product on BLOWOUT, a Bravo TV reality show was the first of its kind. After the success of this brand, she turned her attention to the beverage sector and pioneered a new category called, “”hangover prevention””. Her most recent launch, LOLI Beauty, is a new “”vertical brand”” which for the first time allows customers to blend and mix their own skin, hair and body products at home, using food grade ingredients. An organic and personalized approach to natural DIY beauty, LOLI stands for Living Organic Loving Ingredients. LOLI is also the first beauty brand to use breakthrough bio-compostable packaging and to label the ingredients the same way that food is labeled. This first of its kind micro-customization in personal care has garnered the attention of Grand Central Tech and Project Entrepreneur.

Tina has been featured on CBS NEWS, CNBC, BLOOMBERG, and in WWD, and ADVERTISING AGE. She is on the advisory board of GCI and is a board member of NGO Friends of Caritas Cubana. Of Cuban decent, Tina grew up in Jamaica, and was a performing member of the NYC Ballet.”

Here are the most important lessons I’ve learned from my experiences:

“1. Tell a genuine story.

As a marketer, I spent my corporate career spinning stories versus truth-telling. To engage and to divert consumers’ focus, we created myths around a brand or a product’s authenticity and efficacy — like that pricey, algae-based burn cream which is supposedly fermented to the sounds of crashing ocean waves. The “spin” can work, but its impact is diminishing in an age of full disclosure. When I began fundraising for my latest start-up, I purposefully discarded a selective pitch focused exclusively on the highs of my career and the bountiful business opportunities awaiting LOLI. Instead, I opted for a naked narrative, speaking genuinely and openly about the misses along my professional path and the reasons why LOLI could fail, and how I was going to make sure that it didn’t! The result? My approach pre-empted the dreaded “tough” questions by fostering a relationship of trust with my audience. And I raised $1 million dollars.

2. Your audience is everyone.

When offered a business introduction, the common response is to scan linkedin and make a judicious decision on the value of this connection. I’ve come to realize that you should never turn down a business blind date. Never. In the very least, each connection offers an inherent opportunity to inspire others to share your story and, linkedin aside, you still never know who they know. Case in point, it was a 20 minute charitable chat with a potential intern that led me to an interview with one of the members of Grand Central Tech Accelerator’s management team — and here we are now, in the Class of 2017/18. Be open to every conversation offered because you never know where the next piece of the puzzle will show up.

3. It’s not about you.

Most start-ups are stamped by the founders’ identity, passion and tenacity. This is a positive, for the most part, after all, the founders’ grit turned an idea into reality. There’s always a moment for every creator, though, when they’re encouraged to refine or, at worse, challenged to pivot. Peter Thiel once said “customers will not come just because you build it”. It’s the “you” in this phrase that struck me. If you’re over enchanted by your own narrative, chances are that you will have a litany of reasons why these insights are neither relevant nor actionable. Resisting change is staying stuck in the “you” of the build. I started LOLI Beauty as a 3-month surprise subscription MVP. We’re now launching multi-functional, customizable products. The pivot was key to transforming an occasional, novelty purchase into a sustainable business.”


Michelle Zatlyn, Co-founder and COO of Cloudflare

Who She Is and How She Has Overcome Limitations:

“Michelle Zatlyn is co-founder and COO of Cloudflare, an Internet performance and security unicorn that manages a massive global network powering more than 10 trillion requests per month (nearly 10 percent of all Internet requests for more than 2.5 billion people worldwide). Cloudflare has been recognized as a CNBC Disruptor 50 company, one of the Forbes Cloud 100, WSJ’s Most Innovative Internet Technology Company for two successive years, and also a World Economic Forum Technology Pioneer.

Before co-founding Cloudflare, Michelle held positions at Google and Toshiba and launched two successful startups. She holds a BS degree, with distinction, from McGill University and an MBA from Harvard Business School, where she was awarded the Dubliner Prize for Entrepreneurship. Michelle has been named a Young Global Leader by the World Economic Forum, one of the Top 15 Women to Watch in Tech by Inc., and a 40 Under 40 leader by San Francisco Business Times. She was also featured as one of ELLE Magazine’s “Women Who Rule Silicon Valley.””

Here are the most important lessons I’ve learned from my experiences:

“1) Great opportunities only come around once in a while. When you see one, go for it. It’s easy to over-analyze major decisions like taking a new job, moving cities or starting a business, but if the opportunity feels right, take the leap. You can’t predict when the next big opportunity will cross your doorstep, and the timing will never be perfect.

2) If you ask 10 smart people for advice, you will get seven different answers. At the end of the day, you are in charge of your career, life, and all the decisions that come with them. We’re all learning from our daily decisions as we go about our lives, and there is rarely one right answer. Experiences are personal and meaningful, so choose the path that works for you.

There will always be those who will doubt your actions or disagree with your decisions. When met with doubt, you can either believe them and figure out what to do next, or you can stick your neck out and show there is another way.

3) People, people, people. Always optimize for people over everything else. The best part of my job is the people I get to work with. I feel so fortunate to learn from my colleagues every day — whether we’re talking about the latest in cryptography, a new marketing tool or an emerging policy debate. It is amazing how much you can learn by asking questions and engaging those around you.

Whenever possible, surround yourself with people who are smarter than you. It’s uncomfortable, but every time you’re in a conversation where you don’t have a full grasp, you’re stretching yourself. Take these opportunities to listen, absorb, and reflect.”


Iesha Sekou, CEO & Founder, Street Corner Resources

Who She Is and How She Has Overcome Limitations:

“Iesha Sekou, Founder/CEO — Street Corner Resources. Street Corner Resources Inc. (SCR), a not for profit 501(c)(3), based in Harlem, NY, founded by Iesha Sekou in 2007.

SCR’s mission is to help young people, by providing greater access to education, training opportunities, real employment and other resources, which help improve their lives and help them stay away from gun and gang violence.

Iesha, a noted pillar of the community, encourages the use of innovative methods to challenge youth to improve their lives. She facilitates life-shaping and mind-changing workshops including, “”Rekindling the Inner Spirit to Succeed”” and”” To Be or Not To Be”” — an anti-gang workshop.

While she wears many hats, Iesha’s primary focus for SCR, includes managing the Cure Violence Anti-Gun Violence program. Street Corner Resources is one of 18 Cure Violence sites throughout the five boroughs of New York City. Cure Violence strives to stop the spread of violence in communities by using methods and strategies associated with disease control — detecting and interrupting conflicts, identifying and treating the highest risk individuals, and changing social norms around violence.

Congressman Charles Rangel proclaimed her a visionary whose work has made a significant impact in Harlem. Iesha is known for her ability to captivate any audience. Not only is she a dynamic motivational speaker, she is recognized as a premier New York advocate against gun and gang violence.

Iesha Sekou is a graduate of Bethune Cookman College in Daytona Beach Florida, where she received her BA in English. Sekou’s career began in education, which explains her relentless enthusiasm to uplift and empower young people.

She has spent countless hours at rallies and press conferences denouncing violence. You can also find her facilitating panels around the city, working to raise awareness of the ills of urban youth violence.

Last year, Governor Cuomo reached out to Iesha for advice on creating the toughest gun laws in the country.

Reverend Al Sharpton named Iesha Sekou the Anti-Violence Coordinator for the National Action Network.

NYPD has routinely invited Iesha to address its new recruits on community respect and interaction.

A member of the New York State Board of Regents Blue Ribbon Committee, she examines the educational challenges and opportunities young men of color face daily. In turn, she provides strategies to address challenges and expand opportunities to increase their educational success.

Here are the most important lessons I’ve learned from my experiences:

“1. After doing this work for over 10 years without funding, one of the greatest lessons that I’ve learned is the importance of perseverance or as I call it “stick-to-it-ness”! I learned that in this work, nothing is instantaneous. If you stay the course and stay committed to your mission while living your passion through your work, it will pay off. I can remember at one point, I was sitting on corners, on crates waiting for young people to pass just to engage them, parents and community members about the issue of Gun Violence. The corner at that point was my office. It was there that I gave advice, consoled grieving parents and “gave the talk” to many young men and women caught up in the streets. It was also were I met many naysayers who were convinced I was wasting my time. Today, thanks to my perseverance and persistence Street Corner Resources now has two office locations where we engage and invite the community in to get advice, counseling, job training and legal help.

2. Begin with what you are asking for. Don’t beat around the bush, be confident in your ask. And with that, know that it doesn’t always come the way you envisioned it, nor will it be perfect. Any dream, large or small still requires work. And once you get what you ask for, know that it requires even more work to keep it going. So don’t ask for things for personal gain but ask for them with the intent to serve and know that in that service, it usually creates more work.

3. Albert Einstein said, “Adversity introduces a man to himself,” or in this case a woman to herself. While I worked to build my work with antiviolence, engaging young people and helping them to improve their lives, my personal life was constantly challenged every step of the way. It had me questioning my values and reevaluating relationships. There is something to be said for not having money in your pocket while working tirelessly on your vision. The difficulty was great. There were countless losses and lessons. I had to become stronger, more dedicated and see myself on the other side — triumphant.


Samantha Rudolph, Co-Founder and CEO, Babyation

Who She Is and How She Has Overcome Limitations:

“I’ve always believed in charting my own course and not following a traditional path. When I graduated from Wharton, most of my classmates went into finance or consulting. I opted for an entry-level production job at ESPN. I realized quickly that a job that 100 other people had wasn’t for me. Although I wasn’t yet ready to leave ESPN, I wanted to use the other skills I had cultivated. I was tipped off that a new department was forming at ESPN, and I talked my way into being a founding manager of that stats group at the age of 24. I was figuring out workflow and processes for a role that had literally never existed at the company, and I was doing it while managing some people that were 10 years older than I was. I quickly realized I was at my best with a steep learning curve, and that I was most comfortable being uncomfortable.

Eventually, I transitioned from the content department into business operations, development and strategy, and, I never again held a job that anyone else had. I essentially became a serial intrapreneur at ESPN and was part of launches for new departments, products and technologies. Whenever I evaluated a new job, I did so through the lens of what that opportunity could offer me. Most people look to build on what they’ve already done and continue to hone a skill. I took the opposite approach.

Here are the most important lessons I’ve learned from my experiences:

Startups have always fascinated me, and I always wanted to run my own business. My former boss at ESPN formed a consulting company, and he asked me to join him. It was the perfect middle step. While I was there, I read an article about the state of breast pumps. Despite the fact that I wasn’t yet a parent (or even pregnant), I saw my future flash before my eyes, and I didn’t like what I saw. It didn’t matter to me that I had never made a medical device before or started a company. This was my chance, and I didn’t want to let it pass me by. Thus, Babyation was born. Now I’m the CEO, the intern, and most things in between that don’t require engineering knowledge — I leave that to my co-founder/husband!” “I’m fortunate that I learned the most valuable lesson early on: The most important decision is choosing who you work with. If you don’t hire the right people (either as consultants or employees), you can have the best idea ever, but it will still fall flat. Because of that, I take hiring very seriously. I can say without a doubt that everything Babyation has accomplished thus far is because we’ve surrounded ourselves with the right team.

This is similar to what I said above, but I firmly believe in surrounding myself with experts and then getting out of their way. A few years ago, I was responsible for staging a live boxing match from the floor of the Consumer Electronics Show. That event went off without a hitch only because of the tireless work of at least 20 people. I may have put the right people in the room and facilitated the conversation, but the credit belongs firmly in their hands. It’s the same for my company. I am privileged to work with the best of the best for marketing, social media, community, PR and strategy. They make us look good!

Lastly, I think dealing with rejection is an underrated art. Because I was constantly pitching new roles and approaches at ESPN, I was told no far more than I was told yes. I even created a failure folder to keep me humble! That experience was invaluable in starting a company and going through the fundraising process. I am constantly selling my vision, and I know that not everyone is going to buy in. The trick is to celebrate the wins and not to get derailed by people who don’t get it. Being an entrepreneur is 90% mental, and remembering why I’m doing this (for moms!) definitely keeps me on track.”


Sascha Phoenix, Co-Founder and President of Plotaverse

Who She Is and How She Has Overcome Limitations:

Sascha Phoenix is a highly talented multimedia artist and successful Entrepreneur. Artist and Business major, Sascha studied in Florence, Italy for 4 years and speaks fluent Italian. Pursuing both her passions at the age of 17, she created the first online business to connect artists and gallery spaces. Sascha grew up in the film business and is the granddaughter of Late actor Roy Scheider, known for Jaws, French Connection & All That Jazz. She recently celebrated her 25th birthday as the President and Co-Founder of Plotaverse. The start up company offers a full fledged suite of photo animation effects. It is designed to create images that are attention magnets and instantly double engagement on social media. Helping artists monetize their work is Sascha’s ongoing mission. Her company’s software gained over 1 million users within the past 2 months including brand giants Coca Cola, Chevrolet, Wella and Go Pro and celebrity patrons Shaquille O’Neal, Alicia Keys and Kourtney Kardashian. “

Here are the most important lessons I’ve learned from my experiences:

1) One of Sascha Phoenix’ most important lessons learned is to keep an open mind but also trust your gut feelings. Entrepreneurs are generally exposed to a flood of diverse and sometimes controversial opinions and advice. But Sascha reminds that in the end “only YOU know what the right direction is”.

2) Sascha’s second but equally important advice: “Don’t be afraid to make mistakes. As a woman I used to try to be perfect all the time and that limits your success. Don’t worry about being perfect. You’re more likely to hit success by trying than trying to figure it out be before you even test it.” Co-Founding and leading her startup company from creating a first to market product to establishing a suite of effects, Sascha had to face countless risks with unpredictable results. She overcame natural doubts by taking the plunge and diving straight into creating and testing the product. Only then was it possible to find and fix bugs and develop the software which is now used by millions of people world wide.

3) Last but not least, Sascha advises: ”Don’t assume. Walk into a meeting, video taped interviews and presentations with confidence, knowing that your voice will be heard. A lot of women in the workspace assume that they will not be taken seriously before they even start.” At the young age of 17, Sascha was driven to help artists monetize their work. She quickly adapted to confronting fierce tech industry competition and high expectations. With the drive to succeed she approached leading tech giants, carried her mission with self assurance and turned her visions into reality. Sascha quotes: “”Whether you think you can, or you think you can’t — you’re right, — Henry Ford””


Kristina Roth, Founder, SuperShe & SuperShe Island

Who She Is and How She Has Overcome Limitations:

Roth has redefined what is means for women to come together. After selling a consulting business for $65 million, Roth set off on a mission to unite badass women around the world. Leaving behind dated versions of networking, Roth has set out to turn private islands around the world into safe havens where women can come together nurture each other, share in creativity and re-energize themselves.

Here are the most important lessons I’ve learned from my experiences:

Follow your gut: you already know what you need to. It will not let you down. Find women who support other women: having a network of women who support each other is important for your personal growth. Self care is important: You will have sleepless nights. It’s important to eat healthy and workout. There are times when you will believe it’s alright to put yourself second but you will need your emotional and physical strength.


Mindi Nemeroff, Founder & CEO, Goal Goodies

Who She Is and How She Has Overcome Limitations:

“Mindi Nemeroff started Goal Goodies to give people desperately-needed and better incentives to reach their health goals. As a female founder, she’s breaking limits by using technology in a way it’s never been used before to tackle some of the world’s most widespread and formidable health issues: obesity, physical inactivity, and smoking. Formerly a senior executive in healthcare marketing, Mindi spent 15 years watching what does and doesn’t work to motivate people to get healthier. She believes conventional wisdom that better health is its own reward, for most, simply isn’t true. What is true is that big accomplishments require big motivation. Goal Goodies addresses that reality by offering people who want to lose weight, quit smoking, or reach a fitness goal the chance to earn money to do it. Whether they keep the funds or share with one of Goal Goodies’ charity partners, everyone gets motivated by what’s most rewarding for them. Mindi founded Goal Goodies on her belief that motivation is transformation.

Mindi transitioned from an executive role with a large, established company to bootstrapping her own startup with a lean budget and a fat learning curve. Though it was an adjustment to cultivate her tech knowledge, the oddest adjustment for her has been going from an industry with so many women to one with nearly all men. Mindi looks forward to seeing women’s numbers in tech continue to grow and working with lots of them again.”

Here are the most important lessons I’ve learned from my experiences:

1. IF IT’S REALLY BROKEN, DON’T FIX IT

Entrepreneurs, by nature, love to fix problems. Most of the time, my inclination to wrap my hands around a problem until I can wring out a solution is a good thing. But I’ve also learned how painful it gets to keep gripping and twisting after it’s time to let go. My worst — and most embarrassing — example involves a developer on my team. Like a few bad boyfriends I had in my 20’s, this guy was brilliant and — when I had his attention — there was no end to the magical things that could happen. He would bang out magnificent code at a stunning pace and find elegant solutions to complex user flows. But, like the bad boyfriends, he was inconstant and unreliable. He would disappear for days, not responding to anyone from the team. The fixer in me addressed it with him immediately. The over-fixer found ways to work around it when it kept happening. Once I finally accepted that it was more productive to end it than fix it, things got better for the team — and taught me to know when to let go.

2. IF YOU WANT TO BUILD A DREAM, YOU’D BETTER ACCEPT REALITY

I remember the moment I made the decision to start Goal Goodies. It was intoxicating. Blissful empowerment. Unicorns flew over rainbows. I “knew” it was going to be challenging but hadn’t I been successful in my previous career because I simply adore challenges? My founder-self looks back on my dreamer-self and says, “Honey, you have no idea.” There’s no way to prepare for the continual obstacles, disappointments and harsh realities that founders face; except to learn to be surprised when things go the way you want them to, instead of when they don’t.

3. TOUGH LOVE YOURSELF

Startups are intense for a lot of reasons. One of the biggest is the treacherous combination of no precedence and no do-overs. The margin for error is pretty thin, so your skin better be pretty thick — and your harshest critic should be you. But there’s a fine line between giving yourself a kick in the ass and beating the shit out of yourself; and it should never be crossed. You can’t tackle challenges if you’re wallowing in pain.”


Rachael Bozsik, CEO + Founder, The Brand Girls

Who She Is and How She Has Overcome Limitations:

“Rachael Bozsik is a next generation, female thought leader and at the ripe age of 25 has been requested as a speaker at 30+ Universities including but not limited to: NYU, Duke, Cornell, FIT, VT etc. Rachael is a recognized authority on closing the confidence gap and empowering millenial women to launch into their first workplace experience with success and significance. She is changing the workplace landscape and the game for women who work.

At 2 a.m. in her college dormitory, Rachael Bozsik (CEO + Founder of The Brand Girls) had an “a-ha” moment. The reason why her brilliant friends were settling in their careers was not that they lacked a skillset but rather they severely lacked professional confidence to take on their dreams.

Using her instinctive networking skills and ability to inspire, she taught her peers to craft their life mission, define their purpose and build confidence over tea in their college dormitory.

This mentoring transitioned into a full workshop + professional sisterhood focused helping young women shift the way they think about themselves and their professional potential in order to land their dream job. SAT workshop = Dream College… The Brand Girls = Dream Career.

Since its founding, The Brand Girls has connected with thousands of millennial women supporting them to land roles across many industries including breaking into male dominated fields companies include…Tesla, GE, Louis Vuitton, Columbia Medical Center, Discovery Channel Oscar de la Renta, PETA (to name a few.) Rachael has been nationally recognized in Forbes, Glamour, Teen Vogue, Business Insider, Huffington Post etc…

Here are the most important lessons I’ve learned from my experiences:

1. I learned that as a next generation thought leader, I am here for the long haul. I have a major responsibility to serve as a catalyst for change, speak on behalf of the millenial female generation entering the workforce. There is major work to be done, incredible trailblazers leading the way but change does not happen overnight and it will be a long road. I learned that being here for the long haul means there will be many up’s and many downs and the good nor the downs have any shape in defining my sense of self or my sense of worth. 2. By working with thousands of next generation women on a massive college tour (NYU to UCLA) I learned that we, as women, consistently underestimate our abilities. I also learned that while we may be lacking the confidence we are not lacking the skill-set. Confidence is a quality that can be learned through a series of “yes you did it moments” it is our job as women to empower each other and support one another to expose each other to yes you did it moments — together…we can. 3. I learned that when you are social company focused on closing the confidence gap, are 100% female owned and 100% female staffed that work is never work — together there is a sense of comradery, a sense of purpose and a sense that together we are doing something bigger than ourselves. When you are hiring seek out those that share the passion, share the purpose and live the mission. You can not teach a passion for mentorship — you have it or you don’t. When you do, your team is magic.


Abby Chao, COO and Co-founder, CollegeBacker

Who She Is and How She Has Overcome Limitations:

As co-founder of CollegeBacker, Abby has helped hundreds of families save and pay for college. Interview pitch can focus on Abby being 1st generation Chinese American, female, young [27yo], millennial, finance geek, tech nerd, (tennis player, snowboarder, world traveler). Her spark for finance started in 7th grade after reading the persona finance literacy advocacy book “Rich Dad Poor Dad.” As a young woman and tech startup founder, she continues to experience challenges along her journey, such as continuously being mistaken for a high-school or college student in boardroom meetings. She had great mentors who showed her that speaking up is a responsibility, especially when one is speaking up on behalf of others. Her work experience in finance and education transformed her from an idealistic dreamer into a practical reformer. Abby’s goal with CollegeBacker is to help every family in America save for college. Her goal in life is to build something that helps people even when she’s gone, a legacy, and that is the idea behind CollegeBacker.

Here are the most important lessons I’ve learned from my experiences:

“Abby has worked in the male dominated industry of financial services / investment banking before switching over to consulting (slightly more gender balanced, but still male-dominated especially in leadership). When starting her own company in financial services (again), immediately noticed that (1) most VC-backed entrepreneurs are men and (2) most finance execs are men, so (3) VC-backed fintech entrepreneurs are overwhelmingly men. Overall, Abby has been able to thrive because she’s learned to focus on what’s in her control and she’s chosen to work with great people, but there are obviously ongoing challenges.


Lisa Wang, CEO and Founder, SheWorx

Who She Is and How She Has Overcome Limitations:

“Lisa Wang is a former US National Champion, and Hall of Fame gymnast turned serial entrepreneur and podcast host. She is the CEO and Founder of SheWorx, the leading global platform empowering 20,000+ women to build and scale successful companies through actionable business strategies and access to top investors. Currently, the biggest problem for women is lack of access — to capital, to networks, to mentors, to quality knowledge — especially within a supportive environment that intimately understands the unique challenges female entrepreneurs face. SheWorx’s goal is to democratize this access so it is available to any woman serious about building a high-growth company, no matter where she is in the world. Currently, only 3% of venture funding goes to startups with a female CEO. Through SheWorx Summits, Lisa is closing the funding gap by bringing founders and investors together in collaborative, rather than competitive, environments. Female founders at the 2017 SheWorx Summits represented over $100M in funding and 91% of investors met women they saw potential to invest in.

Lisa has helped thousands of female entrepreneurs streamline their fundraising process, increase confidence in pitches, and connect with relevant investors. More recently, Lisa is helping reform sexual harassment policies at the VC level. She bravely spoke out about her own experiences as a woman fundraising, and worked with Senator Jackson’s office to propel the Unruh Civil Rights Act that will prevent investors from discriminating against entrepreneurs.

She was inducted as an honoree of the Forbes 30 Under 30 Class of 2018 in Venture Capital, and was named one of the Top 20 Female Entrepreneurs to watch in 2017 and 2018 by CIO Magazine.

Lisa has been a keynote speaker at conferences including the World Entrepreneur Forum, World Summit on Innovation and Entrepreneurship, Chief Innovation Officer Summit, IBM Think Leaders, CES and more.

Lisa is a columnist at Forbes driving the movement for gender parity in funding and championing a new model of leadership. In 2017, she began a Forbes series highlighting investors who are authentically committed to supporting female entrepreneurs.

In 2018, Lisa launched the Enoughness Podcast, focused on humanizing the leadership journey and exploring the question “How much is good enough?” Lisa coaches entrepreneurs to recognize their innate strengths, and takes lessons from her years as an elite gymnast to talk about harnessing the power of “Enoughness”” and “antifragility. Lisa is a graduate of Yale University.”

Here are the most important lessons I’ve learned from my experiences:

“Have a deep underlying “Why” for your actions

The media has glamorized what it means to be an entrepreneur, as a result, there is an influx of people creating companies who are not meant to be founders. What the media misses are the lonely depressing stretches of time when you question whether any of it is even worth it. You need to understand not only what you want to build, but why you want to build it. The why cannot simply be “to make money” because statistically, being an entrepreneur is one of the worst and least likely ways to get rich. Instead, you need to ask yourself, ‘What is my mission?’ ‘What impact do I want to have?’ and equally important, ‘Am I the right person to build this company?’ Fully fleshing out your vision, your North Star, understanding your why, will continue to motivate you even in the lowest moments. There is no ‘I can’t’, there is only ‘I don’t want to.’

2. Prioritize and don’t let little things get to you

What are your big goals for today? For this week? For this month? For this year? For your life? The visions you set for yourself will have a trickle–down effect and allow you to prioritize your days accordingly. Having this focus is often the difference between having or not having a productive day/month/year. As distractions come up, ask yourself if they’re in line with your vision. If not, let them go and don’t dwell. If you make a mistake, learn, and move on. This, too, shall pass.

3. You are the reflection of the people you surround yourself with

The people you surround yourself with should be bringing you up — not holding you back. I used to have “friends” who, with tight, fake smiles, half-heartedly congratulated me when I succeeded. As a result, I learned that success was a zero-sum game, and believed friendship was built upon competition. That belief was shattered when I finally let those people go and discovered friends who showed me empathy, kindness, and genuine delight when I succeeded. Today, I surround myself with people who are have growth mindsets. who are “antifragile” and treat failure as an opportunity rather than a setback. The outer conditions of your life will always affect your inner beliefs. Make sure you’re proud of those beliefs.


Shannon Keith, CEO, Sudara

Who She Is and How She Has Overcome Limitations:

“Shannon Keith took a trip to India in 2005 that changed her life. After witnessing women being forced to sell their bodies in order to feed their families and hearing stories of sex trafficking, she was compelled to found an organization that would create a lasting impact for women and their families. More than 10 years later, her company — Sudara — is a thriving benefit corporation with a mission that is still rooted in job creation for women in India who are at the highest risk of or survivors of sex trafficking, while empowering them to create a lasting, generational impact for their families. Purchases through Sudara support training and jobs for the women who make the products, and fund investments in a non-profit arm of Sudara that provides for those same women across their entire ecosystem and supports sustainable pathways to freedom.

Shannon has developed an organization that is creating systemic change, and can also be felt on a personal level. Each of the prints that Sudara sells is inspired by and named after a woman her organization has helped. Vandana is one example of a woman who is now living in freedom. After her father died, traffickers forced Vandana’s mother into the commercial sex trade. She contracted HIV after several years, which made Vandana vulnerable to being forced into the sex trade by those same traffickers. Her mother wanted a better life for Vandana and, after learning about the programs offered at a Sudara partner center, asked if we could help. Vandana is currently enrolled in computer-skills courses and lives in safe-housing. She is focused on her work and looking forward to finding a job in the technology industry after she graduates. This story and many like it are possible only through Shannon’s thoughtful, outcome-driven design and partnerships for Sudara.

Shannon is the 2017 Bend Chamber of Commerce’s Entrepreneur of the Year. She participates in many local, caused-based organizations, including Oregonians Against Human Trafficking (OATH) and Guardian Group. She also founded and is a key member of the nonprofit Sudara Freedom Fund. She is a 2016 Bend Venture Conference (BVC) Social Impact Winner, Economic Development for Central Oregon (EDCO) and TedX Speaker, and member of Opportunity Knocks (OK). She works for gender equality rights both across the world and in her own community by spearheading women’s equality initiatives, working with MUSE, and consistently meeting with a local women’s CEO group. Shannon cherishes and prioritizes time with her family. Her personal interests include snowboarding, mountain biking, running, camping, traveling, enjoying great food and wine, and reading.

Here are the most important lessons I’ve learned from my experiences:

“1. Surround yourself with a great team: Having a strong group of mentors and talent makes this work possible. Hiring and nurturing a team that is mission focused and willing to grow themselves and their strengths to be better every day is a process that is difficult and time-consuming but vital to the success we have experienced.

2. Don’t ignore your instincts: Sudara was originally founded as a nonprofit and while I wasn’t sure if that was the perfect model for my vision, I often heard — if you want to help people you start a nonprofit organization. It wasn’t until I gained experience, listened to my gut and we transitioned to a social enterprise benefit corporation that I realized how rapidly we could grow and the potential for extreme impact. Get advice from others, but listen to your internal wisdom as well.

3. Creating a new path means failure is a part of the experience: We are doing something new, and building a new type of business. It is hard work and can often be frustrating, there is a lot of failure involved. Failing fast, learning from each mistake, and accepting that this is part of the process is so important. This is not a clean, linear way to success, this is a multifaceted and messy path for a vast and complex problem.


Georgia Weidman, Founder and CTO, Shevirah Inc.

Who She Is and How She Has Overcome Limitations:

“Shevirah founder and CTO Georgia Weidman is a serial entrepreneur, penetration tester, security researcher, speaker, trainer, and author. Georgia started breaking limits when she left Mississippi for college in Virginia after the 8th grade. She received her Bachelor’s degree in Mathematics at 18 publishing her senior thesis in The Bulletin of the Institute of Combinatorics and its Applications. She holds a MS in Computer Science as well as holding CISSP, CEH, and OSCP certifications and has recently taken an appointment as an adjunct professor at University of Maryland University College. After security jobs at places such as IBM she knew she wanted more than to slowly climb the corporate ladder. Her first security research talk, at the major conference Shmoocon received attention from MIT Technology Review and Dark Reading among others. Georgia and her research have been featured internationally on print and on television including ABC World News Tonight, NBC Nightly News, Good Morning Washington, and 16x9 The Bigger Picture on Global TV Canada. She was featured in PBS’s Roadtrip Nation documentary. She has spoken and taught hands-on cybersecurity classes around the world including such venues such as NSA, West Point, The Blackhat conference, and Former Director of National Intelligence Admiral Blair’s Sasakawa USA’s Cybersecurity Conference in Tokyo, Japan. After receiving a DARPA Cyber Fast Track grant to continue her research in mobile security she founded Bulb Security LLC, a security consulting firm specializing in security assessments / penetration testing, security training, and research and development. Her DARPA work culminated in the release of the Smartphone Pentest Framework, an open source project to help researchers assess the security of mobile devices. She founded Shevirah Inc. to take the next step and create product solutions for assessing and managing the risk of mobile and Internet of Things devices in the enterprise and testing the effectiveness of enterprise mobile security solutions. Shevirah is a graduate of the Mach37 cybersecurity accelerator. Georgia is the author of Penetration Testing: A Hands-On Introduction to Hacking from No Starch Press a top selling book in the field. She was the recipient of the 2015 Women’s Society of CyberJutsu Pentest Ninja award. Georgia is on the board of advisors of the angel backed security training startup Cybrary and the nonprofit Digital Citizens Alliance, is a member of the CyberWatch Center’s National Visiting Committee, and served as a judge for the FTC’s Home Inspector IoT security challenge.

Here are the most important lessons I’ve learned from my experiences:

“The very first thing I learned as a technical female startup founder is how much the so called “soft skills” matter. Even with all the gender inequality issues blasting across society, I’ve always clung to my stripes as a technical person. Until I founded my startup, I took a certain amount of misguided pride in having none of those “soft skills” often stereotypically associated with women and used by tech “bros” to prove, “Women don’t belong in tech.”

Turns out, I could have the most super, awesome, fantastic idea for a security product in the history of the world (And I really do! You should check it out at Shevirah.com), a version already built, and be ready to infiltrate the enterprise, but if I don’t write a good user manual, no one is ever going to use it. And if I hide in the corner and work on code at a networking event (but it was networking code!), I miss out on meeting three potential customers. So, at this point, I would staunchly argue that it’s those very soft skills that we so called technocrats scoff at that make or break a company.

A second thing I’ve learned is, simply, how to fail. I’d never really failed at anything. But in startups, things are going to go wrong, like all the time, if you are lucky, only a couple of times a day. For a high strung, overachiever this is very difficult to deal with, especially considering that early stage startups are so fragile and any one of these failures could be the one that puts your magnificent company into its death spiral. While I’ll admit I’m far from a Zen master of startup life, and before too long you will probably catch me under a table quoting Hamlet over some tax form that didn’t get turned in ahead of time, I do think I’ve learned to have a little perspective about it. IBM loses deals. Booz gets an unsatisfactory customer rating. Nobody is perfect. It happens. Deal with it and move forward.

And, finding myself running out of space, the third thing I’ve learned is if, heaven forbid, the unthinkable, your startup should fail, put your crazy startup founder court jester hat back on and do it all over again.


Anna McNaught, Founder, The Liked Photo

Who She Is and How She Has Overcome Limitations:

“My high school art teacher informed me I would never amount to anything let alone an artist or designer. This was the driving statement that started it all and sometimes that’s all it takes. In 2013, I packed my belongings and moved across the country to Los Angeles to pursue a career in fashion photography. It was a rude awakening to discover that this world I desperately wanted to be a part of was ultra-exclusive, largely deceptive and filled with empty promises. For a very select few it works out, but for me, this wasn’t the path that I was meant to take. I spent over six months pounding the Hollywood pavement, submitting dozens of job applications on a daily basis, and searching Craigslist for anything I could do related to my career choice or not. I eventually found a part-time job selling solar energy systems door-to-door to make some much-needed money. By the end of 2014, I landed a job as an in-house graphic designer, but something was lacking. I realized I had lost my creativity. I was at rock bottom and reduced to tears on a regular basis. I was ready to turn tail and head home. I would have, but something was holding me here. If I was going to survive, I needed to reinvent the direction in which I was headed.

In the largely male-dominated-digital-manipulation world on Instagram, I wanted to be the premier female photographer and digital artist. I would make a niche for myself, combining my love of photography and graphic design. If there wasn’t a job for me, I was going to create it. I took a chance and started posting my surrealistic photography creations. These pieces quickly gained recognition opening up a whole world of art shows, galleries, and new creative challenges. I wanted to return my appreciation to the community. After long hours of research, classes and pep talks, I started a blog (The Liked Photo) to teach people how to take better photos and market themselves more effectively on Instagram. Now here I am one year later with over 75k followers and a successful, growing business. I recently decided to leave my full-time job to pursue freelance work. Setting my own schedule also allows me the luxury of travel to expand my horizons. I find inspiration in these experiences that I hope will become the creative drive in my work. This is just the beginning. With my motivation and determination, I plan to continue evolving and expanding as an artist and exceeding the limits presupposed by others!”

Here are the most important lessons I’ve learned from my experiences:

“1. It’s a brutal world out there and it can swallow you up if you’re not on your guard. Young people are particularly vulnerable because we want to openly share our talents and are so anxious to make it. Yet sadly, there are many who take advantage of that position for their own gain. Experience is a great teacher, but hopefully not everyone needs to fall into the pit first. You need to learn to recognize real opportunities from false, empty promises. Be open and flexible, but at the same time guarded and detached. Above all else, it’s important to remain true to yourself, not sell out and know it’s always right to stand up for what you believe in.

2.) Expect that not everyday will be a killer creative day — allow yourself to have off-days and listen to your body and mental state. Creativity is not a constant. It comes in bursts and is dependent on your situation and surroundings. It’s important to acknowledge that this will happen and not allow it to overwhelm your progress. These stagnant moments are there to push you forward and force you out of your comfort zone. Whenever I hit a creative roadblock, it means it’s time for a change in scenery!

3.) Maintain a strong support system because you will need them. These are the people who love and stand behind you whether you are at your lowest low or highest high. For me, that’s always been my family and most trusted friends. We all want to be successful and able to say we made it on our own. But knowing when to reach out for guidance and support or just to share a triumphant day is a critical aspect of “making it”. A friend of mine once told me, “it’s all about the team and who backs you up.” She said, “Think of any amazing band, they sound that way because of team work and a support system.” Behind every founder, leader and go-getter, there are the people that helped get them there and they shouldn’t be forgotten.”


Debbie Roxarzade, founder & CEO of Rachel’s Kitchen

Who She Is and How She Has Overcome Limitations:

“I’ve been in the restaurant industry for more than 20 years. I started my career in the culinary circles of the star-studded City of Angels, creating a number of celebrated restaurant concepts including Debbie’s Bistro — once recognized as one of LA’s Big 10 Best New Restaurants by Los Angeles magazine.

After the success and notoriety of what were ultimately seven restaurants in Los Angeles, I decided to relocate to the newest culinary capital of the world, Las Vegas. Home to more celebrity chefs than possibly anywhere else in the world, I knew this was the perfect location for my newest venture.

Named after my daughter, the first Rachel’s Kitchen was opened in 2006 — a quaint fresh casual café featuring delicious and reasonably priced bistro fare. My concept was simple: serve fresh, high quality and great tasting food with a gourmet touch at affordable prices.

Ten years later, that single location has blossomed to eight unique locations around the Las Vegas Valley, including a coveted spot inside McCarran International Airport.

In a sense, I believe I am helping break glass ceilings in the restaurant industry. While women account for 71 percent of all servers nationwide, only 19 percent account for chefs and 45 percent account for management. Additionally, I am honored to have won the Women Who Mean Business Award in 2014 by Las Vegas Business Press, and in 2016 I was named one of the Women to Watch by Nevada Business Magazine. I have also been honored as one of the Top 100 Women of the Year by My Vegas Magazine for two years running. I hope to serve as a role model for other young women, proving that glass ceilings can be broken no matter the industry.

Here are the most important lessons I’ve learned from my experiences:

There are many lessons I’ve learned along the way. First, I’ve learned that one of the biggest rewards is watching my team develop and grow. Having a great team by your side is key to success. Second, I’ve learned that consistency is crucial, especially in the restaurant industry. As a brand with eight locations, customers expect the same quality of food and service no matter which restaurant they choose to dine in. We have high standards at Rachel’s Kitchen, and strive to provide consistent quality at all times, and it is one of our strongest assets and differentiates us from the competition. Finally, I think the biggest lesson I’ve learned has been to make sure my family knows they are number one. As a mother and business owner, some days it may not feel that my family is number one and maybe my business is taking most of my attention, but I make an effort to let them know, without a doubt, that they are my rock and have my heart.


Cricket Lee, CEO, Fitlogic

Who She Is and How She Has Overcome Limitations:

“Cricket Lee is an entrepreneur and inventor, particularly noted for creating Fitlogic, a world patented commercial clothes fitting standard that includes size and shape applications. The technology was developed with more than 60,000 women’s measurements, then refined through brick and mortar tests with retailers (Nordstrom, QVC, Macys), online and in designer boutiques. Consumer direct programs, customer service and global applications were studied, and proof of concept was completed through direct to consumer house brand LittleBlackPant after a year of testing . Fitlogic has garnered over 750 media exposures including Wall Street Journal cover story, New York Times, Chicago Tribune, LA Times, ABC News and segments on The Today Show.

During her career, Lee has done research, product development and created marketing campaigns for British Airways, PricewaterhouseCoopers, JCPenney, Ralph Lauren, Sara Lee Corporation (Hanes, Bali), Haggar Clothing Company, HSN, Warner Brothers, Ford Models and others. She created the first all natural bath, hair and skincare line and invented pet jewelry — mentored by Stanley Marcus of Neiman Marcus. Lee oversaw marketing of Multiples by Sandra Garrett, with first year retail sales over $240 million. Lee holds 72 awards for creative excellence in advertising including a National Addy Award.

Here are the most important lessons I’ve learned from my experiences:

My top three lessons are:

No-one else can have my dream (or yours if you are true to it).

The fashion industry is full of copycats. Because they are trained to look at other peoples designs and emulate them, many thought they could do that with my fit system. I can tell you days that I was so freaked out as they blatantly promoted shapes that looked (not acted like but looked like) mine. Over time, they all abandoned their programs because they didn’t know how I did it, and of course, not the real deal. I’m glad I didn’t give up.

I’m glad I never let go of brand control.

Wear horse blinders if you have to, but don’t listen to any naysayer ever. I can’t tell you how many people told me that I would never be able to standardize fit and to compromise for a quick buck. People will come along (mostly those with money) and have a “better idea”. They don’t know — only the innovator does. Most of us have a clear vision in a few hour period. Have faith in yourself and say NO. I have never compromised my dream for any reason — not the concept — not my investors. It will pay off.

I had to let go of my need for material comfort.

After 15 years of R&D and struggling to continuously find people who believed I was doing something worthwhile, I learned early on that stability was not part of the deal for an outside of the box dreamer. I lost everything, slept on air mattresses, traded out stock for apartments, wore hand me downs from friends (I still do). Because the industry would tell institutional investors it would never happen, I couldn’t raise a big chunk of money. In this game you have to choose your dream over everything and I do mean everything.


Ally Karsyn, founder, producer and host of Ode

Who She Is and How She Has Overcome Limitations:

“Two years ago, I felt stuck in a job and alone in a marriage. So, I started Ode, a live storytelling series where community members tell true stories on stage to promote positive impact through empathy. I had no idea if something like this would work in Sioux City, Iowa, which is a small Midwestern city better known for its meatpacking plants than its creative class. Yet, this theatre-meets-therapy type of journalistic entertainment has thrived here.

More than 80 stories have been told across 13 events to sold-out crowds, and my work on this now award-winning series led to an unexpected career change from newspaper reporter to public radio producer — even though I had no previous broadcast experience. Ode has been an endless source of goodness and grace, but it’s also forever tied to the moment I knew my marriage was over.

After setting up for Ode’s first show, my husband stayed out with my coworkers and spent $500 between two bars and a casino. I could no longer ignore the fact that I was living with a high-functioning alcoholic, and I didn’t like my life. I knew what I needed to do, but financially, I didn’t think I could leave. I was a 26-year-old journalist. So when I couldn’t find courage, I found an excuse, telling myself, “Well, it’s not so bad. At least he’s not beating me.”

When I said that out loud for the first time, I was so ashamed. But Ode offered a safe space to be myself, to be seen and heard. It taught me that healing begins when vulnerability is met with compassion. It taught me that the most important story is the one you tell yourself.

Personally and professionally, I pushed my limits. I changed my story. Like a poetic prophecy, I got divorced one year and two days after Ode’s first show in which the theme was “Breaking Points & New Beginnings.” It’s amazing — the things we get to come back from, the second chances we are given if only we can move beyond fear.

Now, it is one of my greatest joys to help people through the writing process to find whatever they need to find within themselves. Hope. Healing. Acceptance. Kindness. Courage. Strength. I know their thoughts and their voices have given those things to me.”

Here are the most important lessons I’ve learned from my experiences:

“1. People reflect what you project. When I started Ode, I was surprised when people started calling me inspiring, brave, confident, charismatic, dynamic and that I do my work with such joy. But I decided to agree with them, and say, yes, I am those things and so much more. Everyone around you is a mirror. What do you want to see?

2. Only you can define success for yourself. To me, success is creativity, connection and honest expression. I can do something every day to work toward those ideas. That’s much harder to measure than saying success is making a six-figure salary or winning a Pulitzer. But once you’ve made those achievements, what’s next? Another award? Another pay raise? What if you don’t get those things? Are you a failure? Absolutely not. You get to decide what has value and meaning in your life. If look at success as a way of living instead of a line on your résumé, you can be successful every day.

3. Challenges are choices. In your personal and professional life, things won’t always go as planned. But that doesn’t mean you stop trying. Because to avoid “failure” is to avoid joy. Sometimes the best — and hardest — thing you can do is just be open to limitless possibilities. And know that you can always choose to begin again.”


ISHR Group

Who She Is and How She Has Overcome Limitations:

“Many people claim that it can’t be done. We like to prove them wrong. We are a team of three women who are equal partners in a niche consulting firm. We have been told for years that partners can’t be friends, that friends can’t work together, and that working together as a partnership of three is impossible. We like to think that we have proven people wrong. We started as business associates, moved into an unequal business partnership, transitioned to equal partnership, and along that journey became great friends.

Monique Honaman founded ISHR Group in 1999. Several years later, both Stacy Sollenberger and Ellen Dotts joined the team as subcontractors and immediately began making an impact on the business. In 2007, we made the decision to formalize the working arrangement and create a partnership. It was a really big deal. For nearly a decade, Monique had birthed this business as a solopreneur and, frankly, to give up control was a scary thing. It was the best business decision she’s made. At first, the partnership was formed as 80/10/10, but Monique quickly realized that value-add that Stacy and Ellen were bringing was making ISHR Group a stronger entity. We literally moved from one level to the next when we all three began acting as owners. Collectively, our commitment, our intention, our focus, and our investment was bigger and stronger. It was an easy decision to alter the partnership agreement yet again to reflect equal partnerships at 33.3%.

Fast forward, and today ISHR Group is a consulting firm that provides leadership assessment, development and coaching services globally to mid- and large- corporate clients and many private equity groups. Revenues have increased year over year, even during the down-turn of 2008/2009.

What makes it work for us? We have seen many examples of partnerships that have failed and the dissolution is like a difficult divorce. We believe we are successful because we started this partnership with a clear understanding of what strengths we each bring to the table, and we don’t assign a value to one over the other. What one of us is good at, another of us can’t stand to do. We quickly became grounded in what it was that each of us would bring to the partnership, and we haven’t really varied from that in the decade that we have been business partners. We understand that at some times one of us might be busier than others, but that over time it all equals out. We know that individually we are strong contributors, but collectively we make an amazing team.

Here are the most important lessons I’ve learned from my experiences:

“ “Lesson 1. Know yourself: This applies to knowing what you bring to the partnership team. It’s important to know what you are good at, where your strengths lie, and to steer clear of things that aren’t in your sweet spot. We decided early on in our partnership to take advantage of having a facilitated strategy session. The things we discovered in that session became the platform for how we would operate, and are still reflective of our success as a small business 10 years later. For example, we discovered that Monique loves the business development component of the business (the relationship part), while Stacy loves to design courses and content (the creative part), and Ellen brings an element of practicality to ISHR (the pragmatic part).

Lesson 2. Fair doesn’t mean equal: There are times of the year when any one of us may have more on our plates than another person, and we’ve learned that’s OK. Early on skeptics asked us how we would “manage our hours.” We said we would figure it out, and we have. We all go through busy times where we may have more on our plates than another. We’ve learned to ask for help if needed, and we’ve learned that this is part of the process. Over 10 years as partners I don’t believe any of us would say we feel taken advantage of in terms of contribution.

Lesson 3. You support one another. The last lesson to share is the importance of having business partners who are more than simply partners, but rather who are also there to support you no matter what. Over the last decade, each of us has had moments where life has bumped up against us forcing us to step away or lose focus on the business at hand, while we attended to our personal lives. In each instance, we were there to support one another until such time that we were all back in play. We cannot over-emphasize the importance of this. When life comes knocking, you want to know that your team has your back.


Monique Honaman, CEO, Contender Brands

Who She Is and How She Has Overcome Limitations:

“What does it mean to be a limit pushing female founder? For me, it means never being afraid to pursue your ideas and your passions. What I’ve discovered is that it’s the difference between talking about an idea, and actually doing something about that idea. That’s the only difference. And, it’s a huge difference.

I’ve founded three companies in the last 20 years. The first, ISHR Group, is a global consulting firm focusing on leadership assessment, development and coaching. The second, High Road Less Traffic, is a mission-based organization focused on helping families thrive through divorce and is really grounded in writing and speaking. The third, Contender Brands is a product development business and this is what I want to focus on today.

I had an idea. You have an idea. So many people have great ideas of things they would like to invent, yet most of the time we simply think about it, and then shelve it.

I was like that too. I had an idea for a portable ring cleaner nearly a decade ago. The idea stuck with me and would periodically crawl in and out of my head like a song tune that you can’t get rid of. At one point, I wrote up a business plan. Another time I completed an exhaustive competitive analysis. Yet, in spite of these actions, I never really did anything to bring my idea to fruition. Finally, while on a romantic weekend away with my husband in Los Angeles, we had a conversation where I decided I was tired of talking about it. Then and there, I decided I was going to move forward and see if I could bring this idea to fruition.

We came home from that trip and I immediately began taking steps to translate this from concept to consumer. I founded the company as a woman-owned business, and brought my husband on as a partner. Fast forward three years (yes, three years) and our portable ring cleaner is just about to hit the market. During that time, we designed it, prototyped it, patented it, trademarked it, and manufactured it. Remember, prior to this, we knew absolutely nothing about building a product. It’s a time-consuming process, but what we discovered is that once we opened the floodgates on our first idea, the other ideas kept coming. We have now launched three other products as well. Has it been easy? Absolutely not. Has it been stressful? Absolutely. But, there is something incredibly rewarding about having an idea and seeing it come to fruition. Truly, nothing ventured nothing gained.

Here are the most important lessons I’ve learned from my experiences:

“1. Be prepared to make an investment. It’s going to take an investment to get started. That investment will include your time, your money, and your energy. There will be many times where you question how much time it is taking or how much money it is costing, and you have to know that this is all part of the process. Make the decision to be all in, or you will go crazy second guessing yourself. Case in point, we were significantly down the pipeline in terms of time and money invested when we had a decision to make: quit or add another incremental investment. We believed in our product and knew that we had come this far and weren’t going to quit now. It’s all part of the process.

2. Be comfortable with taking a risk. Launching big ideas and stepping out on a ledge is risky. That’s precisely why so many people who have big ideas don’t do anything with them. They are risk averse. They are scared of what might go wrong. If you intend to launch any idea you have, either for a service or a product, you have to be comfortable with taking a risk, you must be comfortable with hearing no, and you have to be okay with the fact that not everyone is going to love your idea. It’s all part of the process.

3. Be dedicated to seeing it through. This will take longer than you expect, and then some! For those who don’t count patience as one of their strongest virtues (ourselves included) this is one area where you learn that you must be patient. Not everyone is on your timeline and everything seems to take longer than you think it should. It’s all part of the process.

4. Be in it for more than just money. Lastly, I have learned that if you are launching a business solely to make money, it likely won’t be successful. You have to be passionate about your ideas. You have to make it fun. You have to enjoy the journey as much as the destination. We have had many bumps along our journey so far, and certainly haven’t recouped our initial investment as of yet. But we are having an absolute blast, we have learned so much, and we have experienced so many new adventures. I can seriously say that I wouldn’t change anything. We are enjoying this adventure. No risk; no reward. It’s all part of the process!


Laura Weidman Powers, co-founder & CEO, Code2040

Who She Is and How She Has Overcome Limitations:

“Laura Weidman Powers is the co-founder and CEO of Code2040, a nonprofit organization that creates pathways to educational, professional, and entrepreneurial success in technology for underrepresented minorities with a specific focus on Blacks and Latinxs. Code2040 aims to close the achievement, skills, and wealth gaps in the United States. Our goal is to ensure that by the year 2040 — the start of the decade when the US will be majority people of color — we are proportionally represented in America’s innovation economy as technologists, investors, thought leaders, and entrepreneurs.

In summer 2016, Laura joined the Obama Administration for a six month term as a senior advisor to U.S. Chief Technology Officer Megan Smith. At the White House, Laura focused on issues of diversity and inclusion related to ensuring hiring practices, entrepreneurial ecosystems, and the tech products and platforms of the future work for all Americans, particularly those from historically marginalized backgrounds.

Most recently before co-founding Code2040, Laura served as head of product at a consumer web startup. Prior to that, she co-founded two organizations in the education space, one nonprofit arts education organization in West Philadelphia that is currently celebrating its 12th year, and one for-profit tutoring company that gave rise to a book.”

Here are the most important lessons I’ve learned from my experiences:

“1. Focus on building a community: When you’re tackling racial justice and improving the odds for yourself and your community, you have to take the long view, which means realizing that you can’t do the work alone. So we don’t view people in our programs as passive participants. Instead they work with us as change agents, believing they belong in tech and that they are the ones who will break down oppressive systems and build new, more inclusive ones.

I see this across our community: Fellows who demand new pathways for Black and Latinx talent; companies that revamp their hiring processes to be more equitable; volunteers who share their insight and experiences to encourage others to get involved. The stories are endless but the impact is the same: The people we serve take what they learn, bring it back to their communities, take action, and encourage others to take action as well.

2. Trust your team: In 2014, Code2040 was still building our reputation with funders, and as we struggled to share our story effectively, things got dicey: we almost ran out of money. I pulled the team together and shared our financial state: We only had six weeks of cash left, but if we cut every expense, even during our busy season with the Fellows Program, we could extend to four months. This meant everything would have to be done in the scrappiest way by us and by volunteers, and that the team would have to lead everything else while I fully applied myself to fundraising.

What happened was nothing short of amazing. The team led a successful summer program on an absolute shoestring budget, while I spent all my time fundraising, eventually succeeding in bringing in $2.3 million in cash and commitments before our four months were up. I realized that if you are transparent about your failings and needs as a leader, a great mission-aligned team will step up and rise to the occasion to create impact despite challenges and adversity.

Make revenue a priority: Another critical lesson I learned then and keep in mind each day: Ensuring that your organization has the funds it needs to create space for experimentation and impact. Without adequate resources, you risk sacrificing the very things that make your organization and community thrive. But getting enough revenue to keep your programs running well takes time, so you’ve got to make sure that as a leader this is your top priority. I always keep a close eye on revenue and cash on hand, and we commit to having six months in cash and commitments at all times, which gives space to do our work and think ahead.”


Eileen Gittins, CEO & Founder, Bossygrl

Who She Is and How She Has Overcome Limitations:

“Serial entrepreneur Eileen Gittins is best known for founding self-publishing platform Blurb, acting as CEO for over a decade and successfully growing the business into a multi-million dollar company. While she remains as executive chairman of the board of directors and an advisor to the company, Eileen stepped down to launch her newest venture, Bossygrl — a ground-breaking platform enabling aspiring female entrepreneurs to create and grow real e-commerce businesses. Inspired by both her own experiences as a three-time, venture-capital financed female CEO in Silicon Valley, and recent data highlighting a glaring disparity between the number of all-female versus all-male founding teams being backed, Eileen set out on a mission to change the current state of gender inequality in the workplace. She hopes that by helping Gen Z girls develop real-world business skills, confidence, and experience through Bossygrl, they’ll enjoy a level playing field when they hit the workforce.

Eileen has been at the intersection of the Internet, consumer and enterprise software, imaging systems, search, and digital photography throughout her career. She has lived and worked all over the world with Kodak and as VP at Wall Data before and after its IPO, CEO of Personify and Verb, outside Board Director at Qbiquity and Popular Demand, and even a stint at a boutique investment bank. In 2009, Eileen was named by Fast Company as one of the top women in technology.

Here are the most important lessons I’ve learned from my experiences:

“Get talent on board before you think you need it — it’s critical to scaling your business

As a founder CEO your instinct might be “I can cover that” — either because you haven’t found the “right person” or you don’t want to spend the time recruiting or because you think you can save money by not making the hire. Don’t fall into that trap! Hire a contractor if cash is tight, but focus on getting some of the things that are not what you should be doing, off your plate. You may think you are saving the company money, but if you are spending time on the wrong things, you are actually costing the company.

Your customer is your truth serum.

Make it a committed practice for everyone on your executive team to have “x” number of direct conversations with customers every month; ideally including at least one face to face meeting. These conversations, especially at the executive level, will give your team a shared perspective when making product, people and strategy decisions. While sometimes painful and humbling, these customer conversations can also be remarkably exhilarating and motivating.

Don’t run out out money.

At my last company, Blurb, we had a mission: we were going to become profitable within 2 years. We actually ended up getting there within 18 months. That early discipline of watching the cash like a hawk was a tremendous forcing function for prioritizing what mattered: understanding who our customers were, how best to efficiently reach them with almost zero marketing budget, and delivering value to them via a product that was well-tuned to their needs.


Ainsley Braun, Cofounder & CEO, Tinfoil Security

Who She Is and How She Has Overcome Limitations:

“Ainsley Braun is the Cofounder and CEO at Tinfoil Security, a SaaS company that provides effortless security for DevOps teams.

Ainsley earned two Bachelor of Science degrees from Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in 2010; one in Brain and Cognitive Sciences, and the second in Writing. She holds five patents, and has published two papers.

Ainsley also worked as a Senior Researcher at MIT’s Brain & Cognitive Sciences, at the Sinha Laboratory for Vision Research. The goal of this research was (and still is) to understanding how the brain recognizes objects, scenes and sequences by using experimentation with humans and computational modeling. As a primary electroencephalogram (EEG) researcher with Sinha Laboratory, Ainsley’s most rewarding memory was working in India for Project Prakash, creating eye-care camps in the medically underserved parts of India.

Upon graduation, she went to consult with Booz Allen Hamilton as a member of the Strategic Technology and Innovation division, where she worked largely with US Department of Defense (DoD) clients. Ainsley quickly realized the deluge of vulnerabilities facing almost the entire SMB market. She also unexpectedly discovered how many of the same security risks extended to larger enterprise companies. This led her to team up with fellow MIT alumnus, Michael Borohovski and build Tinfoil Security, Inc. Since its launch in 2011, Tinfoil Security has provided security for tens of thousands of clients, ranging from SMB’s to Fortune 100 companies.

Alongside her academic and research pursuits, Ainsley was also a passionate and competitive rower/coxswain. She began competing in high school, and went on to compete for the U23 Canadian National Rowing team at the global level, placing fourth in the world rankings. Ainsley also coached at Row New York, helping to spread her love of the sport to under-resourced communities and enhancing Row New York’s mission by teaching the values of teamwork, tenacity, and commitment to self and others.

As a StartX company, Ainsley became involved as mentor and continues to assist fellow alumni companies with enterprise challenges. She assists on the selection committee for incoming applications to the StartX program, and on the StartX Alumni Advisory Board.

Ainsley is a member of the Silicon Valley Leadership Group (SVLG), an organization founded in 1978 by David Packard (of Hewlett-Packard), which represents more than 400 of Silicon Valley’s most respected employers on issues, programs and campaigns that affect the economic health and quality of life in Silicon Valley.”

Here are the most important lessons I’ve learned from my experiences:

“1) Don’t be afraid to ask for help: No matter how famous or well-known somebody is, they’re still just human. There’s no need to idolize somebody or put them on a pedestal. We all have problems, need help, and have the ability to find a passion. If you find somebody interesting, no matter who they are, don’t be afraid to approach them and learn from them. There is no one person who knows everything! When building a company, an important lesson I learned is that you have to be able to ask for help. I initially thought this may be seen as a sign of weakness, especially as a woman in a male dominated industry. But the fact is I see top leaders and the best, well-known CEO’s do this on a daily basis. Now, not all help/advice is created equally, so while this is an important lesson, it’s even more vital to make sure you create a trustworthy, genuine, and credible network of people who you can go to for help on various topics. Make sure to do your homework and reference checks on people you plan to get help from. I know many incredible founders who have been burned by mentors with malicious intentions, as well as ones with good intentions but that had no experience in what they were talking about. Never rely only on one person either; gaining a few different perspectives can be a great learning opportunity. You don’t have to follow or agree with the advice you get, but you should be open to understanding and adapting concepts to make the best decisions for running your company.

2) Assume everything will go wrong: You need to be ready for surprises, both good and bad. You will not always have a plan, but you should prepare for every scenario possible when building out and releasing products, and as much as possible also for marketing, sales, and operational decisions.

3) Make time to give back: One of the values I made sure to instill in our company culture is to strive to build an environment where we’re always willing to pay it forward, even if we have no expectation of any return. This was important to me, as I see giving back as helping to keep me grounded. reminds me of how fortunate I am, even on days when it seems the world is against me It reminds me there is a world outside of my own bubble and that there is more to life than just being focused on yourself.”


Shevonne Joyce

Who She Is and How She Has Overcome Limitations:

“Shevonne Joyce works with women to position them as the go-to brand in their industry. With a focus on profitability through a trusted and quality brand that attracts their ideal buyers, her work is about long-lasting change and results with the aim of creating businesses that are as successful on the inside as they appear on the outside.

With her collective brands in 60 countries and counting, Shevonne has developed and monetized a global personal brand. She has established herself as a trusted thought-leader who refreshingly gets real about helping women to be successful through personal branding strategies that deliver real results. She’s famed for her #truthbombs about what it really takes to be successful. Some examples of her original thought leadership include the idea that the customer is not always right, how the pre-occupation with being positive is damaging to success and how freebies are the true killers of businesses (combating the phenomenon of exposure being treated like a tradable commodity in business).

One of her recent projects included creating a whole new niche of business conversation, dubbed ‘the business real’, through The Business Experiment podcast (with co-host Jemimah Ashleigh). The podcast was designed to talk about the ‘real’ of what it takes to be successful in business; the good, the bad, the ugly. It was named by Kochie’s Business Builders as the #3 business podcast you should be listening to in 2017, next to Ted Talks Business and reached over 3.5 million people on Facebook alone.

Additionally, Shevonne was recently appointed as a judge of both the 2017 Telstra Business Awards and Women’s Business Awards and named as one of the Top 10 Australian Women Entrepreneurs for 2017 by My Entrepreneur Magazine.”

Here are the most important lessons I’ve learned from my experiences:

“Lesson 1: The worst they can say is no, the best they can say is yes.

Success in entrepreneurship is all about taking the opportunities that present themselves, yet so many women are absolutely terrified of putting themselves out there and potentially being rejected. Success will not come to you, it’s something you create for yourself. The best motto to live by in this business is ‘the worst they can say is no, the best they can say is yes.’ This will enable you to win so many amazing opportunities you never thought possible. Many people ask, ‘how did you manage to achieve that?’ The answer? Often having the courage to put yourself forward for it! Of course, the answer might be a no, but what if it’s a yes? Make friends with rejection, you’ll be very acquainted! It’s part of success.

Lesson 2: Money is never the problem

This is an uncomfortable business truth, but a necessary one for being successful in entrepreneurship — money is never the reason why your prospect has decided not to buy — even if they truly believe that it is. It’s never about cost, it’s always about value. People will pay money to solve their problems if it’s truly important to them and you’re the right expert who can help them. When someone is saying they don’t have the money, what they’re saying to you is either that spending the money on what you have to offer isn’t a big enough priority for them or you’re not the right expert to solve their problem.

For example, a ticket to see Tony Robbins varies between $800-$2000. Tony Robbins fans aren’t saying, ‘oh gee, that’s a bit expensive.’ Instead, they’re figuring out where to find $1000. Whereas, those who aren’t Tony Robbins fans likely wouldn’t pay $1 for that ticket. It’s about value.

Lesson 3: People don’t buy from those they ‘like.’

Contrary to popular belief, they buy from those they respect, who have positioned themselves as authorities in their field of expertise. If you’re pre-occupied with being liked, it will limit your ability to have the impact you’re capable of, because you’ll spend all your time trying to be everything to everyone instead of pioneering the change you’re capable of. Your ideal buyers are waiting to hear and see what you’re capable of. Not everyone will dig your jam, but not everyone has to. Your ideal buyers will.”


Diane Vrkic, Founder & CEO, Waypoint

Who She Is and How She Has Overcome Limitations:

“Diane Vrkic is the founder and CEO of Waypoint, an asset management platform for performance analytics and financial management that arms real estate professionals with trusted local market intelligence and a solution focused on driving asset value. Prior to Waypoint, Diane was the Global Chief Operating Officer for Jones Lang LaSalle’s Energy Services Business. Long before Diane joined the real estate industry, she attended medical school. While in medical school, she began her first real estate start up. Realizing the true joy she felt in working on new ideas in the business and technology space, Diane took a leave of absence from medical school and began her business career at Accenture where she worked with companies enabling them to enhance their performance through better use of technology and data.

Today Diane is an active leader in the commercial real estate industry and she is dedicated to improving the way commercial real estate decision-makers access and use information to enhance the performance of their assets and drive productivity improvements across teams.

Here are the most important lessons I’ve learned from my experiences:

“The need to get things right should not prevent you from moving forward.

You don’t have to solve every problem before you start, just start. Early on in my life, my key to success both academically and professionally was to always do everything well… be prepared, be thorough, plan ahead for all scenarios. As an entrepreneur, you can never fully prepare and should not allow that desire or tendency to stop you from moving forward. As an entrepreneur I had to relearn how to be successful. Success meant acting before having all the answers and getting comfortable not being great at everything that I needed to do. It was a painful paradigm shift, but one I am so thankful I made.

Life is not as risky as you think it is.

The best entrepreneurs are not careless risk takers, they are fearless risk mitigators. The path of a startup, by its very nature, is risky. I have come to appreciate that great entrepreneurs are not motivated by risk, they take on risk and then work every day to minimize it as they push towards success. I found great strength when adopting this mindset. The act of just starting is one of the most powerful things an entrepreneur does. However, it’s the act of embracing risk, looking for the greatest obstacles to success, and working to overcome them is what then defines success.

New ideas are special — they should be sheltered and protected

In the startup world, only about 10% exist post the five-year mark. There are more reasons why a startup should fail than why it should succeed. Early on, realize that most people cannot see what you see. When seeking advice for a business idea, most people will not see the opportunity you see because it’s harder to envision how an idea can be successful before it actually is successful. People will try to give you advice and protect you from risk, but in the end, highlighting why your idea shouldn’t be successful hurts the idea. Advice is important, however, if you believe in your idea, protect it from too much negativity and give it the opportunity to come into its own.


Yeva Hyusyan, Co-Founder & CEO, SoloLearn, Inc.

Who She Is and How She Has Overcome Limitations:

“Yeva is the Co-Founder and CEO of SoloLearn, a community of millions of coders worldwide engaged in the most entertaining way to learn, play, code, create, discuss, and simply hangout with each other in the coding world.

Half of her professional life was spent in traditional settings ranging from design and implementation of the World Bank and US Government programs in business and education, to sales and strategic partnerships as a Microsoft Armenia Country Manager, to inter-government negotiations. An MBA from a business school in the Netherlands and an Executive Program at Stanford helped a lot then.

In the new life, Yeva built a startup accelerator that created mobile games, robots, and ag-tech solutions. To pay for this, she opened a coding school/bootcamp that still boasts 90%+ placement rate. It was all about learning on-the-go, from our own mistakes, from non-existing resources. All of these experiences got reflected in SoloLearn aiming to change the way programmers learn, build their professional reputation, and get a job.

The extreme experiences of studying and living in the Soviet Union and the West, seeing the war and post-Soviet business opportunities, good tech and non-tech education have been the greatest movers to date and have shaped the attitude of “nothing is impossible, no matter what is happening now”, a so much needed mindset in the challenging, yet fun, world of entrepreneurship today.

Here are the most important lessons I’ve learned from my experiences:

• There are three types of people. People who focus on the positive, people who focus on the negative, and people who do not focus on either of the two. The first group is happy by default so no action is really needed. For the second group nothing is going to turn out right anyways, so why act? And only the third group believes in their own ability to make things happen. They know that it’s a process with ups and downs, successes and failures, learnings and mistakes. For this group, nothing is ever set in stone. Geniuses apart, this is the group that is best positioned and motivated to innovate and implement for a change. If you are after something big, these are the people to team up with.

• While it’s relatively hard for a woman to get a “seat at the table” in today’s man-dominated business world, we, as women, get a unique and unfair advantage when we are “at the table”. Interestingly, while our “womanly” behavior is the main obstacle to get in, it happens to be a great asset afterwards when we get so much attention and appreciation for being different, innovative, and feminine. And this strategy of following the “accepted” rules to get in and being yourself afterwards (rather than complaining about how unfair things are) is probably the quickest to improve the man-woman balance we’ve been striving to achieve, so much needed by our economies and societies today.

• Success and happiness is a combination of one’s genetic code and environment. So creating the right environment in our families, schools, and workplaces is just as important as for the geneticists to find the right DNA code and structure.


Carolyn Rodz, co-founder and CEO, Alice

Who She Is and How She Has Overcome Limitations:

Featured in Fortune, Inc., Fast Company, Entrepreneur and more, Alice was co-founded by three-time Latina entrepreneur Carolyn Rodz. She has helped raise billions of dollars of capital for innovative organizations, created a luxury retail line that sold in over 400 stores worldwide, including Neiman Marcus, Harrod’s, and Bloomingdales, and later launched a global marketing firm that supported specialty product launches within Fortune 500 enterprises and startups positioning themselves for industry leadership. Through Alice, Carolyn is committed to changing the statistics for women and minority business owners by democratizing access to resources, communities and opportunities through AI technology, a virtual accelerator and live events.

Here are the most important lessons I’ve learned from my experiences:

Over the last several years, I’ve talked with thousands of entrepreneurs, and there are definitely recurring themes from which I’ve pulled my biggest lessons. First, don’t wait for perfection. Entrepreneurship is risky, and it’s natural to want to alleviate all fear before taking the leap. The problem can be that opportunities are missed when get stuck waiting for the perfect moment or until all of your ducks are perfectly aligned. I’ve also learned to get to the “no” fast. Whether it’s landing a big customer or securing an investment, your time is valuable, and you can’t afford to waste it on six months of chasing a lead that stays in limbo. If the time isn’t right for a yes, it may be in the future; in the meantime, focus your energy on the opportunities that are most likely to pan out and accelerate growth. Finally, don’t try to go it alone. It is absolutely critical for business owners to find their circle — the team of employees, mentors, advisory boards, consultants and friends who can help you achieve your goals. You don’t have to know how to do everything, but you do need to know how to find the people who do know. The most successful entrepreneurs I know are the ones that build a strong, supportive network of people around them.


Debbie Sardone, Founder

Who She Is and How She Has Overcome Limitations:

“Author, Speaker, Entrepreneur, Debbie Sardone is a popular speaker, writer, business consultant, and nonprofit founder. Known as “America’s Top Cleaning Expert”. Debbie owns several businesses, including Buckets & Bows Maid Service near Dallas, Texas, one of the largest maid services in the country. She also owns SpeedCleaning.COM, a successful retail e-commerce business where she manufactures her own line of eco-friendly, nontoxic cleaning supplies. Using her experiences from 30 plus years in business, Debbie has taught hundreds of business owners how to improve their service, grow their brand, and increase their bottom line. As the founder of a nationally known non-profit, Cleaning For A Reason, she’s helped thousands of women receive free house cleaning services while they are undergoing treatment for cancer. Debbie has appeared in Reader’s Digest, People Magazine Ladies Home Journal, CNN Money Online, ABC’s Nightline, Fox News, Fox & Friends, The Dallas Morning News, The Chicago Tribune, and a host of other news and radio outlets and publications.

Debbie’s nonprofit was launched in 2006 and has received massive publicity every year since it’s inception for the work they do. To date, Debbie’s foundation has helped over 17,000 women battling cancer receiving free house cleaning services, valued at more that 4.5 million dollars in donated services. Debbie travels all over the country speaking on behalf of the foundation and has attracted top name brands such as Swiffer, Walmart, Staples, Zep, and more to partner as sponsors. Some of Debbie’s top requested talks are on “Cause Marketing” and “Branding With Purpose”.

This is Debbie’s online retail business which manufactures and sells green cleaning products as well as a wide range of cleaning products, tools, and equipment to both consumers and businesses.

Debbie started this business out of the trunk of her car in 1981. She has been an absentee owner since 2004. She has a staff of nearly 40 and is one the largest independently owned maid services in the country.

Debbie launched her speaking and consulting business in 2006 based on her 35 years of building businesses that run without her

Married 39 years to sweetheart, soulmate Steve Sardone (a retired police offer), two grown children (both entrepreneurs with post graduate degrees), 4 grandbabies. Loves sailing, reading, and tropical vacations.

Here are the most important lessons I’ve learned from my experiences:

“I’ve learned so many things from business, nonprofit, employees, and customers. But here are my top three most treasured lessons:

1. The power of small disciplines and seemingly insignificant actions –It’s rarely one big significant event or act that produces the biggest results and the most success. It’s the opposite. It’s those little mundane acts we perform day in and day out, good and bad, that reap the most significant results in our lives and business. Little habits, little disciplines amount to massive impact over time.

2. The steps to extraordinary success are simple, but not obvious. Most people are trying to guess their way to success and complicating their business and programs. When you boil everything down to a few simple ideas or steps, you create a repeatable, scalable business model that can be followed by others you’ve delegated to.

3. Don’t try to go it alone — The most successful people hire mentors, coaches, and consultants. If you want to be in the 10% of your field you have to be a student for life. Read books, attend seminars, hire the top gurus in your field. Learners are earners.


Aja Edmond

Who She Is and How She Has Overcome Limitations:

“As a graduate of Stanford Business School Aja’s examples of entrepreneurship were limited to high growth tech startups.

But Aja didn’t want the lifestyle of the typical Silicon Valley founder, so decided to redefine what it meant (to her) to be an entrepreneur.

Aja started a personal development and professional consulting platform that became profitable in its first year.

She set up her business to sustain itself with few employees, little overhead, and a substantial passive income stream that pays the bills and then some — allowing her a flexible and fulfilling lifestyle.

Prior to founding her business Aja worked in finance then in lifestyle marketing. “

Here are the most important lessons I’ve learned from my experiences:

“From her experiences Aja has learned:

“There’s no one model of entrepreneurship and you certainly don’t need to look to Silicon Valley as the only way. If you can take the risk to start a business that fills an actual need or untapped opportunity in a way that makes money, you are an entrepreneur.”

“Think about the lifestyle you desire before starting a business. If I just wanted to make a lot of money I could have stayed in finance with less of the risk. Entrepreneurship to me meant creating a business on my own terms … one that made money and allowed me to live freely (for example traveling or living wherever I wanted in the world).”

“There are so many oversaturated markets — for instance fashion and beauty e-commerce — that most entrepreneurial women sort of default to. I made that mistake too when first considering different business ideas. It’s worth getting creative and figuring out less sexy markets where there’s still ample opportunity to stand out.”


Lily Liu, Founder, The Lobas

Who She Is and How She Has Overcome Limitations:

Lily started her career working for government agencies on a variety of topics ranging from civic engagement to educational funding to technology projects. She spent time working for TSA, the City of Long Beach, CA and Mayor Bloomberg’s Special Projects and Analytics team. She later started PublicStuff, which is a civic engagement platform designed to promote communication between local government and residents. PublicStuff is utilized in small to large cities across the world, including Palo Alto, Philadelphia and New York City. The company was acquired by Accela in 2015. Lily was named one of Forbes’ 30 under 30' top entrepreneurs and Business Insiders people to watch. She received her Master of Science from Carnegie Mellon University, is a self-proclaimed adrenaline junkie, and a lover of the arts.

Here are the most important lessons I’ve learned from my experiences:

“The top lessons I’ve learned from my business and personal experiences are focused around people and ideas. One of the deepest and continuing lessons, is the value of human capital. It’s all about the people you’re with! Invest in people and relationships. So much of the tech startup world can feel transactional, especially with people coming and going throughout the life of your company. Focus on the relationships that matter and invest in those. There is so much value in having peers that are going through similar situations. I had access to some of these groups through our investors, but you can also find some of these groups on social media or at meet-ups. Peer groups can be incredibly helpful — from answering general questions, to introductions, to just kicking it with like-minded and similarly experienced people.

The second lesson is about letting go of full control. If you are able to accomplish lesson #1 and work with great people, then loosening up control not only feels better but it produces better results. In sports like tennis and golf, some of the best techniques involve loosening your grip to produce more controlled results. Reducing injuries from jumping, falls and landings is to relax your body and roll. By holding too tightly, the stiffness works against the power of the sports equipment and your body. The same concept applies in work and life! By loosening up, things can work as they were designed to, which will lead to better and often more controlled results. Remember that it’s cheaper and smarter to trust than to control. It’s almost impossible to fully realize your groups full potential by tightening your grip so let go for 2018!

Put things into perspective. Everything feels like a fire in a startup company but I’ve learned to take it in stride and see the bigger perspective on these issues. It’s easy to confuse urgency with emergency when you’re starting a new project or company. It’s impossible to keep up a pace of responding to fires in a company. Focus on working towards constructive, strategized goals and build urgency with purpose. And when you really do encounter a crisis, you’ll have the bandwidth to respond smarter and hopefully find an opportunity in the process. “


Alexandra Booze, Founder, East Coast Contessas

Who She Is and How She Has Overcome Limitations:

My name is Alexandra Booze and I am the Founder and Managing Editor of East Coast Contessas, a travel, food, and lifestyle blog with writers based in NYC and DC. We highlight some of the world’s most beautiful destinations and cuisines to inspire others to experience new cultures and push their own boundaries. In the past year (2017) alone I partnered with more than 200 globally-recognized brands for what many identify as my “side hustle” — all while maintaining a demanding 13-hour work day in a senior public relations job in addition to disabling health conditions (chronic asthma and a compromised immune system). I logged more than 120 total travel hours, and visited 10 countries in 2017 alone. Since starting my online publication in 2015, it has experienced steady growth, exploading from 10,000 followers in 2016 to 42,000 total social media followers by the end of 2017. I have worked with Brands such as Dell, HelloFresh, Herbal Essences, Ritz Carlton Hotels, Disney, and many others from relationships I secured from the ground up. My work has been featured in media outlets such as Politico, Chris Guillibeau’s Side Hustle School, and Women’s Health Magazine (slated for March issue publication as of current).

Here are the most important lessons I’ve learned from my experiences:

As a young female entrepreneur, I’ve faced many challenges on my journey to success (and in my own opinion I still have a long way to go). Many people -mostly other women- have told me I’m crazy to think I can make traveling the world my full time job. “When will you settle down and get married?” they ask. “What about children? You’re not getting any younger.” While these questions are valid, the answer to me is simple. Happiness can be found in many places and in many forms, not just in marriage or parenthood. There is something extremely empowering about “taking on” a business endeavor and exploring the world independent of a man and without restraints. Sure, there are times where it’s challenging, but it’s these unexpected challenges and imperfect situations that have taught me the most. I’ve learned to adapt, to appreciate, and admire the situations that push my comfort levels and test my strength, will, and patience. For other aspiring female entrepreneurs who might face similar roadblocks and judgement, I urge them to break the rules (sometimes) and do the things that people say they shouldn’t or can’t. Anything worth excelling at takes time, so they shouldn’t compare their success to the success of others — they are not interchangeable.


Karolyn Hart, COO & Cofounder, InspireHUB Technologies Inc.

Who She Is and How She Has Overcome Limitations:

“Karolyn Hart is the Co-Founder and COO of InspireHUB Technologies (creator of the IHUBApp) who works with businesses to help them drive engagement through simple tools that are matched to their specific organizational needs. Karolyn has spent two decades building a unique skillset around engagement including as a technologist with experience implementing large scale projects in financial services, automotive and healthcare; an entrepreneur launching a national television show; an award-winning economic developer working in community engagement; and a startup co-founder designing the latest in app technology. As one of the few executives in the world that runs a 100% virtual workforce across multiple countries, Karolyn is regularly sought out for her expertise on how the intersection of the cyber and physical environments can be leveraged to the benefit of employers. Karolyn knows what it takes to keep a team engaged against all odds.

Karolyn has been covered in The Globe and Mail, CBC, The Chicago Tribune, GCN and SD Times. Her technical white papers have been published by various industry magazines, and her 2017 white paper garnered the support and participation from leading engineers in Google Chrome and Samsung Internet.

In 2012, after 17 years of making people feel uncomfortable that she was working in technology with no degree, Karolyn decided to make them more uncomfortable by obtaining a Bachelor of Religious Education from Emmanuel Bible college. She is happy to report that neither the science nor religious communities have yet to be able to remove her sense of humour.”

Here are the most important lessons I’ve learned from my experiences:

1. Don’t be afraid to be the ONLY voice.

In 2013, we were considered crazy to spend our development efforts on “web apps”. In 2014, we decided to use a remote workforce and were told it wouldn’t be successful, especially as major tech companies announced they were moving away from this. That same year, we decided to give our people full autonomy and take as much time off as they needed and were once again challenged. The results speak for themselves.

Just after we provided “unlimited vacation” to our staff in 2014, Richard Branson announced he was doing the same thing. We already knew it was a successful model because our productivity had skyrocketed and we found ourselves having to enforce vacation time.

The “remote work” debate got annihilated as those companies who had restricted remote-only did not have the success they expected. Now in 2017, “remote-only” is a viable career path. The Wall Street Journal reported that two-thirds of companies now offer this as an option. Once again, we had already directly experienced the productivity benefits and it also helped our small startup fight off headhunters and poachers of our talent.

Finally, our decision to work in web apps in 2013 evolved to us being the first company to adopt Progressive Web App technology into our platform. In 2017, the growth of brands (including big technology brands) adopting this new technology has officially made it the next big digital shift. This last December Apple announced a significant shift for their app store away from templated-app-services that is now positioning Progressive Web Apps as “the” go-to solution for small business. Suddenly, our decisions don’t seem so “crazy”.

2. But be the voice that brings all the voices together.

When something is early and new, it is absolutely critical you find other like-minded voices to build a movement. In 2016 we launched @prowebapps and began promoting everyone and anyone who was working in the field of Progressive Web Apps including our potential competitors. It also established us as a leader because we were confident enough to promote everyone.

3. Never stop learning.

Learning keeps you hungry for more and humble enough to ask questions. As you do this, you WILL end up finding the next new thing to be the ONLY voice on again and the cycle of success begins again.


Cassy Aoyagi, president and co-founder, FormLA Landscaping

Who She Is and How She Has Overcome Limitations:

As president of FormLA® Landscaping and a board member of the thought leading LA Chapter of the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC), Cassy Aoyagi is transforming LA’s unbuilt spaces into beautiful resources that improve the city’s ecological, fiscal and social resilience (See LAgardens.com). This requires shifting public understanding of gardens as well as the ethic of the largely male-dominated landscaping, building and development industries.

FormLA Landscaping and Aoyagi promote an approach to development that recognizes the importance of unbuilt spaces and plant life native to a specific region. Their work has been featured on the International Greenbuild Tour, covered in InStyle, Sunset, Dwell and the Los Angeles Times, as featured on HGTV. Aoyagi has also written for the Los Angeles Times’ SoCal Garden Clinic and Houzz.

Aoyagi is an accredited designer in the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) program and a former board president of the Theodore Payne Foundation for Wildflowers and Native Plants. She has been recognized as a small business owner of the year by both California Senator Carol Liu and the Los Angeles Business Council.

Aoyagi and her husband and co-founder earned bachelors degrees in environmental horticulture at California Polytechnic University, San Luis Obispo.”

Here are the most important lessons I’ve learned from my experiences:

“​1.Find the spoon full of sugar. Particularly in the early and non-drought years of her business, Aoyagi had to sell her distinctive landscapes using the same pitch as any other landscaper. She focused on the beauty of the unusual plants and materials she recommended, rather than their plentiful ecological, health, cost saving or social benefits. That opened the door to for her to provide a deeper understanding of the benefits of her approach to clients over time.

As California, and LA, in particular were hit with extreme drought, Aoyagi was in a position to lead the conversation about possible solutions. As the Los Angeles Times noted, this meant her business thrived while others closed up shop, slashed prices or retired. It also meant that the authentic, lush, leafy look of LA had an advocate when people were tempted to “plant” gravel and cacti in an effort to save the city.

2.Look for help: Over time, Aoyagi was asked for help by organizations trying to recreate public gardens as drought friendly landscapes. That phrase is like nails on a chalkboard to her! Yet, she moved forward, feeling empowered to educate people about the difference between simple drought-tolerance and authentic resilience. The opportunity to influence what we see every day in our unbuilt public spaces gave her the “aha moment.” That is, that she doesn’t need to save the world on her own. People actually want help, although their perspectives and strategies may vary slightly. Seeking out strategic partnerships where synergies and some measure of common ground exist has been the key to building momentum without burning out.

3. Be whole, unified. Aoyagi’s personal mission has always been to enjoy and protect nature — in fact, that is what led her to the landscaping profession in the first place. While her business evolved from that love, for years, this personal mission remained somewhat siloed from the day-to-day efforts of building a business. It was when Aoyagi was pressed to make every moment count that she began to see that the highest value place for her energy was in the activities and spaces that matched both her personal and business missions.”


Savannah Peterson, Founder & Chief Unicorn of Savvy Millennial

Who She Is and How She Has Overcome Limitations:

“Savannah Peterson is a 2016 Forbes 30 Under 30 in Consumer Technology and the Founder of Savvy Millennial. She is an international public speaker, livestreamer, community builder and innovation strategist. The diverse Savvy Millennial family includes the blockchain economy for artificial general intelligence, world-class airlines and automotive companies, and New York Times #1 best-selling authors.

Savannah thrives on bringing new products to the market. She is a passionate design thinking need-solver, always looking raise the bar of form and function while engaging new, unique communities. She would be honored to speak at your event, lead a workshop or collaborate with your team.

Before starting Savvy Millennial, she was the Director of Innovation Strategy at Speck Design and Massive Labs. She was also previously the Director of Global Community at Shapeways, the world’s largest 3D Printing community in New York City, where she empowered and enabled the over 25,000 3D Printing businesses.

Savannah has helped friends, clients, and fellow creatives raise over $4.5M through crowdfunding. Before diving head first into design, Savannah worked at Fox Sports Northwest, the Center for Communication and Civic Engagement at the University of Washington, and founded her own Social Media Marketing Agency, Savvy Marketing Seattle a decade ago- long before it was cool.

Savannah is an avid mentor for women and men in tech. She teaches entrepreneurship, community innovation and digital marketing at Stanford, NYU, UCLA, PACE and Xavier. She has been featured in/on NBC Nightly News, the Today Show, the BBC, NBC, The Wall Street Journal, CNBC, Gizmodo, CNET, The Verge, and more as a consumer technology expert.

Here are the most important lessons I’ve learned from my experiences:

“ “Your Network is Your Net-Worth: Value relationships above all. People will changes jobs, companies will succeed and fail, but relationships built on integrity will survive the test of time. It’s not just about people that can help you transactionally, either, it’s about the people who will stick by you no matter your status.

I have a group of wonderful humans I refer to as “the nest.” The only rule of “the nest” is brutal honesty. We help each other out 1:1 in complete confidence and aren’t afraid to tell the truth about our businesses or personal lives. It’s essentially an advisory board of dear friends whom I compensate with an equally empathetic and strategic ear. These are the people I text when I need a boost of confidence before a negotiation. The people I call when I need a reminder I’m on the right path. And the people I celebrate the wins with. I love my nest. I recommend you build yours today.

You Can’t Get What You Don’t Ask For: The world owes you nothing, and it’s going to show you that. Ask for help, and earn it. The faster you learn how to (repeatedly) pull yourself up by the bootstraps and hustle another deal, the more respect you’ll earn from those who’ve been there. Show a potential mentor the kind of value you could add to their live or projects, and negotiate advice in exchange. Look to your peers to get started. Trade industry secrets from your specialty for those from someone in a completely different role on the team. The easiest way to learn is to ask questions. Leadership knows this, too.

When I first started in the Silicon Valley, I asked a Designer and an Engineer to teach me one “”design word of the day.”” It was a bit embarrassing at first, but now I can hold my own in any meeting, no matter how technical. I also nominated myself for Forbes 30 Under 30. If it was going to happen, I wanted it to be because I earned it. Don’t be afraid to ask for what you want, and what you feel you’ve earned.

Build a Community, Not Just a Customer List: It doesn’t matter if you’re selling a product, service or serenity — what unites your base needs to be more than whatever it is you’re selling right now. You will be copied, someone will offer what you have for less, and the only way to weather the storm is if people believe your vision (and future product line) is one worth supporting. This will give you room to breath, and to pivot.


Sharlrita Deloatch, Business Strategist, Speaker, Author & Boss Women Elite Founder, SJD Enterprises LLC

Who She Is and How She Has Overcome Limitations:

“Sharlrita is a Business Coach, Speaker and an Author with energy, a solid record of accomplishments and an extensive involvement in her field of skill. She is also a dedicated professional and a business-oriented woman who believes in helping flourishing Coaches, emerging speakers & aspiring authors in creating their roadmap to prosperity so that they can build a solid foundation in their business

Having been a convicted felon, Sharlrita is no stranger to making bad choices in life but she chooses to use this misfortune and pain to Propel her into her purpose through Speaking, Writing and Coaching other Women to do the same and also show them they too can make it. Through this, she has captivated and influenced a lot of women to nurse their relationships and love themselves despite their flaws. With her demanding approach to living on purpose, she makes a great impact on the lives of individuals and corporations each time she opens her mouth.

What’s more, Sharlrita used her Pain of not being able to “find a job” by leveraging the 15 years of customer service experience and launched her own Customer Service Consulting Company “New Phase Career Solutions”. Where together with her team she helps small businesses and non-profits improve their bottom line profitability by teaching, training and providing strategy so that the company can provide the best customer service to each client every time.

Her ability to keenly learn, readiness to learn and penchant for excellence is what has seen her get to where she is today but nothing is as inspiring and rewarding to her as the glowing reviews from her clients.;

Experience: Over 15 years of customer service and an experience with a failed business. Sharlrita is committed to showing other women through coaching, speaking. writing how to use their gifts and talents to create a business.

Broken Limits: I’ve broken limits by not being a statistic. Many felons receive a record and go back to the life of crime. I’ve decided to use my bad and turn it into good. Turn it into stories, speeches and give others hope that regardless of what you have been through you can overcome and create a life you truly want.”

Here are the most important lessons I’ve learned from my experiences:

“Lesson 1: Hire a coach. Don’t try to create a business on your own. I learned that when I created my first business New Phase Career Solutions. I tried to do it alone and it failed.

Lesson 2: Stay in a position of learning. You don’t know everything and you never will. Always stay in a position to learn and grow more better. Make a commitment to invest in you

Lesson 3: Go ahead and fail already. Many of us would have never started our business if it wasn’t for a trial or failure that happened to us. If you fail at something so what get up and keep going. It’s in the failure that you learn more about you and about your business.”


Jordann Windschauer-Amatea, CEO and Founder, Base Culture

Who She Is and How She Has Overcome Limitations:

“Base Culture was founded by Jordann Windschauer-Amatea at the age of 22 following her graduation from the University of South Florida.

When Jordann started her 30-day Paleo challenge, it changed her life. Physical fatigue, mental stress, and sleepless nights disappeared, but her sweet tooth remained. Despite her efforts, she couldn’t find any delicious, truly Paleo baked good, so she stepped up to the challenge.

In 2012, out of her post-grad apartment Jordann started baking a line of treats that took off like wildfire. Her Paleo CrossFit buddies, gluten-free friends, and even family with no dietary restrictions couldn’t get enough of these sweet snacks. Her passion for helping others, served as the foundation of her new business, as she wanted to provide individuals healthy alternatives to improve their lives.

Now at the age of 27, Jordann has transformed Base Culture, form its humble beginnings as a popular treat among her local community, to a nationally-recognized leader in the Paleo industry. Base Culture’s variety of products are made using minimal ingredients with no artificial ingredients or preservatives. Their assortment of breads, brownies, granola, almond butter and energy bites are 100% paleo certified, certified gluten-free, kosher certified, grain-free, dairy-free, soy-free and non-GMO verified. Everything is done in-house to ensure the quality of their products are held to the highest of standards. Each step of the process is done under one roof to give control over every aspect of production.

As a member of the Women’s Business Enterprise National Council, Jordann is motivated by Base Culture’s mission to bring people back to their base by providing them a different way of looking at life by supporting their interests in living a clean and healthy lifestyle. Embracing your roots is important, that’s why they never forget theirs.”

Here are the most important lessons I’ve learned from my experiences:

“Build your TEAM — Your level of success is determined by the people you have around you. It’s all about the team. As the founder, I struggled with letting go of all the hats that I once wore. However, learning to trust the team I built around me enabled Base Culture to grow from 100 stores to 2000 stores in less than a year.

Be Disruptive — To make a positive impact, you must redefine the way the industry works. What was known as the good ol’ boys club is no longer, and what was known to be a standard operating procedure is not set in stone. Everything is possible if your able to keep an open mind. For example, I was told that it would be impossible to produce certified Paleo, gluten free, non-GMO, kosher products in an SQF Level 2 facility. We then built a facility that accomplished exactly that. Fresh and eager perspectives are not shackled to “industry experience”, and create opportunities to take a new look at what is possible.

You don’t have to have all the answers — However, you better know where to find them! If you let the fear of the unknown paralyze your ability to make decisions, you simply will not move forward. You need to make the best decisions you can in that moment with the information you have, and if tomorrow you are given different information, you use that information to alter your course. You must realize that problems will arise, and mistakes will be made. Use those mistakes as stepping stones on the path of your success and not a wall that keeps you from working towards your vision.”


Katelyn Wollet, Photographer/ Artist, Katelyn Wollet Photography

Who She Is and How She Has Overcome Limitations:

“I’m Katelyn Wollet and I’m an artist, photographer, and founder. I created a company because I live for human connection and interactivity. I needed a medium for encouraging authenticity, adventure, and living in the moment. For me, business does this and allows me to do even more of it. By centering around feelings of peace and presence, I’m able to provide service that transcends the transactional nature of business. To me business is just a commonly accepted way to exchange value, to connect with more people and to keep making more art.

The photos I take are a glimpse into what we are thinking and feeling at a specific moment in time. You only need a second with a photo to know exactly what was happening, the excitement or peace felt in a moment. Even though they are small, photos are reminders of larger moments in our lives and they can become beautiful pieces of art.

I believe we are all creatives, even if we don’t feel like it. Often we are too busy to allow ourselves to make and explore, but it is absolutely necessary to live a full existence. Art is an artifact to show that we were here. To say that we existed. To show that we felt. That we loved. When I create art with people we create more than a photo, we create a story that will one day be told to your grandchildren. That they will share with their children. The giving goes on and the art goes on. I wish that I had more photos of my parents, grandparents, and great grandparents.

When people come to me, I want them to know we’re going to have an amazing adventure together and I’m going to photograph them being themselves. No posed photos. No script. Yes, love. I have dared to go beyond simply taking a beautiful photo of two people. Instead I capture their quirks, interactions, and authentic selves. When I photograph a couple, I create images highlighting the unexplainable connection between two humans. Each couple brings two individuals together: two minds, two hearts, two souls, as one. I’m searching for couples who are truly in love. They are bold. They are real. They have identified who they are, and what they want in their wedding, their love, and their life. Their interactions reflect that and I capture that reflection with my camera.

Here are the most important lessons I’ve learned from my experiences:

“Be Human: Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Remember everyone feels nervous, but in the end everyone just wants to be loved. If you can send love to every business transaction, every person you meet, and every client you have the privilege of working with, things will be ok.

Create Personal Work: Keep learning, growing, and making. You’ll prevent burnout and keep the creativity flowing. Your professional work is only going to get better if you take the time to play.

Don’t Forget You Need to Run A Business: If you’re in a creative field, it is easy to get sucked into making the art. Remember you need to make money to keep making art. Stay in business.

For all of these and other goals you bring into your life, consider finding an accountability partner to keep you both on point. Share your work and yourself fearlessly. It’s not easy but it’s worth it.


Jennifer Kessler, CEO/Co-Founder, Bizzy; Chiara McPhee, COO/Co-Founder, Bizzy

Who She Is and How She Has Overcome Limitations:

“Bizzy was founded in 2013 by Jennifer Kessler, Founder & CEO, and Chiara McPhee, Founder & COO. Jen studied business at Stanford and math at the University of Pennsylvania. She has worked at the forefront of bringing inventive predictive modeling to portfolio management across multiple industries. Chiara studied business at Stanford and has a background in marketing and design. She has developed sales and marketing strategies for Fortune 500 companies as well as venture-backed startups.

Chiara and Jen’s personalities and background at first seem a bit at odds — a good thing the two both agree. Chiara is both soft and well-spoken, assertive, and a visual thinker driven by arts. Jen comes off a bit bolder, speaking with intrepid intensity, while remaining thoughtful, and grounded by mathematical logic.

Those differences intersect at a common desire and aptitude to solve marketing problems that satisfy both the art and science component of marketing issues. When Jen and Chiara formed Bizzy the weekend before receiving their MBAs from Stanford Graduate School of Business in 2013, they made a pact that they would tackle every marketing problem they faced with an answer that satisfies both the art and science component of the issue. As a result, the pair were able to create a disruptive startup that caught the attention of a leading digital communication platform provider.

The pair joined SendGrid in early 2017 when SendGrid acquired their marketing automation software company, Bizzy. At SendGrid, Chiara and Jennifer are now Directors of Product Management where Jen is responsible for leading SendGrid’s Marketing Campaigns solution and Chiara is responsible for leading SendGrid Labs, SendGrid’s R&D and innovation team.

Here are the most important lessons I’ve learned from my experiences:

“ “Although there have been solo female founders backed by Y Combinator, Jen and Chiara were the incubator’s first all-female founding team. But the two don’t dwell on that important milestone. Rather, they focus on the following lessons:

1. Embrace not being “normal”

“Investors and entrepreneurs alike have historically been mostly male. Investors are trying to determine the risk of investing in a given business. So, they develop pattern recognition based on the successful investments they’ve made in the past. The thing is, you can’t apply an identical framework to everyone and we broke the standard pattern. So, we actively helped investors understand our risk profile.

My advice: Highlight why your unique profile is a key asset for the business. Make sure you’re excited about what you are building and that you’re the right person to be solving that problem for customers. Show investors that they would be missing out on a huge opportunity by NOT investing in YOU to build your particular innovation.”

Jennifer Kessler

2. Search for people with a “side hustle”

“When you’re a small team with limited resources, everyone must bring something new to the table and have distinct roles and responsibilities. The art and science yin yang has been a huge asset in Jen and my time working together at Bizzy and now with SendGrid.

As far as hiring and building out our own teams, we made sure to look for people with a natural curiosity, an ability to figure out their own answers, and those who people wanted to work with over and over again. Those who tinker with side projects or those who have a “side hustle” are usually, by far the best. Formal training only goes so far and you really need to have an inherent curiosity to get to the bottom of things.”

Chiara McPhee

3. There really are no dumb questions

“Don’t be afraid to sound dumb. Ask questions. Get to the bottom of things. You can only build an innovative solution if you truly understand the current state of the world. Moving forward without understanding is how you make bad decisions.”


Nina Pfister, Founder & President, Mooring Advisory Group, Inc.

Who She Is and How She Has Overcome Limitations:

Nina Pfister is the Founder & President of Mooring Advisory Group. She brings entrepreneurial passion, expertise and hands-on experience to the table with professional experience in Marketing, Advertising, Public Relations, and Business Development. Pfister specializes in designing strategic partnerships and ensuring each select brand is expertly grown and maintained across all platforms. She is a firm believer that face-time matters in business, so she’ll never turn down a local coffee date! Pfister’s ultimate goal for small business owners is to tie the knot between Marketing and Sales to ensure measurable revenue growth is always a top priority.

Pfister had spent nearly a decade grinding in the corporate world, gaining professional experience in Marketing, Public Relations and Sales at a global media company (& PR agency in between).

When Pfister’s son was still an infant, she made an aggressive career decision to take on an executive sales role at a tech startup that allowed her to work remotely, assuming more flexibility without an office commute. But, the position required lots of travel with little room for balance at home, which left her feeling as though she had to choose one: family or career.

Pfister’s breaking point happened on her final business trip, when she finally admitted to herself that she had bitten off more than she could chew, and decided it was time to transform her own life in order to stop sacrificing what was most important — her husband and son.

After the final plane ride away from home, Pfister had important conversations with her husband, family, friends and mentors who all encouraged her to follow her gut and venture out to build something from scratch.

Pfister founded Mooring Advisory Group, Inc. just one month later — a full-service Marketing, PR & Sales boutique agency for local, small-medium sized businesses…and she’s never looked back.”

Here are the most important lessons I’ve learned from my experiences:

“LESSON #1: CHOOSE HAPPINESS.

My story is a great example that demonstrates Happiness is often times a deliberate choice, especially when you become a new parent. We can tell ourselves that our personal wellness is out of our control, that it’s “”normal”” to feel discontent because of external factors like work, exhaustion, relationships, or general negative energy. But at the end of the day, it’s up to each individual to navigate their own unique path and make significant and challenging decisions that dictate our future, for better or for worse.

LESSON #2: TRUST IN YOUR ABILITIES

When I left my executive position, I had a simultaneous wave of both relief and horror come over me. I was so excited to build something new and venture out on my own, but at the same time, I began doubting my own capabilities as a standalone leader. What if I made a detrimental mistake? What if I didn’t succeed? It’s important to let go of the “”what if’s”” and instead leverage mistakes as a learning opportunity, and capitalize on your strengths to build your brand.

LESSON #3: IT TAKES A VILLAGE

My transition to entrepreneurship as a new mother is living, breathing proof that growth is easier with a village behind you. Some would argue that “”you can’t have it all”” — but I’m a strong believer that you truly can, if you have an amazing support system behind you. I brought Lauren Gill, our Growth Consultant on board when I was overflowing with business last year, and it was the best hiring decision I’ve ever made. Asking for help is not a knock on your competency, it’s a growth opportunity. Moreover my wonderful husband Steven, family, friends, and professional mentors have supported me tremendously on this journey…and for that, I’m eternally grateful.


Madeleine Park, President & Founder, Together She Can

Who She Is and How She Has Overcome Limitations:

“Madeleine Park is a marketing & branding professional who has used her expertise to found and operate a 501(c)3 nonprofit, Together She Can. Together She Can works to help the female homeless community with hygiene care. Park and team partner with major homeless shelters in Boston where they provide hygiene gift bags and life classes on a monthly cadence. Together She Can has also secured partnerships with Sephora, Garnet Hill, and other nonprofit organizations. Park was featured as Boston’s Women of The Week in 2017 and has spoken at prestigious universities across New England.

Park also works with franchise and consumer businesses to help build their brand, increase awareness, drive sales, and expand across the globe. Park has landed coverage in print, digital, and broadcast outlets including Forbes, Entrepreneur, and Fortune.”

Here are the most important lessons I’ve learned from my experiences:

“Founding a company is a thrill unlike any other; it takes a great deal of focus, multitasking, and creativity to design a business that both you and the public love. The three biggest lessons I’ve learned through founding and operating my nonprofit organization are:

1. Find a niche that people will gravitate towards.

A company is only as good as what their consumers think of it. Before starting a business, do market research on what companies are doing well and what the current buyer landscape looks like. You’ll want to enter into a growing industry; starting off in an place where consumers need you will help expedite your success. If you already have your business idea in mind (and have found that the market is saturated), find a way to advertise your business so it stands out, be sure to appeal to a different sides of your target market.

2. Have multiple plans in place for the growth of your business.

When I first started Together She Can, I thought it would be a very slow growth process and I would have time to build my business plans accordingly. Fortunately enough, we entered into a niche that attracted consumers/donors at a rapid rate. I wasn’t prepared for the accelerated expansion and ended up spending more time working in the business in the first year than on the business. Moving forward we now create multiple business plans for each quarter that reflect different levels of growth.

3. Surround yourself with team of independent, smart, hardworking people who believe in your mission.

No matter how hard you work, you can’t do it alone. When building your team, hire people that believe in your mission and that you trust to make executive decisions. Your team will be the lifeline of your business (and become your business family), don’t be afraid to be picky!

Lastly, you have to take the first step. Starting and running a company may sound like a huge endeavor (and it is) but it can be accomplished. Take one step at a time, ask for help, and keep your goals within reach.

For future female entrepreneurs — don’t get discouraged if you find yourself hitting the glass ceiling. Be persistent, be determined, and remember diamonds can cut through glass.


Donna Miller, Founder, C3Workplace

Who She Is and How She Has Overcome Limitations:

“Donna Miller is Founder of C3Workplace, which has three locations across northern New Jersey.

C3Workplace — which has been featured in the Wall Street Journal, Dun & Bradstreet, and Mogul Moxie — offers co-working, office space, education, consulting, and administrative support/staffing services for second career, B2B professionals. It’s the first independently-owned organization of its kind in the NY/NJ region.

Donna, who is a pioneer in the national coworking and shared office industry, is passionate about helping small businesses to thrive. She believes companies should be a force for good, that we should teach what we know, and that it’s the obligation of all business owners to help the next person along on their journey.

Over the last 20+ years, Donna and C3Workplace have helped to start and develop thousands of companies that have created tens of thousands of jobs across the state. She has designed C3’s business and facilities to provide opportunities for entrepreneurs to connect, collaborate, and grow their business communities.

When Donna began C3 in 1994, coworking and shared office facilities were rare. But her innate entrepreneurial instincts allowed her to see the logic and opportunity of shared space as well as shared services. When the business climate shifted and economic swings in the marketplace emerged, Donna responded by offering new services that have allowed C3 to stay relevant, competitive, and financially stable.

Donna is the recipient of numerous industry awards, including Leading Women Entrepreneurs’ Top 25 Women Business Owners in New Jersey, SmartCEO’s Brava Award, and the New Jersey Association of Women Business Owners’ Businesswoman of the Year. She’s the author of the book “”Breakthrough Results: Tips, Tricks and Techniques from Today’s Experts for You and Your Business”” (CreateSpace) and was a contributor to the book “”Big Bold Business Advice from New Jersey Business Owners”” (Woodpecker Press). She’s also the host of Small Business Evolution on the Biz2BizTV web channel

Here are the most important lessons I’ve learned from my experiences:

“1. Define your values and live them out loud.

I believe this is what creates culture and distinguishes your brand. Having clearly defined my values, I use them as barometers for every decision that I make. C3’s hiring process starts with making sure that a candidate shares our values. Even our vendors must mirror our values. I find that the more that I live my values out loud, my team’s culture benefits — and that carries through powerfully (and profitably) into the marketplace.

We’ve built a vibrant community that believes what we believe. We even turn down clients if there’s a values clash: doing otherwise never works out well.

2. Collaboration trumps competition… every time.

At the core of our values is collaboration. I’ve built C3 with strategic partnerships. I believe there’s enough for everyone and that we should focus on how we can help each other. Two organizations that share the same target market and values can find ways to expand their reach without stretching their resources.

The collaboration must be a win-win-win — for me, for my partner, and — most importantly — for my target market. This mindset also creates tremendous differentiation in the market place, helps me to build my tribe, and drives streams of referrals.

3. Delegation is not optional.

Running a business is hard, really hard. You may be very good at wearing lots of hats, but to truly thrive and grow, you simply cannot do it all.

As you begin your business journey, you must include the hiring of help in your budget. And by help, I mean professional, qualified help, not your neighbor’s child who is home from college. Rather than micromanage these hires, create communication check points and convey your desired outcome.

Hiring support or outsourcing tasks is not an expense, it’s an investment. And, like any investment, be prepared to measure your return. If you bring someone on board to take 10 hours of work off of your plate each week, how will you use those additional 10 hours to generate more revenue (think 5–10x return)? You’ll have lots of ideas of how to leverage these bonus hours, so to convert your brainstorms into reality, document them all and turn the most promising ones into plans that you and your team can execute, because success is all about execution.


Mary Fox, CEO & Co-Founder, Marlow

Who She Is and How She Has Overcome Limitations:

“Mary Fox is the CEO and Co-Founder of Marlow, a career management platform offering executive style career coaching via chat. Prior to Marlow, Mary served as Head of People Operations and Product Marketing at FR8Star. Mary and her co-founder, Chelsea Seid, are on a mission to ensure that all professionals have access to affordable, on-demand coaching so they can achieve their career goals more quickly.

Coming from a lower-middle-class family in Kansas, it wasn’t always clear to Mary how people became “”successful””. She moved to DC after college and waited tables in Dupont Circle while living in a completely empty apartment with a blow-up mattress on the floor. Three months after her move, Mary landed an unpaid internship where she interned 8-hours during the day and waitressed for 7 hours at night.

After Mary landed her first professional job as an administrative assistant, she was quickly promoted to Executive Assistant to the President of the Washington Hospital Center (a 5,000 bed hospital in the heart of Washington, DC). This experience helped her gain a bird’s eye view of people operations at all levels. She began to realize that, regardless of level (from senior business managers to junior custodians) very few people have ever been taught the fundamentals of career success. That is to say, how to find a great job they love, how to navigate (and eliminate) office politics, or how to stand out for a promotion or big assignment.

Since that first position, Mary has focused on improving processes and services for team members. She has served as Special Assistant to the Vice President of Foreign Policy at the Brookings Institution, Special Assistant to the CEO of Massdrop and Head of People Operations and Product Marketing at FR8Star.

How has Mary broken limits? At the Washington Hospital Center, her peers had 40 more years of experience than she did. At the Brookings Institution, Mary’s peers were mostly from top tier universities, whereas she hailed from Kansas State University with a mediocre GPA. Mary went on to receive a Master’s of Science in Management, Organizations and Governance from the London School of Economics and Political Science, graduating with distinction.

Despite not being a developer, Mary designed and built the first version of Marlow in July 2017 and has continued to head of the company’s development efforts. Chelsea and Mary launched the first beta program in August and by November the co-founders had paying members.

The co-founders are headquartered on opposite coasts, with Mary in San Francisco and Chelsea in New York.

Here are the most important lessons I’ve learned from my experiences:

“The top three lessons I have learned are:

1. Make motivation seeking a habit and never give up: Some people leap out of bed in the morning ready to go. My alarm goes off five times between 6:15 and 7:15 in the morning. I have to seek out motivation every single day or I’m not productive. For me, a morning workout while listening to a podcast usually does the trick. I also listen to podcasts or audiobooks on the commute to meetings.

2. Set your goals higher than you ever thought possible: Growing up, I always assumed that successful people were simply lucky. In high school and college, it became was clear to me that successful people had the exact same amount of time in the day as I had. They had merely been strategic in how they used those hours. I’m committed to finding smart ways to achieve huge goals. I always ask how we could achieve 10x what initially thought possible. Usually this simply involves redesigning our initial strategy.

3. Surround yourself by people who are smarter than you: This one goes without explanation. In all parts of my life, I am surrounded by people who build me up, challenge me, and make me want to become a better version of who I am today.


Alex Hanifin, CEO, Alpine Start Foods

Who She Is and How She Has Overcome Limitations:

“Alex Hanifin, CEO of Alpine Start Foods, is a natural food guru with 10 years marketing key players in the space, like Justin’s, Hain Celestial, and Boulder Brands, and she serves as Vice President at natural products non-profit, Naturally Boulder. In January 2016, professional climber, Matt Segal, brought his idea for Alpine Start Foods to Alex, and their backgrounds created the perfect brew for the launch of the brand’s first product, Original Blend, shortly after. Alex was able to help with the logistics, sourcing the beans, a co-packer to bring the product to life, and entry into popular grocery retailers. At just 27, Alex is leading the under-30 millennial pack.

Here are the most important lessons I’ve learned from my experiences:

“1. Relationships are everything, and building a network of people who will support you and your company is a game-changer. I was told by conventional HR departments that my extensive tattoos and young age would be a barrier to success in an office environment. So, I decided to choose environments that worked for me. I learned how important it is to surround yourself with people that are rooting for you: peers, mentors, experts, and friends — the people you call when shit hits the fan!

2. Rejection can place us on the right path. After high school, I didn’t get into any of the schools I applied to. It pushed me to take the road less traveled and fueled my passion for food — a field that I might have neglected for another major, focus, etc. in college. I was able to dive right into the industry, taking internships at leading natural foods companies, learning hands-on skills from mentors, and honing a can-do attitude to make me even more qualified than many of my peers with degrees.

3. You can’t do it all. Things will fall off the to-do list… and it will be okay, I promise!

My key motivator is passion. If we feel like we are always striving to check off a list, we will ultimately become jaded by the entire process and lack the inspiration to come together as a creative team. Burn out will kill your business. I learned that I set the standard for keeping the inspiration high, the reactions calm and the team focused on the present — checkmarks don’t make deadlines or problem-solving any easier, rather a free-thinking, positive environment supports the creativity and risk-taking needed to stand out in a crowded market.”


Julie Ball, Founder and Chief Sparkler, Sparkle Hustle Grow

Who She Is and How She Has Overcome Limitations:

“After 10 years in corporate America and running her own successful website design & development firm, Julie wanted to get out from behind the screen. This desire coupled with her biggest inspiration, the female entrepreneur community, is what led her to start Sparkle Hustle Grow, a monthly subscription box for female entrepreneurs.

Taking her knowledge of the entrepreneurial world and key products that had helped her grow her business, she combined them into one product, delivered monthly in a fun-to-open package and has been able to help fellow female entrepreneurs on their journeys toward success.

Although a Pittsburgh area native, Julie now lives in Black Mountain, an idyllic mountain town in Western North Carolina, with her daughter McKenna and husband Kenny. You’ll find them hiking the local trails, listening to live music and otherwise enjoying mountain life with friends & family.

Julie helps fellow boss babes break the limits of entrepreneurial self-sabotage, something she is very familiar with from her own experience.

The hustle is so often thought of as a hardship — long hours, grueling work, not fun…but it doesn’t have to be defined like that!

Through her Sparkle Hustle Grow subscription box and recently published book “The Happy Hustle: Transform the Way you Work,” Julie set out to show women how they can be happier in business and in life by following her three leading principles:

• The “Hustle” can be happy!

• Follow “The Golden Rule”.

• Personal growth and business development go hand in hand.

These principles are further broken down into actionable steps to help lady entrepreneurs and entrepreneurs-to-be learn how to not only find balance between life and running a business, but to thrive in both.

Here are the most important lessons I’ve learned from my experiences:

“ “The Happy Hustle book was a collaborative effort between Julie and her Sparkle Hustle Grow box subscribers. Between writing this book and curating the monthly subscription box, the following three lessons float to the surface:

1. You don’t have to do this alone, even if you are your only employee. Being an entrepreneur can oftentimes seem like a lonely endeavor, but working with other brilliant women can help eliminate feelings of isolation. There are so many Facebook groups and in-person events that now support the entrepreneur. Get involved. Be social. Share generously and learn a lot.

2. Choose collaboration over competition. Getting caught up in the comparison trap of social media with your competitors and even your colleagues is positively exhausting. Opt out of the negative connotations of competing with your peers and instead buy into working together. It’s more productive to build up our fellow humans than it is to tear them down. It can reduce a lot of stress in your everyday life, and it may provide exponential rewards in business. Trust that there is more than enough business to go around in this world.

3. Take your own advice. The core value that Julie runs her business is built around supporting other female entrepreneurs. Its one thing to be everyone’s cheerleader, but don’t forget about yourself! If you have to, mark it in your planner as a non-negotiable meeting with yourself. Practice self-care, work on your mindset, let go of self-limiting beliefs and most of all, love yourself! You are amazing!”


Lindsey Carnett, CEO & President, Marketing Maven

Who She Is and How She Has Overcome Limitations:

“As a multi-racial female in the 1980’s, I was raised as the daughter of a Spanish teacher (my mother) and a clinical psychologist (my father) who grew a large private practice. Growing up, I saw my father go through the ups and downs of owning his business and being an entrepreneur before it was a trendy and a major in college like it is today. My parents always encouraged me to do whatever I set my mind to and put forth 110% to be the best I could be. This helped me to develop confidence, which is one of the leadership traits I express to my staff, my clients and my peers today.

Leadership also requires thinking outside of the box to accomplish a task. I had the opportunity to travel to China representing Washington Cultural Exchange to play international soccer and I looked for methods of fundraising for my teammates and me. While others believed it would be impossible to raise the funds, I reached out to local media securing several feature stories and the donations started rolling in.

After graduating from college, I took my passion for marketing and founded Marketing Maven in my house at age 26. I had reverse age discrimination being so young. I had to work especially hard to get taken seriously as a 26-year-old multi-racial female coming into multi-million dollar companies as an authority on marketing. Many of those who took a chance on me were rewarded with revenue growth, positive reputations and award-winning campaigns.

Lindsey Carnett, CEO and President of Marketing Maven is an expert at launching and growing consumer products. Named to the 2017 Inc. 5000 List of Privately Owned Fastest Growing Companies in America, the Forbes Agency Council and the 2016 Entrepreneur 360™ list of “Best Entrepreneurial Companies in America,” Marketing Maven specializes in PR, influencer marketing, social media advertising and reputation management. Recently named a Top Woman in Public Relations by PR News and honored as Folio: Magazine’s 2015 Top Women in Media, her firm, Marketing Maven, was ranked nationally in eight consumer products verticals by third-party ranking company O’Dwyer’s PR. She has appeared in the Forbes Most Powerful Women Business Leader issue, on CCTV, Newsmax, Business Rockstars, NPR, The Doctors, Telemundo, FOX Business, TheStreet.com, Huffington Post and USA Today.

Her firm, Marketing Maven, is certified as a Native American 8(a) company, WOSB, WBE, DBE and minority CPUC.

Here are the most important lessons I’ve learned from my experiences:

“1. It’s Okay to Disagree

The most important lesson I’ve learned in my career to date is not to be a “yes man” and to speak up. Clients are paying you for your professional opinion as a marketing and PR professional so you don’t have to agree with everything. In fact, you are oftentimes respected more for bringing up a point in contrary and supporting it with strong rationale. This insight is highly valued by the CEO of a company. Being the most quiet, polite person in the room won’t get you far. In the field of communications, you will grow much faster if you can clearly articulate your professional opinion.

2. Remain professional

Always keep in professional in written and verbal communication but perhaps indulge in a public speaking class to practice the tone of your voice, identifying if you have an upward inflection that sounds like a question as opposed to a statement so you appear to be more confident in what you are saying.

3. Say Thank You

Be sure to follow up. A professional follow up email, a connection on LinkedIn or a handwritten thank you card goes a long way. If part of your job description will be following up with media, the PR leader you are approaching must see those same follow up qualities in you when looking to build a career in PR.


Lisa Hennessy, Founder, DreamJobbing

Who She Is and How She Has Overcome Limitations:

“Lisa Hennessy is entrepreneur, female powerhouse, global citizen, mentor, Co-Founder and managing partner of DreamJobbing and an an Emmy nominated TV Executive Producer.

Hennessy’s career began in Television in 1995. For 14 years, she served as one of the driving forces behind Mark Burnett Productions (MBP). As an original member of the company, Hennessy played an integral role in the development and production of MBP television programs. Over the course of her tenure, Hennessy helped propel MBP from a small production company to global powerhouse.

Hennessy served as the Co-EP on the adventure series Eco-Challenge from 1995 to 2002. In 2001, she was recognized for her work on Eco- Challenge: Borneo with a Primetime Emmy Award nomination.

In 2003, Hennessy EPed the surfing series Boarding House: North Shore for the

WB. In 2005 and 2006, Hennessy EPed the staged series Rock Star: INXS and Rock Star: Supernova (CBS). She simultaneously served as the EP on the unscripted drama the Contender (NBC and ESPN). For her work on Contender, she was nominated for a Sports Emmy. In 2007, Hennessy EPed Pirate Master, a CBS summer adventure series shot in the island country of Dominica.

Also in 2007, Hennessy was a consulting producer for the documentary feature film “Running the Sahara” produced and narrated by Matt Damon.

In 2011, Hennessy EPed the adventure series Expedition Impossible (ABC).

In 2012 and 2013, Hennessy EPed the hit series Biggest Loser for NBC.

In late 2014, Hennessy launched DreamJobbing, an opportunity platform that helps students get on the path to their dream career.

A graduate of the University of Illinois, she also studied international relations at the Institute of European Studies in Vienna, Austria.

She has traveled to 60 countries and counting. She has climbed Kilimanjaro, trekked in Nepal, lead teams of 200 crew around the world in some of the most remote locations. Hennessy thrives on challenges and breaking limits.”

Here are the most important lessons I’ve learned from my experiences:

1.. Love what you do. If you do what you love you will never have a job you will have a lifestyle.

2. Mentor. It’s important to be a role model for the next generation of female leaders.

3. Never give up. To be a founder of a company you need to have the belief that everything is possible and failures are just little bumps that make you stronger.”


Rudina Seseri, Founder and Managing Partner, Glasswing Ventures

Who She Is and How She Has Overcome Limitations:

“Rudina Seseri has shattered the most challenging glass ceiling for women ever — Venture Capital. Today, fewer than 7% of women are partners in venture and less than 1% hold Managing Partner titles. Rudina Seseri is both Founder and Managing Partner at Glasswing Ventures, a new VC firm focused on groundbreaking AI technology. As a woman entrepreneur with 15 years of investment success in what has traditionally been a man’s world, she is today the head of a majority women VC firm, helping advance, support and drive positive changes for women in Venture Capital. On the technology forefront, she is also breaking new grounds and barriers. Rudina’s investment strategy in enterprise and consumer AI is helping attract, retain and grow the next-gen technology ecosystem. Rudina has led technology investments and acquisitions in startup companies in the fields of Artificial Intelligence, robotics, and enterprise SaaS and digital media. Rudina’s portfolio investments include Talla, Celtra, CrowdTwist, Jibo and SocialFlow.

Rudina has been appointed by the Dean of the Harvard Business School (HBS) for a fourth consecutive year to serve as Entrepreneur-In-Residence for the Business School and as Executive-In-Residence for Harvard University’s innovation-Lab. She is a Member of the Business Leadership Council of Wellesley College. Rudina also serves on the Advisory Board of GlaxoSmithKline Consumer, L’Oreal USA Women in Digital, and on the Board of Overseers for Boston Children’s Hospital. She has been named a 2017 Boston Business Journal Power 50: Newsmaker, a 2014 Women to Watch honoree by Mass High Tech and a 2011 Boston Business Journal 40-under-40 honoree for her professional accomplishments and community involvement. She graduated magna cum laude from Wellesley College with a BA in Economics and International Relations and with an MBA from the Harvard Business School (HBS). She is a member of Phi Beta Kappa and Omicron Delta Epsilon honor societies.”

Here are the most important lessons I’ve learned from my experiences:

“1) Surround yourself with people who believe in you but also challenge you to reach new heights. For me, those individuals have ranged from my Mom, a strong woman who raised two daughters as a widow while running a 3,000-person company, to my mentors at Wellesley College, where I was inspired and guided by women of high achievement, to my co-founder and business partner at Glasswing who always sees the best in me. These are the individuals who lift you up in difficult times and challenge you to always reach for new heights.

2) As you build a business, focus on building a strong culture right from the start — one that is performance-oriented and that unifies your team toward a common goal. Make sure to recognize and reward performance and don’t vacillate in course correction when change is needed. Entrepreneurs who focus on execution prevail.

3) If you already are a woman founder or hold a C-level executive role make it a priority to take an active role in pulling up other women alongside you. Behind every great woman, there is the opportunity for another one. Get involved and mentor aspiring young women. I can’t tell you how rewarding it is to share your expertise with other women and what it means to open the door — you need to experience it for yourself.


Green Piñata

Who She Is and How She Has Overcome Limitations:

“I am an entrepreneur, a CEO, a product marketing veteran, wife and a mom. When my daughter was eight months old, I realized we were paying several hundred dollars every month for toys that she would only play with for a few days and not play at all. The clutter from unused toys drove me crazy!

US families spend $5billion in toys a year for their kids under 5 years of age. The kids play with less than half of the toys bought for them wasting billions of dollars a year. I decided to disrupt the children’s toy market and launched Green Piñata in 2015,

Green Piñata has seen tremendous growth and traction since launch and currently in the process of raising seed fund, but success didn’t come easy for me and my team. For the first 2 years, we were turned down by more than a dozen angel funds and one of the common reasons was that most angel investors couldn’t connect personally with pains that moms (and dads) go through researching and shopping for toys. In the early stage, we began targeting women run funds and individual angels who saw the power in our subscription service and ended up investing.

90% of plastic toys are not recyclable and in the past year, Americans generated about 33 million tons of plastic. This is a serious problem most of us don’t talk about. In addition to taking the mystery away from shopping for toys, I have made sure Green Piñata helps parents to be as eco-friendly as possible. We sourced our toys from manufactures that only make natural, wooden toys that are sourced in a sustainable manner. Our packaging is zero-waste and we strive to reduce families’ addition landfill and wastage every way possible.”

Here are the most important lessons I’ve learned from my experiences:

“1. Listen to your customers and use their feedback to build an excellent solution to their problems that none of their current alternatives in the market can solve. I launched the beta version (it was paid beta) of Green Piñata in a month and a half I came up with the idea. It worked out great for us, because we had a working solution to test on real customers and we were very diligent gathering their feedback and very soon we were able to solve a number of operational, offering and pricing hiccups that resulted in a service our customers loved. We would have never thought of all of the solutions ourselves not in a hundred years.

2. Never lose focus on the end game — There are so many things that distract us early stage founders. There are so many hats to wear. However at the end of the day what matters is — scalability, retention, profits. As a founder, it is important to always remember the end game — Return on Investment.

Make sure you have a niche before you decide to build a company. Nobody wants to buy a copycat service or fund a company that doesn’t do things uniquely and better than anyone else. This may seem obvious but sometime founders are lost trying to just catch-up with their competitors.”


Cat Berman, CEO, CNote

Who She Is and How She Has Overcome Limitations:

“CEO, CNote (Fintech) Managing Director, Charles Schwab (Financial Services), Senior Vice President Astia (Venture Capital)

As a woman working in the predominantly male industry of finance, it was not shocking when I discovered that most of our financial products were designed by and for individuals that value risk, complexity, and gamesmanship. Equally not surprising is that the same mentality has created a financial services industry that largely values its own profitability over the financial health of its customers.

After years battling the status quo, I broke away from traditional financial services to see if we could re-imagine what finance is all about. What if financial services served..well..us? What if it’s chief motive was the financial wellness of not just its clients but its community? And what if financial services was tasked with more than “”do no harm”” but actually became an instrument for positive social change?

I created the company CNote to redesign how finance looks, acts and feels to us all. At CNote, we began with a clean sheet asking ourselves: if we designed finance — TODAY — from the ground up, what would it look like? We started with 3 basic tenants: transparency, simplicity and equality. The idea that your hard-earned money can and should be a force for good and that everyone deserves a path to financial freedom — whether you’re investing $5 or $5M.

When my co-founder and I took our idea to the SEC (Security and Exchange Commission) , I swear they thought we were crazy. Create new financial products that had no fees and no minimum investment so everyone could participate? That’s odd. Invest those dollars into local communities — particular women, minorities and low-income families — so that everyone can benefit from wealth creation? That’s different. But regardless of how odd or different they thought we were, we successfully proved to them that our product was sound. In September of last year, we received SEC qualification and became the first company to provide this type of high-yield, high-impact product — and open to absolutely everyone.

Don’t get me wrong. My friends in finance still think I’m weird. Can you really recreate financial products? Can you truly design something that does well for your pocketbook and for the greater good? My answer: absolutely. Most of us in finance are not known for being creative, empathic or visionary. It’s time we were.

Here are the most important lessons I’ve learned from my experiences:

“ “1) Persistence. Big ideas will always be considered impossible, ahead of their time or just plain crazy. If you have a burning desire to create the world you want to live in, don’t stop until you do. Persistence is a key part of the battle.

2) Humility. High-growth businesses demand supreme confidence — but I also think they require a keen sense of humility. None of us got to our success by ourselves and we still have a whole lot to learn. Be grateful, be humble, be kind.

3) Enjoy the journey. Most entrepreneurs know that it’s an incredible roller coaster of high-highs and looooow-lows. Surround yourself with people who you want to be on the ride with and remember — even the ride is a gift.”


Masami Sato, Founder & CEO, B1G1 (Buy1GIVE1)

Who She Is and How She Has Overcome Limitations:

“I come from a conventional lower middle-class family in Japan and grew up as an extremely shy girl who hardly spoke, with no command of English.

From this shy little girl, I’ve grown into much more after a series of limit-stretching experiences in life.

This is my profile at the moment:

“Masami was born in Japan but her desire to expand her horizons took her on a global journey. She became deeply concerned about the inequalities and other challenges that existed in the world.

She has been a serial entrepreneur since 2001, starting and running several commercial enterprises all aiming to transform the way businesses are operated today. By taking a completely new look at the power of giving, she founded B1G1 (Buy1GIVE1: www.b1g1.com) in 2007.

B1G1 enables small businesses around the world to embed effective giving in their regular business activities. For example, imagine a coffee shop giving access to life-saving water for every coffee they sell or an accounting firm educating a child in need for every client they serve. B1G1 now works with more than 2,300 businesses and those businesses have created over 130 million giving impacts.

Masami’s approach to life is very different. She brings a new, almost upside-down strategy to everything she does. She radiates it through her writing and speaking. She has authored four books including, ‘JOY’, ‘GIVING BUSINESS’, and ‘Better Business, Better Life, Better World’.

Masami’s career has followed her diverse talent and skills having been a teacher, translator, health consultant, natural food chef (and a farmer!), author and award-winning entrepreneur as well as a mother of 2 teenage children. She is a popular keynote speaker and continues to be invited to TV and radio interviews.”

I do not think I could have accomplished any of these things if I ever paused to think about what was reasonable for someone like me to achieve. I didn’t have business education or qualifications. I had no confidence to speak in front of others.

But I have always taken each and every challenge and opportunity as a gift and put my very best effort into everything. And as a result, I found myself enjoying my life, connecting with amazing people (coming from all sorts of background) and learning incredible lessons.

I’m also grateful for the community of small businesses that are part of our initiative. Because I could never have created so many amazing things around the world if they did not believe in the simple vision to create a world that’s full of giving.

Here are the most important lessons I’ve learned from my experiences:

“Lesson 1: “Living life or running a business is like playing a game.”

Just like a game, life and business come with many ups and downs, successes and failures, beginnings and endings….. It also means that the real objective of our life and business is to ‘enjoy’.

If we are feeling angry, frustrated or sad in our pursuit of success, the whole meaning is lost in the game. A game is to enjoy with others. Winning is definitely fun. But it is not just about you winning against others all the time.

It’s about how we make it the most enjoyable game for everyone playing together. When we end our current game, we can either say, “I wish I never played this game,” or “I loved playing it. I look forward to the next one.”

Lesson 2: “We can choose to create abundance through a giving cycle or getting cycle.”

When we want something, we can try really hard to get it, get more, and then get much more than others. Some become successful, rich and famous by establishing a strong ‘getting’ focus.

On the other hand, we also can create greater abundance in life by having a giving focus. You give more than expected. You give without expectation. You add greater value to others. You find joy and meaning in giving more.

One approach is not necessarily better or more effective, but the giving cycle generally feels more rewarding. And sharing the journey with others who also live with the giving cycle feels great (compared to sharing the journey with others who try to get more than everyone else).

It’s up to us to consciously create either cycle in our life and in our business endeavours.

Lesson 3: “Accept, Trust and Love.”

We never know what happens in life. No one can be right or wrong all the time. We cannot change our past. We all die one day. Nothing is permanent….

In the end, it makes sense to accept what already happened and trust that our future brings all the great learning, gifts, enjoyment (and love) each and every moment.

If we can accept everything and everyone as they are, trust ourselves, others and our future AND do our every best to contribute every day, we can maximise the meaning of what we do.


Ayat Shukairy, Co-founder, Invesp

Who She Is and How She Has Overcome Limitations:

“Best-Selling Author, Successful Entrepreneur, Authority on Marketing Optimization. Ayat Shukairy is a recognized expert on marketing strategy and an in-demand speaker who has presented at marketing conferences throughout the world. With over 12 years of entrepreneurial and marketing experience, Ayat helps companies create websites fall in love with, while increasing their online sales. Her clients include eBay, 3M, the Special Olympics, DISH Network, Discovery and many more.

Ayat is the co-author of “Conversion Optimization,” an Amazon.com best-selling book, In her book, she combines ground-breaking marketing research with powerful story-telling and case studies to demonstrate how to leverage these principles to create killer websites. Ayat provides one of the most comprehensive lists of strategies and actionable insights for helping websites capture more of their visitors into life time customers. She provides insights grounded in comprehensive research, the best contemporary psychology and behavioral science which any company can start implementing immediately.”

Here are the most important lessons I’ve learned from my experiences:

“1. Test your limits. It’s easier to stay in our comfortable boxes, but as an entrepreneur I have learned that you need to push yourself and test your limits. That means stepping out of that comfortable box a lot and trying different things for self-growth and business growth. One thing that I pushed myself to do was speak at conferences. I’m now a professional sought-out speaker and I love it! You’d be surprised how trying something new can make a difference in your career and business. My motto lately is, you are your greatest investment so always be growing and always be learning.

2. Always be growing and expanding. In 2010, our business was flourishing and my co-founder and I were on top of the world. But rather than focus our efforts on growing and expanding our services and processes, we were just content with where we were. Two years later, this feeling of complacency and contentment hurt us badly. After much effort, we were able to bounce back but it made me realize first, how important it is to have a business coach/advisor, and second, because the technology world is rapidly changing, our business requires us to be expanding our services accordingly in order to keep up, which means we have to always be ahead of our game.

3. Don’t get dragged down by anyone. As a female founder you may not get the support you expect (and sometimes need), but that shouldn’t drag you down. First find a cheerleader to keep you going. It’s very lonely doing it without someone there to cheer you on. I am lucky to have an amazing co-founder to keep me going. Second, remember: you’re accomplished and have built something great. Don’t forget what you’ve been through to get to where you are today. At the beginning of my career, my family or friends would make unsupportive comments that took me on a downward spiral. But I learned to have thick skin, and realized that people speak from their own experiences and contexts, and don’t always mean to be difficult or unkind.”


Chellee Siewert, President, Capture Marketing

Who She Is and How She Has Overcome Limitations:

“I am founder and President of Capture Marketing, a sports marketing, public relations and events agency we focus on working with athletes, their foundations and sports teams to advance their philanthropic efforts and brands. Located in Pewaukee, Wisconsin we work with clients throughout the country.

A few quick highlights of my career:

- Raised over $25 million for charities in my career

- Partnered with high-level athletes and teams including JJ Watt Foundation, Carson Wentz AO1 Foundation, Vince Lombardi Cancer Foundation, Bart & Cherry Starr Children’s Fund and the Milwaukee Bucks Foundation to help raise funds to impact people’s lives and communities.

- Secured media exposure nationally and locally including ESPN, CBS Sports, Yahoo!, Huffington Post, CNN, USA Today, Fox Sports and People Magazine for numerous clients such as itsAaron featuring Aaron Rodgers, Olympian Alyson Dudek and athletes above.

- Hurricane Harvey Relief

- Partnered with the JJ Watt Foundation to launch its inaugural fundraising event in 2012; raised over $4.6 million through the JJ Watt Charity Classic to date

- Developed a first of its kind charitable jersey program for the Milwaukee Wave Professional Soccer Team, The Wave of Hope; raising over $250,000 and securing over $191,000 in earned media

- Awarded 40 Under 40 for the Milwaukee Business Journal in 2014

Featured on Sima Vasa’s The Forum to provide advice on breaking into the sports industry and taking risks to advance your business.

Here are the most important lessons I’ve learned from my experiences:

“Through my experience over the last 20 years, my top 3 lessons from my experience are:

- Taking the risk — Acknowledge the fear, develop the plan and go for it.

- Doing Good is Good Business — Regardless of the industry that you are in when you do good your business does better.

- Networking — Building your business takes development relationships


Tanya Bourque, Founder, Untappt.io

Who She Is and How She Has Overcome Limitations:

“Because solving interesting challenges is her thing

“”Tanya never started with a perfect answer, but always made it a point to solve whatever challenge thrown at her in the simplest way possible.” — Mom

To-date, Tanya has hired over 2000 people. She advises and trains leaders nation-wide on how to effectively hire awesome teams starting from the top down. She has a knack for understanding candidates and the culture of a company to deliver successful hires.

Tanya prides herself on always taking action, efficiency, details, details, details combined with empathy, strategy, imagination and getting stuff done. Tanya is an execution pro and ensures businesses are operationally effective. Her passion for startups developed from the thrill she gets from watching companies grow and develop. She is also a technology enthusiast and programs on the side. Tanya has founded several companies.”

Here are the most important lessons I’ve learned from my experiences:

“1. Don’t say “”Yes”” immediately to everything that sounds good. You have the right to take your time to make a decision. Just because it sounds good doesn’t mean it is good for you.

2.Failure and Rejection are a part of the growth process. Don’t stop pushing and following your dreams.

3.Entrepreneurship has ups and downs. Keep yourself healthy and active no matter how busy work is. Take time out for you.”


Megan Shroy, Founder & President, Approach Marketing

Who She Is and How She Has Overcome Limitations:

“Breaking limits includes challenging the way things have always been done.

In 2010, Megan identified a demand in the agency world. Despite the economic downturn, clients still needed access to top PR and marketing talent, but could no longer afford the “big agency” overhead. Thus, the Approach Marketing concept was born — a virtual agency made up of independent consultants. Based in Columbus, Ohio, Approach brings together seasoned talent across the country from some of the world’s leading agencies to provide award-winning services to its clients.

In eight years, Megan has led Approach Marketing to nearly doubled in size every year since its founding. It was recently named named Best Public Relations Firm in the Columbus CEO Best of Business Awards and shortlisted for Boutique Agency of the Year by PR Week. Clients like Circle K, Make-A-Wish and Tim Hortons Café & Bake Shop all recognized that great work doesn’t have to be done under one roof and that using a virtual agency, like Approach Marketing, truly brings together the very best talent in the business in a new, cost effective way.

Approach’s business model has received national attention. When it comes to the virtual agency and managing a remote team, Megan has become recognized as a thought leader, featured in publications such as Forbes, Inc., PR Week, PR News, Columbus Business First and Columbus CEO, among others.

Megan has also received a number of awards and recognitions. She was featured by Columbus Business First in People to Know in Advertising, PR and Media and was awarded the publications prestigious 40 Under 40 Award. Smart Business Magazine also recognized Megan as a Progressive Entrepreneur honoree and she received a bronze Stevie Award for Woman of the Year — Advertising, Marketing & Public Relations.

Prior to founding Approach, Megan spent her early career in the agency at Chicago’s Golin, one of the world’s leading public relations firms, and Columbus-based Paul Werth Associates. She graduated from Wittenberg University where she earned a B.A. in Communication and a double minor in Journalism and Business Management.”

Here are the most important lessons I’ve learned from my experiences:

“In eight years, our business has grown from a solo-practioner to a multi-million dollar agency housing some of the most talented publicists in our industry. That kind of growth leads to a lot of lessons learned. Here are my top three:

Surround yourself with people that are smarter than you. At Approach, our team is brilliant. When I have our consultants together in a room, I am blown away by the level of talent. Everyone is smarter than me, more talented than me, more experienced … and truly wants to help our clients. A traditional agency could not afford to keep this team on project, but with our business model, we can. It’s really impressive.

Don’t be too busy making a living that you forget to make a life. I’m proud I have been able to grow this business and still have a family — and to prove that having a big job and being a good mom at the same time is possible. I’m reminded over and over again that being a working mom is so much harder than I ever gave my mom credit for. It’s the most challenging and rewarding job. I’m also proud that I’m raising a daughter who can see what it’s like to stand out in her field and who is learning that anything is possible.

Good things come to those who hustle. I’ve always approached my career with the attitude that I might not be the smartest person in the room, but I can always be the hardest working. You may see me struggle, but you will never see me quit… not for our clients, not for our team, not for myself.


Julie Cole, Co-founder and Senior Director of Public Relations, Mabel’s Labels Inc.

Who She Is and How She Has Overcome Limitations:

Julie (LL.B., M.A.) is a recovered lawyer, mom of six and Co-founder of Mabel’s Labels. Mabel’s Labels has grown from basement start-up into an award winning, celebrity endorsed and international marketplace leader. As company spokesperson, Julie is well-known amongst North American businesses and entrepreneurs. As a digital influencer and sought after speaker and emcee, she has informed and entertained audiences at countless conferences including The Sage Summit, Marketing To Women, Mom 2.0, Canadian Marketing Association, International Camping Conference, to name just a few. Julie is no stranger to the media, having appeared on NBC’s The Today Show, HLN’s Raising America, Canada AM, Breakfast Television, The Marilyn Denis Show, among many others. Julie is a syndicated blogger for The Huffington Post, modernmom.com, PTPA Media, Yummy Mummy Club, and her company’s Mabelhood blog. Her writing has also appeared in The Globe and Mail, Profit Magazine, Chicken Soup For the Soul — Power Moms and numerous websites. Mabel’s Labels has been featured everywhere from The View to Forbes.com. While writing and speaking across North America, Julie is raising her crew of six in her hometown of Burlington, Ontario.

Here are the most important lessons I’ve learned from my experiences:

1) Your network is your net worth.

Surround yourself with amazing people.

When it comes to staff, make sure you get the right people on the bus. Hire slow and fire fast. Your people are your very best investment. Allow them to be entrepreneurial in their jobs, don’t micro-manage them and create a work environment and culture that will help you retain amazing team members.

When it comes to business partners, know who you are getting into bed with. Business partnerships can be tricky relationships. Make sure you put together a shareholders agreement while everyone is still friends. Understand each other’s different personalities and styles and continue to work on your communication with each other. It’s a constant work in progress.

When it comes to peers and mentors — be sure to surround yourself with people who challenge you and fill gaps. As they say, if you’re the smartest person in the room, time to find a new room!

2) Leave your ego at the door.

If your ego runs your life, your business will not succeed. You need to be able to admit when you need help, hire people who fill gaps and never stop being curious and asking questions.

3) Plan for your exit.

Create a plan and understand that it will change, but know when to call it a day. If I was still in the basement making labels myself fourteen years later, that would be a huge fail. You need to know when to call it a day. Fail fast and learn from it. Once you have business success, also understand your exit plan. Are you growing your business to sell it or to hand down to your children. Understanding this will guide you in how to manage your company.”


Marla Aaron, Founder, Marla Aaron Jewelry

Who She Is and How She Has Overcome Limitations:

“When I started the company 5 years ago, I realized very quickly that the traditional way of doing business in the industry would not be possible for my “bootstrapper” strategy. The trade shows were prohibitively expensive. So I had to take another path which was go directly to consumers through social media. We started getting customers almost immediately and then the stores came. I think we broke limits because traditionally it was thought that you couldn’t do both — sell directly to consumers and wholesale and I think we have done both very effectively. I think our stores understand that our direct business makes us a stronger brand. I want to deliver unexpected experiences of what fine jewelry is for our customers. To that end, we recently installed our very first vending machine to the The Brooklyn Museum. Our machine allows customers to have a special experience with our brand in an unusual place. We hope to make more and put them in other locations.

Our jewelry ranges in price from $80 -$30,000. Traditionally fine jewelry messaging is luxurious and “perfect” — highly photoshopped slices of perfect people and imagery.

Here are the most important lessons I’ve learned from my experiences:

From the beginning, I wove my personal story into the story of our jewelry on social media and found that my far from manicured existence — my authenticity — attracted customers across ages and demographics. Our jewelry itself is “perfect” and beautifully made but our messaging is less filtered. The more real and less manicured I became in our messaging, the more we attracted our customers and this flies in the face of conventional luxury marketing. That was a pleasant surprise.”

“I loved jewelry. I knew lots about jewelry as a customer and life long lover of jewelry. I had very little knowledge of how to make it, how to sell it, how to think about it as a business. I just had my very specific idea about selling convertible locks and chains to be combined in very personal ways. It was both a blessing and a curse. I didn’t know how to engage with the industry so I made lots of mistakes. I didn’t know how to engage with the industry so I did things differently and this made us stand out. I didn’t (and still don’t) know all that I am suppose to know so I don’t have a preconceived idea about how my business should be run.

Hire great people. Take time to find the right people. I took a while to make our first hires and I’m really glad I did. I probably waited longer than I should have to hire them but I was cautious. I hired people who had no experience in the jewelry industry because at a certain point I realized I had developed my own ideas about how to run the business and I wanted to continue down our unorthodox path so I looked for specific business and soft skills versus experience in our industry.

In the initial days of leaving my job to start my jewelry company, people who love me were supportive with their words but their facial expressions would betray their shock and disbelief at what I was doing. As much as you possibly can, you need to gird your loins for this type of reaction. Ignore it. You need to force yourself to believe in yourself maniacally. If you can’t, no one else will.”


Amber Venz Box, Founder and CEO, rewardStyle

Who She Is and How She Has Overcome Limitations:

“A digital-style influencer herself, Amber Venz Box conceptualized and launched rewardStyle at the age of 23 as a solution to monetize her fashion blog, venzedits.com. Amber has worked on all sides of the fashion industry — as a shop girl, an editorial stylist, a fit model, a retail buyer, and a jewelry designer generating $100,00 a year by the age of 18. Her intimate understanding of the fashion industry, along with first-hand experience as an influencer, has helped to fuel rewardStyle’s global success, generating $2.3B in retail sales since launch.

Amber has been named Forbes’ 30 Under 30, Fast Co.’s Most Innovative, Glamour’s “Woman of the Year” for Technology, Fashion Group International’s Innovator of the Year, a Business of Fashion 500, Entrepreneur magazine’s “15 Female Entrepreneurs to Watch,” and she spoke at SXSW in 2017 as a featured session speaker for the second time.”

Here are the most important lessons I’ve learned from my experiences:

“1. Know what motivates people — Educating yourself doesn’t stop once you leave the classroom. You need to seek out experiences and positions within an industry of interest, work on all sides of it and work for the very best. Take the time to learn every aspect of the business, so you understand the roles and positions of your teams. Knowing where they are, from personal experience, will give you the knowledge to motivate the most effectively.

2. Delegate — As a mother I’m more conscious than ever of the power and art of delegation. As the founder of rewardStyle, I’m responsible for an endless “”to-do”” list, and burning the midnight oil comes with the territory. With a family, it’s just not possible, nor is it productive long term, and I now realize that no single person can pursue and accomplish every task. You must trust the team you’ve built and motivate them to do their best.

3. Timing is everything! — When my now husband and I started working on the idea around rewardStyle, we were heads down and hyper focused to be first to the market with our idea. Once launched, we continued to revise and fine-tune, but having the platform up and running was the starting point and proof of concept our customers needed to take action and join, followed by the growth of our retail partners and influencer database.”


Alison Bernstein, Founder and President, Suburban Jungle

Who She Is and How She Has Overcome Limitations:

Alison Bernstein is the founder of The Suburban Jungle Realty, a real estate firm exclusively focused on buyers leaving the city for the suburbs. Recognizing how different neighboring towns can be from one another and how little families learn about a community during the home search, Alison launched Suburban Jungle, helping buyers navigate suburbia, and understand the ins and outs of towns before making their decision. She had personally experienced these challenges while undertaking her own suburban search, and strived to bring that unique expertise to Suburban Jungle families. Prior to this launch, Alison worked in the industry for more than 15 years, including senior-level roles in sales, leasing, investment banking and corporate strategic work spanning three of the nation’s leading real estate organizations. She has revolutionized the real estate industry by creating this new advisory pre-search component to the home buying process. When she’s not helping families in their suburban explorations, Alison enjoys traveling, skiing and tennis as well as spending time at home with her husband and four young children …and huge dog. “

Here are the most important lessons I’ve learned from my experiences:

The most important thing I have learned is JUST DO IT. If you have an new idea, or see an opportunity to improve on things as they already exist — get on it ASAP. The longer you wait, the more likely you will never do it. If it’s a good idea and you did not act on it, you can be sure someone else will.

Focus on a niche. It is so hard to be good at everything, and in fact it is not necessary. Have a very clear view of your key focus, and work at becoming simply the best at it. This means you may have to turn down potential opportunities along the way, but you will be better for it in the end.

Business and the world are changing every 15 minutes. Don’t get stuck in what was successful yesterday. So many companies fail on this premise alone. Stay on top of what is working today and keep your finger on the pulse of where things will be headed tomorrow. Learn from all aspects of your life and move that into your work day. Ask your staff every day if they have added value and how they think we can improve our systems and structure. Ask yourself this question… every day and every 15 mins.


Pamela Wasabi. Author, Plant-Based Chef. AMLAMIAMI

Who She Is and How She Has Overcome Limitations:

Pamela Wasabi .”Today, I stand as an author and plant-based chef, but the title that earned me the freedom to break the rules in the restaurant industry — and life — in addition to granting me a certification in the field of integrative nutrition and nutritional psychology has been that of a Mother.

My background is in fashion design and back then in 2008, I produced, hosted and directed fashion parties, shows and one of the first underground-culture online magazines. But it all changed when I got pregnant. I was diagnosed with a borderline chronic illness that could put my baby’s life in danger. The doctors could only prescribe a synthetic drug to help me cope, as well as denied me a home birth and breastfeeding. I did not accept that reality and thus my search begun. This urge to grant my daughter the birthright of breastfeeding and a healthy home-belly free of prescription drugs was the instigator for change. I joined a nutrition school and started cooking, despite not having previous knowledge of it at all. I transformed my health, had a beautiful water home birth, and breastfed my daughter till she was four. After conceiving, I switched my career and became a leader and educator on integrative health, then wrote a book title “Nourished: The plant-based path to the health and happiness”. Today, I’m a proud pusher of holistic living, balance, nourishment, and my very own line of vegan/gluten free baked goods which are distributed among 65+ stores in Miami-Dade and Broward.

Here are the most important lessons I’ve learned from my experiences:

My biggest lessons are: responsibility, respect, and purpose. My biggest lesson in life has been that of taking full responsibility for my life. My health, relationship, and career challenges have taught me that I am what I want to be and how I think of myself. No one and nothing can interfere with that reality. My success, my failures, and my creativity are all a reflection of my persistence, my discipline and my self-love. Another lesson that I apply in my life is having respect for maintaining balance and a routine to hold onto, especially when chaos, high-demand, or busy times approach. The respect towards a healthy and balanced lifestyle determines the outcome of all I do in life — that includes my profession and personal scenarios.


Kelby Hawn, Co-Founder & Designer/Front-End Developer, Dolly

Who She Is and How She Has Overcome Limitations:

“Kelby Hawn is a designer and front-end developer who has co-founded two companies in the past eight years. With a degree in Graphic Design from Flagler College, she has experience in web design and development, UI/UX, and print design. Kelby specializes in bringing an early level of polish and branding to startups that can often be lacking brand expertise, because co-founders are rarely designers.

Kelby met her two co-founders, Chad Wittman and Jason Norris, in 2010 at a small web agency in Florida. Shortly after meeting, the three quit their agency jobs to start EdgeRank Checker, which provided Facebook analytics to brand pages back in the early days of the Newsfeed. After their team moved to Chicago, EdgeRank Checker sold to Socialbakers, and the team began planning their next startup: Dolly.

A harrowing moving incident involving a mattress strapped to the roof of a sedan going down the highway led the team to conceive Dolly, an on-demand moving and delivery service. With Mike Howell signed on to be co-founder and CEO, they relocated again, this time to Seattle.

Since this move, Dolly has expanded into seven cities across the country with plans to enter dozens more this coming year. Kelby has worked on expanding the brand across the team’s mobile and web apps in addition to marketing and partner materials. As the sole female co-founder, she’s brought awareness about the importance of hiring more women and people of color on the team and cares deeply about making Dolly a fun, safe, and diverse workplace that creates a better moving experience for everyone who uses Dolly.

Kelby lives with her black cat, Bianca, near Lake Union in Seattle and enjoys binge watching Golden Girls and exploring the PNW with her friends and coworkers.”

Here are the most important lessons I’ve learned from my experiences:

1) Don’t try to do everything yourself; instead, hire people with positive attitudes who know what they’re doing. I’m a co-founder but not an executive at Dolly. It was hard at first to relinquish control to people who weren’t part of the founding four, but I realized they are the right people for the job. I’m now able to focus and improve on what I actually enjoy: design and code. As far as being the only female co-founder, I’ve realized how important it is to work with men I respect and who respect me. I completely trust the leadership team to hire people who will fit into our culture when I’m not directly involved in a round of interviews. One of our values is “No Divas, No Dicks” and we’ve done a great job of upholding that!

2) Don’t plan too much — things will happen that are out of your control, so learn to adapt. For the first few years of my career I worked with two people. At the first company we founded, we had a manageable workflow and had settled into life in Chicago. Then we started our second company, Dolly, and we needed to move across the country (for the second time!) and start working with a much bigger team. I felt a bit depressed when we first moved to Seattle, but I worked through it. After re-focusing on my physical and mental health, I felt stable again and work became more enjoyable. Now I feel like I can handle the ups and downs of startup life, and I discovered that I LOVE working with a bigger team, so taking the chance was worth it.

3) You’re going to make mistakes, learn from it and don’t beat yourself up. There are things I definitely regret doing throughout my career, and I’ve had my fair share of ruminating and mentally dwelling on mistakes, but I’ve come to realize that’s just a part of life. You can choose to be swallowed up in regret, or do better next time.


Andrea Sommer, Founder & CEO, Hiver

Who She Is and How She Has Overcome Limitations:

“Andrea Sommer is the founder & CEO of Hiver, an intelligent event technology company.

Andrea is passionate about technology, entrepreneurship, increasing the number of women represented in both, and also about building diverse teams — from entry-level to board-level. She has spoken at numerous conferences on technology, the mobile industry, entrepreneurship, raising start-up finance, being a female founder and women in technology.

Andrea was formerly Director of Strategic Initiatives Europe at Avanade, a joint venture between Accenture & Microsoft where she lead growth and optimisation activities for Europe. She also consulted for other technology brands including Microsoft in the US, South America and Europe.

Andrea has also been featured in press publications such as The Financial Times, Forbes as well as in the book The MBA Entrepreneur.

She holds a Bachelor’s Degree from Reed College in Portland, US and an Executive MBA from London Business School.

Here are the most important lessons I’ve learned from my experiences:

“If opportunity doesn’t knock, build a door

I’m naturally an introvert, so networking doesn’t come easily to me. Yet, when I started business school, I had to network all the time, much more than I had done in the past. I was so frustrated with the fact that I could not remember names — this had always been a struggle for me. I looked everywhere to find a solution and when I didn’t find one I decided to build Hiver! Hiver provides intelligent technology to help make events and networking sessions more useful by enabling users to remember the names of everyone they meet. On top of that, we provide data to event organizers so they can make their events better and more impactful.

Looking back, I could have just accepted the fact that there wasn’t any good technology out there to help me. Yet, even though I had no experience, no money and couldn’t code, I decided to try to solve this problem. The only thing stopping us is…us. So build more doors!

Feel the Fear and do it anyway.

Some years ago, a mentor and friend of mine recommended to me the book ‘Feel the Fear, and do it anyway.’ I have really internalized this feeling of facing the fear and embraced the knowledge that if you aren’t in that scary place, you aren’t stretching yourself, you aren’t learning and you are certainly not doing anything amazing. We are instinctively taught to walk away from fear, but in entrepreneurship you have to not only face it, but embrace it.

It takes a village

I get this question a lot,‘ Should I share my idea with people or do I run the risk of someone copying it?’ I myself asked this question in the early stages of my business and my answer is a resounding yes — share your idea! First, ideas are super important, but without execution they are nothing. And execution is hard. Very very hard. It takes time and a lot of work. More importantly, by not sharing the idea you miss out on getting feedback, insights and experiences from the community. Building a business can’t be done in isolation. Talking about your idea and networking effectively enables you to make connections which can lead you to co-founders, investors, employees and customers.

I have been very lucky to be a part of several really supportive communities. London Business School was one of them — not only was that where the idea originally came about but it is also where I found many mentors, employees and investors who are still with me today. But I have found support in many places — some obvious, others unexepected. So get out there, build doors, get scared and most importantly, build your village!


Eileen Gordon, Founder/CEO, Barnraiser

Who She Is and How She Has Overcome Limitations:

“Eileen Gordon, founder and CEO of Barnraiser, took an indirect path from Apple’s education group to the Napa Valley leading to her current obsession connecting the makers and conscious eaters in the good food and healthy living movement. After co-creating and producing 250 shows on the Food Network, hundreds of artisan food/wine products and several top-rated restaurants she is a deeply knowledgeable advocate and prolific public speaker including TEDx. Eileen believes in giving the next generation power over their food options and will not stop until she gets $1B into the hands of artisan food makers and farmers across the country.

Barnraiser is a social marketplace curated by and for people driving the new food and wellness economy. Passionate consumers and conscious eaters Discover, Shop, and Contribute while supporting local food, farming, and wellness businesses who are changing how we eat, farm and live. (www.barnraiser.us)

Here are the most important lessons I’ve learned from my experiences:

“When the message comes down from on-high to the unsuspecting first time entrepreneur that you should start something, you follow it! You follow it almost unconsciously at first, almost like sleepwalking. And if people dig it, if your vision is big and bold, if it gets support, you’ll get in the game. It will be tested repeatedly for its worthiness. You will be tested repeatedly for your steadfastness. You will always be the biggest believer, and you’ll never stop having to convince someone new. So, lesson #1: Remember and fiercely guard that initial spark, that dream, idea or purpose that took you to the edge of the cliff, ready to leap into the great unknown. You will need this initial spark, the core source of energy and conviction, to get through the journey ahead.

During any new venture, the road to success is rarely ever the exact one you anticipated or dreamt it to be. After successfully launching and raising millions for projects in good food & wellness at Barnraiser 1.0, our internal voices and our user patterns told us to dig deeper. As we tested and iterated to our best new path forward, in came lesson #2: Drop the expectations and judgement about how this is going to go down, and start listening. But don’t just listen to everyone. Listen to your core customers, your most likely users, and surround yourself with advisors who may also know about those people. This period of early testing for market validation can get thrown way off if you try to serve the wrong people. These periods are terrifying, and also, these are exactly when you need the spark and resolve of your original purpose to keep you centered and guide you through uncharted waters.

Finally, the 3rd lesson: Let ’em see you cry. I know, they say not to. But, admitting you don’t know anything is critical to opening doors for help, advise and team support. Giving yourself the time to seek that help in whatever form needed is also critical. Networking, dinners, regular calls with extended supporters can unlock tremendous personal and business value, so make it a priority it deserves.”


Lynn Perkins, CEO & co-founder of UrbanSitter

Who She Is and How She Has Overcome Limitations:

“Lynn started UrbanSitter to make finding a sitter as easy as making dinner reservations. She has turned her vision of an “OpenTable for babysitting” into what is now a 40+ employee startup serving more than 500,000 members in 65 cities. The company has facilitated more than 450,000 babysitting jobs and has filled more than 80 percent of the job requests created on its platforms, the majority of which receive a response in less than three minutes. As a mom of young children who raised $40M in venture capital funding for a female-led company, Lynn has also broken the Silicon Valley tech CEO stereotype.

And for your background, here’s more info on UrbanSitter:

UrbanSitter leverages members’ social graphs (Facebook and LinkedIn) to surface babysitters to whom they have a real-world connection through people they trust, and then offers profile info with valuable marketplace data about each sitter’s performance (reviews from parents who’ve booked her/him, number of repeat families, how quickly they respond to booking requests, special skills, etc…). UrbanSitter also facilitates the booking in real-time (ala OpenTable) and the payment (ala Uber).

Here are the most important lessons I’ve learned from my experiences:

“Your inner conviction and passion for the business is crucial to your success. There will be a lot of ‘no’s’ and things won’t always go as planned. There will be times when your co-founders and team will start to lose enthusiasm. As the leader, it’s your core belief in the business and its mission that will pull everyone through rough times and help you persevere.

Don’t ignore the elephant in the room, it’s not going away on its own. Address the tough, unspoken issues head on and be as transparent as you can with your leadership team and company. Whether it’s poor performance, a product glitch, a new competitor or the loss of a key employee, don’t brush the issue aside or stay silent about it. Your colleagues and team will appreciate your candor and collaborative approach to resolving situations.

Give yourself an outlet to relax and blow off steam. This may sound obvious, but it’s often hard to step away from the business to make time for yourself. Sleep, exercise, time with friends — whatever it is that helps you relax, make time for it. Often, the best business ideas happen when you step away from the computer and get a different perspective.

Select great investors. Having experienced investors who are also smart, good people will add immeasurable value to your business. Not only will they help your company’s acceleration, they will help you grow as a leader through candid feedback and strategic thought partnership.


Alana Frome, Co-Founder and Chief Technology Officer, HiMama Inc.

Who She Is and How She Has Overcome Limitations:

“For its first three years, Alana Frome was the only engineer building, testing and maintaining the technology behind HiMama, the child care technology startup where she’s a Co-Founder and Chief Technology Officer. Today she leads Engineering and Customer Success.

HiMama connects hundreds of thousands of families to their children while at preschool. Recently they celebrated more than 150 million moments shared on the platform, with photos shared at a rate of 3 per second, in more than 50 countries, which is the perfect fit for Frome, who is an engineer at heart and passionate about education.

But her path to this work wasn’t a straight one… After trying her hand at tech consulting, teaching English to youth in France, managing the U.S Consulate compound in South Sudan, and working on various tech startups in New York City, Frome finally joined forces with Ron Spreeuwenberg to start HiMama in 2013.

When not working on HiMama, she’s leading volunteer teams for girls in STEM organizations (such as Rails Girls) and lights up at any opportunity to volunteer teach software development classes. It’s worth noting Frome’s proven success record of inspiring more women to learn to code; her most recent course completed with 70% women-identified enrollment. She’s been pushing the limits of software development status quo long before it was trendy to do so.

Here are the most important lessons I’ve learned from my experiences:

Focus. Focus. Focus. Relentless focus on revenue generating activities is critical, especially in software development. It is painful as a business owner to hear requests from your customer base and not be able to respond to each issue immediately, but we have to be ruthless with which features are prioritized by our engineering team and which support requests the customer success team can respond to first.

It’s too easy to follow the loudest or most upset person, but often they represent only a tiny subset of the user community. Instead, we need to consider which development projects are the most likely to effect the largest number of current and prospective users — and focus on energy there above all else.

Let your work speak for itself. The issue of being a woman in tech is one I’m often asked about, and one that continues to be an important and confusing topic. It’s true that I’ve been largely surrounded by men in my work for the past 15 years. I have grappled with the best ways to even this slant, but in the end I always come back to my greatest asset for myself and for other woman in tech is to let the work speak for itself. I work hard and I don’t make false promises. We can be our own best advocates by doing this.

And of course, it helps to surround yourself with others who are supportive of your work and plight. I’ve been very fortunate to have extremely positive and inspiring working relationships with men from the very beginning of my education and career, and that continues today.

Make impact a priority. Your company’s impact (both good and bad) cannot be overlooked. There are lots of examples of high-growth technology companies aggressively seeking “unicorn” status, the term used for a startup with a billion-dollar valuation. The race to become a unicorn has created is a heated one, where winning comes at the expense of human-centred leadership and societal good. The result can be that true disruption and social justice become secondary to the goal of growth.

The intent with HiMama is to help childcare professionals engage with parents of children aged zero to five, and ultimately our goal is to improve learning outcomes for children, who in turn will be better equipped to become contributing citizens. We are a social purpose business. Our impact is considered in tandem with our revenue goals.”


MaryEllen, Co-Founder, Yarlap by Relevium Labs, Inc.

Who She Is and How She Has Overcome Limitations:

“MaryEllen Reider is a Director and the Executive Operations Officer for Relevium Labs, Inc., creator of the Yarlap for female pelvic floor muscle performance. The Yarlap is like a super-duper Kegel machine for toning and re-educating the muscles of a woman’s pelvic floor. It can help treat bladder leaks and improve sexual performance/experience with muscle control.

• Product Awareness; including; On-Line Web Site & Social Media Strategies (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, Google, YouTube), television commercial production, media buys/placement, media interviews (e.g., NBC, Reason Magazine, National and International Podcasts) & Establishing Peer Review Clinical Product Studies.

• Product Fulfillment & Inventory Management; including contract negotiations (foreign and domestic), order forecasting, procurement, inventory control, package design, shipping.

• Product Compliance; including FDA 510(k), Trademark, Patent and PDAC Submissions.

Ms Reider has two Bachelor of Arts degrees from Miami University of Ohio; East Asian Languages and Cultures (Japanese Concentration) and International Studies.

Here are the most important lessons I’ve learned from my experiences:

“As a business woman on the cutting edge of pelvic floor health for women, there are many lessons I have learned from my practical business experience, the three lessons I want to share are:

1.Research is important — especially with a medical product. The Yarlap was originally cleared by the FDA to treat female urinary incontinence by toning and re-educating the muscles of a woman’s pelvic floor. Research demonstrated the muscle control gained in the use of our device can improves sexual performance and sexual expression/experience. Follow regulatory guidance. It is both wise and invaluable because regulators are following research in your area too

2. Explain the value of the research: people want to know. Everyone needs a little bit of encouragement to feel good about the variety of ways they experience sexual fulfillment. A great way to help a woman find fulfillment in their sexual experience is to give them the muscle control that gives them the confidence and ability to express and enjoy themselves to the fullest. Women may intuitively understand the value of muscle control in their pelvic floor, but they appreciate an explanation of the science behind it — it’s pretty cool what the female body can do! According to peer review literature, it is most appropriate to define sexual wellness as performance and expression. Performance is goal oriented. Expression is experience/pleasure oriented.

3. Contribute to the research in your field. Yarlap is actively engaged in research — a research study on sexual performance is now underway. It is very exciting. In addition, the Yarlap team contributes to peer review literature on the importance of the muscles of the pelvic floor and response.”


Rachel S. Kaplan, CEO/Founder, byASSOCIATION

Who She Is and How She Has Overcome Limitations:

“When Rachel S. Kaplan graduated from Columbia Law School in 2011, unlike the majority of her classmates who joined law firms as Associates, she joined hardcore obstacle run company Tough Mudder as their sole In-House Counsel. Once there, she convinced Tough Mudder’s founders to let her create her own rotational program within the startup in order to learn multiple parts of the business, akin to an on-the-job MBA. Over the next two years, Rachel dove into strategy, operations, and marketing, helping Tough Mudder grow from $2 million in revenue to more than $100 million, and from 20 to 200 employees globally.

In late 2013, Rachel joined VC-backed Chloe + Isabel, a direct-sales brand empowering millennial women to launch their own businesses in a supported environment. When asked to do a full analysis of the acquisition and retention funnel, she completed it within her first two weeks on the job. Tasked with implementing her recommendations to scale Chloe + Isabel’s sales network, Rachel spent the next year managing three departments, nearly doubling the company’s acquisition rate while cutting acquisition costs almost in half.

Based on her experience, Rachel saw an opportunity to improve the hiring process for high-growth startups. Realizing that job boards and head hunters/recruiters result in huge expense and wasted effort, Rachel created a math-based approach to understand what roles candidates are qualified for, and to drive efficiency in hiring. She came up with the idea for byASSOCIATION in April 2015, and launched the company three months later.

Today, byASSOCIATION is disrupting the hiring industry, using its skills-based matching algorithm to connect startups in San Francisco and New York with pre-vetted marketers for full-time roles and consulting projects.”

Here are the most important lessons I’ve learned from my experiences:

“I’ve learned so much in my work experience, and these are my top 3 lessons:

1. Always ask why, and then ask why again

A core value at Tough Mudder was “seek to understand before seeking to be understood.” That resonated with me. People bring significant knowledge and experience to their work, and if you can understand their perspective, you’ll have more productive working relationships.

The simplest way to do that is to ask “why?” And to get at the root, ask “why” again. You may have to ask “why” as many as five times to get there, but it’s a worthwhile endeavor.

I was largely able to comprehend Chloe + Isabel’s business in only two weeks because I asked several people across the organization how and why things worked the way they did. In doing this, I quickly identified what processes were working, what were no longer relevant, and understood the company’s limitations to inform a framework for change.

2. Don’t be afraid to hear ‘no’

Careers are self-driven, and that translates into a series of negotiations. I never expected my manager or employer to tell me what was next. I think it’s up to us to map out our career trajectory, raise our hand when there’s a skill we want to learn, and speak up when we feel we deserve a raise.

The worst thing that can happen, typically, by asking for something, is getting a “no” in return. And the more comfortable you are with hearing “no”, the more willing you’ll be to put yourself out there to ask for a “yes”.

3. You don’t have to stay in your lane

Technically, I’m a lawyer. I don’t practice law, and I get asked a lot if I regret going to law school. Truthfully, I don’t. Education is a base, it’s your starting point, and it doesn’t have to be confining. The same goes for work experience.

At byASSOCIATION, we’re solving an HR problem. While hiring has been part of my job description many times over, I didn’t earn a degree in the HR field, and that’s OK. By moving outside of your lane, you can learn from other business functions, fields, and industries. And by deepening your understanding of other lanes, you’ll find it easier to work cross-functionally to solve complex business problems.”


Lexi Montgomery, CEO of Darling Miami LLC

Who She Is and How She Has Overcome Limitations:

“Best known for her bold writing style and unique branding, Lexi Montgomery is the CEO of the innovative digital agency, Darling Miami LLC.

Lexi’s career began as a food blogger, which led to an opportunity to work as an actress in Hollywood with brands like Chevy, Nutri Ninja, National Geographic, DiscoveryID, and McDonald’s. Her background in entertainment has offered unique insight into how brands are built which has motivated her to continue building the business in a very saturated market (http://darlingwebdesign.com)

Darling offers web design, branding, and marketing services to senior professionals around the world. The agency is made up of mostly women, and they focus on “”brand seduction,”” or the process of building a fantasy associated with each brand — something uncommon in the bland, monotonous, digital marketing world. But Darling is known for bucking the trend of the traditional digital agency experience.

Early on, Lexi attended an event with a client where upon being introduced, she was told she should become an escort because “”they make good money.””

As a minority woman in tech — Lexi is very familiar with the feeling of being an “”elephant in the room.”” Rather than internalize this insult, she used it as fuel. She used the seductive lure of working with attractive women, and her loving, feminine touch to nurture clients rather than hard sell them on her services.

Without startup capital, a strong personal network, or mentors, Lexi built the company from the ground up. She immediately began blogging across multiple platforms, built a small following on Facebook, then Instagram, and eventually Linked In. She consistently breaks limits because she feels it is her responsibility.

Since embarking on her entrepreneurial journey, Lexi has overcome many setbacks including a Category 5 hurricane, the death of 3 close relatives, short-term homelessness, financial instability (being unable to pay her rent), and more recently, her father’s death.

In addition to her professional endeavors, Lexi actively engages in a variety of philanthropic initiatives. She currently moderates the Divine Feminine Alchemy community on Facebook and is passionate about consumer psychology, and the art of seduction.

Here are the most important lessons I’ve learned from my experiences:

“The three biggest lessons I’ve learned are:

1) Never undervalue your services

“”Before Darling was what it is today, I went through several phases of charging very cheap prices thinking the sale would become easier to close. I’ve found that even free things have to be sold. In the beginning, I sold web design packages for $59/mo. The clients were very similar to our current, higher-end clients. Similar needs, desires, hiccups, etc… just a lot more work. If anything, cheaper clients need more and are more likely to jump ship. It’s emotionally draining. It’s almost like cheaper clients don’t trust the value of your services because they’re underpriced.

2) Anticipate everything

It’s important to anticipate the needs of your clients, and then over-deliver on every promise you make. Clients will feel like they owe you instead of feeling entitled to your time and attention. They’ll leave amazing reviews and bring multiple referrals down the road.

To overcome this, I wake up every day knowing that the actions I take will have incredible effects on my future — for better or worse. Business doesn’t really get easier, responsibilities only seem to increase, you just grow tougher over time. I think “”grit”” is the only necessity to be successful in business.

3) Learn quickly from mistakes.

Legitimately good opportunities are few and far between. In life, you only have to make a few major mistakes, or a few good decisions to have a major impact on the trajectory of your life and the lives of those around you.

I remedied a lot of the confusion I experienced as a new business owner by “over-delivering.” I increased my prices, started saying “”no”” to things, and really began to feel like the person I desired to be. My father’s death was incredibly helpful with this because people expected me to be distracted, depressed, and fall behind financially.

The beautiful thing about being a woman is that we have a built-in emotional regulator. We can laugh, cry, or get pissed by just thinking too much. I began choosing my thoughts more consciously and transmuted the sad, negative energy that follows a close death. In this, I became more artistic, more passionate, and more driven. I’ve learned to look at life events & opportunities with equanimity. Who knows what is good or bad? Everything has a lesson than can be beneficial if you choose to see it that way.”


Rebecca Liebman, Co-founder and CEO, LearnLux

Who She Is and How She Has Overcome Limitations:

“Rebecca is the Co-founder and CEO of LearnLux, a financial technology company that helps people learn personal finance skills through online learning tools and connects them to the resources they need to take action. She was on the 2016 Forbes 30 Under 30 list for education and has had many incredible experiences for someone of her age. She lived in Kenya and studied microfinance in an informal economy and completed environmental research in Germany, France, Belgium, and Luxembourg. She worked at the MIT Center for Collective Intelligence and founded Take Back the Tap at Clark University to reduce half a million plastic water bottles from landfill. Rebecca has a passion for startups, education, and the amazing things that happen when they are combined. She loves to work with dedicated, excited, and passionate people and brings them together to make great things. She is often called Director of MIH, which stands for Making it Happen. Rebecca loves public speaking, the word “”plethora,”” and motivating people, especially on Mondays. She has a passion to learn as much as possible by being a student of life and questioning almost everything. She loves kayaking and other types of boats, but knows that the best ship is friendship!

Here are the most important lessons I’ve learned from my experiences:

“1. Value your own perspective: When I first started this company, I went to meetings and looked and thought like nobody else there. At first, many told me to assimilate to how financial services was. Through talking to people I realized that the reason we were going to be successful is because I thought so different than the industry. Many financial products were built with one type of person in mind — our society is no longer that demographic and we were able to see that and create a product that creates access for millions of people who have been left out of the system. Now we use our different perspective as our biggest asset to create financial services of the future.

2. What you worry about isn’t what happens and what happens isn’t what you worried about: Think about what you worry about on a daily basis — those are things you can prepare for. In business and life, it’s often the things we weren’t thinking about that catch us off guard. People always ask, what one huge challenge we’ve had, but there isn’t one huge challenge in startups, it’s a million little deterrents that happen every day and set you back just a little bit — many times those little things you can’t prepare for.

3. If you wait until you’re ready, you’ll be waiting for the rest of your life: When I started this company, everyone told me I should have more time, more money, and more experience. I was in school so I didn’t have a lot of time, I was in student debt from going to a university, and I didn’t have decades working in the industry, but I had never been more compelled to do something in my life. I’m so glad I didn’t listen to everyone else because you can make those same excuses every year — you can always have more time, more money, and more experience, but there is power in starting before you’re ready.


Joanna Kulesa, CEO and Founder, Offleash

Who She Is and How She Has Overcome Limitations:

“I started my business as a solo venture 22 years ago in 1995, and haven’t looked back since. Growing up, I was encouraged to become an entrepreneur, so that’s what I set out to do. I actually didn’t enter the field of public relations until I was 30 years old. I had just moved from Massachusetts to California, and after holding an administrative position at a B2B software company, applied for an in-house PR position. I felt like my degree in English, coupled with my passion for communications and the social aspects of PR, made it a perfect match for me. I’ve been building successful agencies in Silicon Valley and working with some of the country’s most exciting technology companies ever since.

At Offleash, we offer PR, social & content services. We help clients lead the market, set the industry agenda and increase brand recognition through smart, aggressively executed communications programs. We’ve increased brand awareness for more than 150 B2B technology clients, playing a critical role in over 40 initial public offerings (IPOs) and acquisitions ranging from tens of millions to billions of dollars by the biggest names in tech — including IBM, Google, Salesforce, Dell, EMC, Cisco, HP, Splunk, CA, Red Hat and Oracle, to name a few.

Outside of client services, I’m a passionate dreamer who cares deeply about the environment, our community and employee welfare. I believe that happy, fulfilled employees produce better work and create an inviting, thriving environment. I pride myself on building ownership in at every level of the agency and promoting a high-quality work environment. As a result, Offleash has one of the highest retention rates in the PR industry — a rare feat in a field known for regular turnover. We’ve been honored with several “Best Place to Work” awards from Fortune, the San Francisco Business Times and the Silicon Valley Business Journal, and I have a 100 percent CEO approval on Glassdoor.

I strive to embody Offleash’s three core values (Integrity First, Be Bold and All In) every day and am also passionate about giving back. But my passion for improving human welfare and human rights around the world extends beyond philanthropy. I’ve spoken against sexism in Silicon Valley and publicly announced Offleash’s stance of support behind the 127 companies who filed a legal brief opposing President Trump’s ban on immigration from seven Muslim-majority countries. I don’t plan to stop in 2018!”

Here are the most important lessons I’ve learned from my experiences:

“1. Treat every single person you encounter and work with — from the janitor and mailman in your building, to the junior members of your team, to the CEO of your client’s company — with respect. Operating as a human being first and foremost is the foundation for a respectful, value-driven business, and will attract the right people to your team.

2. As a business owner, remember your values and the drive that inspired you to start your own business. The confidence it takes to make that leap to starting your own business is the root of your value system. Business opportunities will come and go, but you’ll always have your values and self respect if you stay true to yourself. If the situation calls for it, you have to be willing to walk away from business opportunities to protect yourself and your business.

3. When something difficult happens, get through it, move on, and let it go. Don’t relive every mistake. Even if you have a really strong drive and passion for your business, you’re still going to be faced with some really scary, dark times. When you start out, you don’t know that you can navigate through those times — because you’ve never done it before. But when you go through it, and make it out alive, you realize that you’re stronger than you think. It sets you up for success, because you’ll know you can navigate through anything — even difficult times that may require you to make some tough decisions. You’re going to hit unbelievable, unpredictable obstacles, so to get through it, just trust your drive and your passion, and be true to yourself. Onward!


Candice Simons, Owner and President, Brooklyn Outdoor

Who She Is and How She Has Overcome Limitations:

“At the age of 29, Michigan native Candice Simons returned to her home state after establishing herself in the outdoor advertising industry in Chicago. She knew exactly what she wanted to do. Her goal was to start her own business: an outdoor advertising company with a fresh perspective and a vibrant creative energy. What she didn’t know is that the city that built her would soon be the love of her life and home to multiple, successful companies in just five years.

Despite being a female-owned business taking on a male-dominated industry, Brooklyn Outdoor has subsequently emerged as a regional and national force. Brooklyn Outdoor is the only national, certified women-owned business with full national coverage.

With offices in New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, and Detroit, Brooklyn Outdoor’s core business is outdoor signage and displays, including billboards, hand-painted murals, wallscapes, digital billboards, branded buses and taxis, bus shelters, street furniture, in-window displays, and more. Brooklyn’s four divisions include Outdoor, Hand-Painted, Experiential Marketing, and our newest division — Events. Brooklyn Events facilitates unique Detroit experiences and brings together diverse Detroit populations at her beautiful, industrial-chic event space in Eastern Market: The Brooklyn Outdoor Loft.

Simons’ passion for the unique culture, communities and opportunities in and around Detroit inspired her to create J’adore Detroit, a lifestyle blog centered around arts, entertainment, fashion, culture, etc. so you can keep a pulse on the city happenings. J’adore Detroit celebrates, publicizes, and forges connections between Detroit area residents and some of the city’s most innovative and inspiring creators: from non-profits and musicians, to artists and artisans, to chefs and creative new companies. Stemming from this passion for creating in the city, Simons is a partner at the newly opened Alley Taco, a California-style fast-casual Mexican Restaurant, in Midtown Detroit.

Simons has been recognized for her work time and time again by Crain’s Detroit Business “40 under 40”, DBusiness “30 in their thirties”, Detroit Young Professionals Vanguard Award, Summit International Marketing and Creative Awards, Michigan Economic Bright Spot Award, 2017 Corp Magazine’s Diversity Business Leader, 2017 Enterprising Women of the year, and Entrepreneur 360 top entrepreneurial companies in the US in 2017.

Here are the most important lessons I’ve learned from my experiences:

1. Embrace what makes you unique.

Stepping outside is what I do best NOW. Being a female in a male-dominated industry, the odds were stacked against me from the beginning. Being a small fish in a sea of giants is no different now, but the way I handle it is completely different. I embrace the “weird” and see the challenges as hurdles that I just need to jump over. At a young age, I learned to embrace my outspoken personality and stand out style. Being unique sets you apart from the status quo and leaves a lasting impression on those that cross your path.

2. Trust your instincts

Listen to your instincts, they are super tuned to sense a potential threat. If something doesn’t feel, right steer clear. If your gut is telling you to take a leap of faith, do it! Being an entrepreneur puts you in the driver’s seat of your business, trusting your instincts to helps to navigate the inevitable twists and turns. I did not take the road commonly traveled by starting an outdoor advertising company, but here I am and hear me roar is the new normal for me. Take a risk and step outside your comfort zone.

3. Integrity is king

Integrity is the foundation to success. Make mistakes and own up to them, communicate powerfully, and act with positive intentions and a sense of what is right . Acting with integrity keeps your karma clear and relationships moving forward with positive trajectory and upward mobility. Remaining strong to your morals and ethical boundaries is key to building a foundation for your brand and maintaining that sense of integrity with every decision made. Integrity is undeniably king in my life and my various companies core values.”


Sheila Elias, Artist, Elias Art Studio

Who She Is and How She Has Overcome Limitations:

“My works have been featured in exhibitions coast to coast and have been accorded international acclaim such as the Liberty show at the Louvre Museum in Paris. When I was exhibiting at Alex Rosenberg Gallery, which was showing some of my work. Curators were scouting New York’s galleries to find artists who use the Statue of Liberty imagery in their work to commemorate the Statue of Liberty’s 100th anniversary that year. I was one of the only two contemporary American painters whose works were chosen for the exhibit.

The painting that was chosen was “Two French Girls” (60-by-99-inch canvas). The painting was included in an exhibit of art and memorabilia depicting Lady Liberty at The Louvre. My work had been shown in galleries across the country, Japan, Korea, Kenya and Spain, but that was the first French exhibit of my art.

Returning from Paris, I created an homage to the street people where my studio used to be on skid row in LA. “Homage to the street people” was an 84 foot line across San Pedro street from the top of one building to another with 6’x5’ foot shopping bags on the line. Painted on the front of these bags were X’s. They were my symbol for the Pompidou Museum in Paris. I left one black X with no glitter. I did not include color into the artwork, because there’s no color in the streets. It’s (color) too threatening. . I received recognition for blending social consciousness with the aesthetic of art.

Although I am primarily known for my multimedia paintings, installations and sculptures, I recently decided to venture into the realm of technology, by creating a new vision on my iPad. Becoming a name in the Apple community has only strengthened my conviction to continue exploring in this new medium. I was invited to go to the Apple store in Lincoln Center to have an event showing how I paint on my iPad. Roni Feinstein of the Mayson Gallery in New York saw this and asked me to have a one-person exhibition. Both of these shows garnered the attention of Rhona Hoffman Gallery Chicago, and invited me to exhibit with her at Hong Kong Art Basel. While I was in Hong Kong, I also showed my iPad pieces at the IFC Apple Store in Hong Kong. I have also shown in several Apple Stores across the country.

Here are the most important lessons I’ve learned from my experiences:

“As a child I went to visit the Art Institute of Chicago and saw Matisses’s work and was awestruck by it. I told my mother I wanted to come here every day and she said that I still had to go to school, but that I could go to Saturday classes there all summer. And I did. That experience inspired me to paint and draw and become an artist.

As an artist I learned that you have go with your creative thoughts and not have any limits. Especially being a woman- some people attempt to put limitations on female artists but I never accepted those constraints. I have not allowed them, and I also have not had hesitations. My mother always said to me “just go for it” and I have always done exactly that; if you stop to question something too many times you may not end up doing it at all. I do not fear trying new things.

I like to portray a perception of urban tension, raw emotions and harsh realities tempered with gentle optimism and beauty, countering an American dream that has gone a bit astray and bringing an awareness of new directions and individual inventiveness.

My work is about the layers of life and art history, seeking in it a connection between art aesthetics and social consciousness.

I have been painting on my iPad since 2010. The iPad differs from traditional media with its immediate, experimental effects. I believe it also stretches one’s mental capacity because the apps have limitations, and one has to work within those perimeters. It is a new medium, which is refreshing for a seasoned artist. I enlarged abstract shapes to take on mysterious, unnatural forms. I painted them without physical tools, by using my finger. During multiple processes, the files were enlarged and printed on canvas. The canvas prints embody modernity, and contrast their archetypal and primal replications.

Technology is an element that is slowly infiltrating all aspects of our lives. The evolution of technology has always paralleled my work throughout its development. From the original copy machine to today’s iPad, the influence of electronics permeates my artistic process. I have taken advantage of the convenience that technology provides.


Alina Morse, Founder/CEO, Zollicandy: The All-Natural Candy that cleans your teeth

Who She Is and How She Has Overcome Limitations:

“My age, gender or size, has never stopped me from making thing happen, and keeping everyone smiling. My name is Alina Morse, I am 12 years old and I live in Wolverine Lake, Michigan. I’m CEO of ZOLLICANDY, the Clean Teeth Candy. I’ve been leading and growing our Candy business for five years. My story is that when I was 7 years old, I went to the bank with my Dad. They offered me a lollipop. My Dad always told me that sugar was bad for your teeth and bad for you, so I asked “”Why can’t we make a healthy lollipop that is good for you and good for your teeth?”” After asking for what he says, over 100 times, he finally told me to “”do the research””. I spoke with my dentist and dental hygienist, and did some research online to find the magic ingredients. Then we started doing informal trials mixing up the ingredients. Finally we worked with a manufacturer to produce our first batch. We revised until we had our formula just perfect!

So far I have had quite a bit of success. Our product is on the shelves in retailers nationwide, such as Kroger, Whole Foods, and is the #1 sugar-free, tooth-friendly lollipop on Amazon. We also are available at many independent Pharmacy and Retailers. And in February 2018 we will be in Fortune #1, Walmart, nationally alongside kids tooth brushes, and I am the youngest vendor to Walmart and Kroger.

I’ve been blessed that media has shared Zolli’s 250,000 Initiative, whose mission to defeat children’s tooth decay. I’ve appeared on Good Morning America Shark Tank Kids, the Steve Harvey show, PBS Biz Kid$ and news coverage on ABC, NBC, NPR, WGN and CBS. Germany and France Television have both done documentaries on me and my business. I’ve given more than 100 interviews for radio, magazine and digital publications. Most notably for International Women’s Day, Forbes, Yahoo Finance. I was invited to the White House for Michele Obama’s “Give me Five” initiative and the National Easter Egg Roll twice and have also received some very prestigious accolades — Claire’s Girls of the Month; the List TV listed me #3 of top Kidpreneurs, West Bloomfield School District ‘Star Student of the Year’ Award; Village of Wolverine Lake ‘Very Important Person’ Citizenship Award; and was counted among “Kidpreneurs Making Serious Money” and a “Gen Z Influencer”.”

Here are the most important lessons I’ve learned from my experiences:

“From my experiences these last few years, here are my top 3 lessons that I have learned:

1. Just because you have a good idea, it doesn’t mean anyone is going to buy it. Keep asking questions and put yourself and your product out there for feedback. Research. Research. Research. Creating anything great is a lot of hard work, and something that you have to work on everyday — morning, noon, and night. It also requires being flexible, tweaking things as you go along to make it just right, adjusting things to make the produce better or the process more efficient. Never stop asking questions.

2. Business is a team sport! There is no letter “I” in the word team, and everyday along this journey I have continue to learn how important it is to not only have a team, but to have the right people on your team. I have learned how important it is to be able to depend on members of the team to be experts in their area and also for each member of the team to be able to have input on company decisions so that they feel invested/empowered.

3. There are going to be good days, and there are going to be bad days. The good days have outweighed the bad ones so far, like when a buyer or chain decides to bring in our Zollipops, but there are times when it feels like we take two steps forward and one step back. But hey, progress is progress! Lastly, I have recently learned that not everyone wants you to succeed…that is a tough one to swallow, but it goes a little softer once I take a lick of a sweet Zollipops or chew a Zaffi Taffy. Like the song from Mary Poppins says “just a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine down”, or in our case, a Zollipops can make life sweet again.”


Jennifer Clary, Co-Founder, The Baby Box Co.

Who She Is and How She Has Overcome Limitations:

Jennifer Clary is a global entrepreneur with a mission to build impactful and sustainable products and services. As the Founder of The Baby Box Co., Clary leads a team who is highly committed to providing new parents and children with the vital, equitable education and resources needed to ensure all babies have a safe and healthy start in life. Clary launched the business in 2013 and since then, has turned a simple, yet innovative concept inspired by a Finnish tradition into a global movement. The company expects to reach 5 million families worldwide via the company’s educational platform, Baby Box University in 2018. Prior to starting The Baby Box Co., Clary launched her first venture, Gobble Green, in 2009 which was the very first nationwide plant-based meal delivery service in the United States. Clary is a graduate of Vassar and resides in Los Angeles, CA.

Here are the most important lessons I’ve learned from my experiences:

“Invest in Your Team. As a founder, I think you are hard wired to try to handle as much as is humanly possible on behalf of the business. After all, you remember when there were no fiscal and human capital resources to support the vision — so altering your frame of mind to trust others with significant responsibility as the company scales can be a real challenge! My role over the years at The Baby Box Co. has evolved, and now the greatest value I bring to the business is empowering our team to achieve. Build a positive, innovative and transparent corporate culture to attract top-level talent and establish a thoughtful recruitment process early on.

Take Time to Align. As your company grows, a number of different revenue generating possibilities will likely present. It takes discipline from yourself and your team to choose one or two core goals at a time rather than going after multiple opportunities simultaneously. I learned to exercise this discipline the hard way and would urge upcoming founders to make this a priority early on. Get your team aligned on the corporate mission and then clearly set one or two goals per quarter so everyone is primed for success.

Take Care of Yourself and Don’t Give Up. Start-ups can be messy and, as your business grows, you will have many days where it feels as though the operation takes two steps back for every step forward. As a founder, self-care and confidence can quickly fall by the wayside; don’t lose sight of either. You can’t inspire your team to achieve if you’re burnt out and nothing kills tenacity faster than exhaustion and chronic isolation. This past year I took up Insanity and running to offset my more sedentary working hours and I made a greater effort to spend time with friends outside of the work environment. I feel re-energized and have never been more confident in The Baby Box Co. mission, team and execution strategy.”


Tara Akhavan, Co-founder & CTO, IRYStec Software Inc.

Who She Is and How She Has Overcome Limitations:

“Tara Akhavan is a technology entrepreneur. She is the founder and CTO of IRYStec a Series-A Montreal based start-up in the display industry. She has raised and helped raising over $4M in Angel and VC funding. Prior to founding IRYStec, she has been awarded for scaling an Operations and Maintenance Center (OMC) product in the Telecommunications industry all the way from analyze and design to deployment in a 3GPP mobile network with 20 Million subscribers. Tara holds a Bachelor degree in Computer Engineering, a Master degree is Artificial Intelligence and Ph.D. in Image Processing and Computer Vision from Vienna University of Technology. Tara is an active member and the Marketing Vice-Chair for the Society of Information Displays (SID).

Here are the most important lessons I’ve learned from my experiences:

I am co-founder, Chief Technology Officer, and board member of a high-tech series A start-up in Montreal. I would like to share with you my top 3 lessons learned from facing challenges as a young woman in the high-tech industry.

1- My biggest lesson learned is what my first mentor called “the rule of manipulation”. In his world, manipulation is defined as it is in the Webster dictionary — “to manage or utilize skillfully”. It took me few years to understand what it truly means; understanding and managing expectations, drivers, motivations, and dynamics. Any stakeholder whether it be employees, executives, board members, investors or customers all have different motivating forces and to be able to handle these resources effectively one must recognize each parties points of view. It is a crucial task for anyone who wants to keep growing to be able to understand the dynamics of his or her environment.

2- My second most important lesson learned is regarding early stage customer engagements. The last three years of working with billion-dollar companies has taught me that there is no linear relationship between the time and energy spent on a customer and closing a deal with them. Sometimes finding the right person, requirements, and product fit plays a much more important role than hastily working on delivering a product to the wrong customer. The same applies to investor engagements.

3- And eventually the third important lesson I learned at IRYStec is to invest in relationships early on. In any company there will always be unexpected dramas, challenges and pivots. People will always be the most important assets of a company and this is especially true for start-ups. I learned to invest in my relationship with my superiors, peers and employees when everything is great and working well so that we can all be united in hard times.


Tanya Bakalov, CEO, HelloTeam

Who She Is and How She Has Overcome Limitations:

“Tanya Bakalov is CEO of HelloTeam and Co-Founder of SevOne. With more than 10 years of experience in the high tech industry, Tanya’s career has included a variety of leadership roles in business operations, go¬ to¬ market strategy, corporate development, organizational hiring, enterprise, cloud and software solution selling.

Tanya co¬-founded SevOne in 2005, and through a variety of leadership roles including SVP of Operations and Chief of Staff, she fostered company growth to over 500 employees world¬wide, over $80M in revenue, global office expansion, and consistent double¬ digit revenue growth. Tanya provided guidance to SevOne through three rounds of financing, expansion to global research bases in locations such as Bulgaria, and two key target acquisitions.

In 2016, Tanya returned to her entrepreneurial roots, becoming the Founder and CEO of HelloTeam Inc. — a company offering a modern engagement and talent management platform designed to increase employee engagement, impact retention and create data-driven people strategies backed by real-time instant insights and analytics. HelloTeam’s platform enables employees to be seen, heard and valued, leading to a more engaged, connected and inspired workforce.

Tanya was named a prestigious E&Y 2016 Entrepreneur of the Year Award winner, Silver Stevie Award winner for 2016 Female Entrepreneur of the Year, Silver Stevie Award winner for 2014 Female Executive of the Year, and UDE 2016 Alumni Excellence Award winner.

Previously, Tanya worked as a consultant at Deloitte and Touche in the IT risk management and assurance division, consulting with many fortune 500 and blue chip companies in the technology, insurance and manufacturing sectors. She is a certified public accountant and holds and Bachelor’s Degree in Accounting and Management Information Systems from the University of Delaware, where she graduated Magna Cum Lade.

Here are the most important lessons I’ve learned from my experiences:

“1. Be gritty: Stay determined and keep focus on what needs to be done to achieve your goals. No matter what stage you’re at in your career or what growth phase your business is in, having grit and determination will always serve you well. It is grit that keeps you going when you’ve come across an obstacle and it is grit that pushes you to do things others fall short at.

2. Learn quickly and often: There is no shame in admitting you are not an expert in everything you need to make your company successful. Smart, determined leaders figure things out, learn what needs to be done and move forward. If I need to secure 10 customers to demonstrate validity of my new product to investors, I am going to learn everything I can about sales and find myself 10 qualified customers.

3. Trust your team: Every successful leader is backed by a team. The most successful leaders know how to trust in those they surround themselves with and let those people do what they’re good at. You must trust the people who share your vision and allow them the freedom to make and execute decisions that support that vision. Whether at SevOne or now HelloTeam, I empower my team to take ownership in their areas of expertise and that has always served me well.


Deborah Sweeney, CEO, MyCorporation.com

Who She Is and How She Has Overcome Limitations:

“Deborah Sweeney is the CEO of MyCorporation.com. MyCorporation is a leader in online legal filing services for entrepreneurs and businesses, providing start-up bundles that include corporation and LLC formation, registered agent, DBA, and trademark & copyright filing services. MyCorporation does all the work, making the business formation and maintenance quick and painless, so business owners can focus on what they do best.

In 2008, I was managing the MyCorporation division at Intuit as their GM where I had been since 2004. The country was in the midst of a serious financial crisis and it was affecting our company. It was during this economic slowdown that I began discussing with my husband the possibility of offering to buy out MyCorporation from Intuit. We met with our bankers, I proposed the idea semi-informally to my boss, and I put together a presentation on how MyCorporation could thrive outside of Intuit. I met formally with Intuit leadership afterwards where I made my offer to purchase the business out if they were interested in selling or divesting to me.

Six months later, the leadership came to me to suggest that I present the options for divestiture — close the division, sell to another company, or sell to me. While I knew it was important to be as objective as possible, I knew that I wanted to buy this business more than anything else. I believed in the business, the customers, and employees and wanted nothing more than to receive the opportunity to grow and manage this private entity.

About a month after I presented the leadership with more documentation on how I could make all of this happen in 2009, I received the greatest phone call of my life. Intuit offered to sell MyCorporation to me and make me the sole owner.

Eight years have passed since that phone call and so much has changed, both at MyCorporation and in my own life. We continue to grow as a privately held company and I believe it is due, in large part, to my focus on respect for others, kindness and freedom to let employees “do their thing.”

Here are the most important lessons I’ve learned from my experiences:

“Ultimately, I overcame the initial challenges of entrepreneurship by reflecting on what my parents had taught me: you become what you believe you will become. Rather than see my background as a corporate lawyer as something that could hinder me, I let it enable me. I have an undergraduate degree in Criminology and Psychology, went to law school for my JD, and got an MBA afterwards. Each piece of my education has contributed to my success in business. When I was a practicing attorney, having my business degree was a differentiating factor in the practice of law. When I went in-house and our company was acquired by Intuit, I was running a division of the company that offered legal services. As an entrepreneur, my law degree continues to be valuable when I execute contracts, negotiate deals, and when I work with my employees. Similarly, my business degree has been invaluable when I think about our P&L, strategies, and mission.

Through it all, I have been sincere when working alongside everyone I encounter, from customers to team members. I listen, engage, and communicate in an honest and trustworthy fashion. I learned at Intuit that if you focus on the customers, shareholders, and employees, things will be right. It’s a bit of corporate wisdom that has never failed me or my business.


Raegan Moya-Jones, co-founder, aden + anais

Who She Is and How She Has Overcome Limitations:

“Raegan Moya-Jones is the co-founder and CEO of aden + anais, the baby care brand globally recognized for its muslin swaddles and baby products. The brand continues to introduce an evolving assortment of family-friendly lifestyle items inspired by Australian traditions and Raegan’s personal life experiences as a mom of four girls.

Under Raegan’s vision, aden + anais has put forth an assortment of Aussie-influenced baby and children’s products that provide safe, practical luxury for sleeping, teething, bathing, feeding, changing, soothing and beyond. In 2010, she wrote and self-published the book, swaddle love, which explores the history, science and techniques of swaddling. In 2011, the brand further expanded with the launch of a skin care collection. Formulated with a world renowned NYC dermatologist, the aden + anais skin care range is infused with fresh pawpaw fruit–an ingredient widely coveted in Australian skin care for it’s healing and soothing properties. And the innovations continue–Raegan has also pioneered inventive products like the serenity star®, an electronic feeding and sleep system that unites five nursery essentials in one streamlined design. Most recently, aden + anais partnered with The Woolmark Company, creating a collection that is the first of its kind — pure Merino wool muslin. This luxuriously soft collection brings the legacy of muslin and the many benefits of Merino wool to the forefront of modern baby care.

Raegan was recently named as one of Ernst & Young’s Entrepreneurs of the Year, considered one of the most prestigious business awards in the world. aden + anais was named to SmartCEO’s 2015 Future 50 list, recognizing the nation’s fastest growing companies as well as by Crain’s New York Business in this year’s Fast 50 list at number 30. The Fast 50 feature highlights New York’s most successful and innovative companies for their growth, strategies and success. aden + anais was recognized for a 338% growth rate and a reported revenue of $41.7 million for 2013. The company has garnered numerous awards under the company’s belt, including “Most Innovative Product,” “Creative Child Seal of Excellence,” ”Best Gift Brand” and much more.”

Here are the most important lessons I’ve learned from my experiences:

“The three biggest lessons I’ve learned on my 12-year journey building aden + anais from my dining room table to a 100M global brand are:

People are EVERYTHING. You can have the greatest products, strategy, processes and distribution, but if you don’t have the right people in every chair, people who care as much as you do about the business and the mission, it will all be for naught. I have seen this business flourish with the right people and be brought to its knees by the wrong people. Above and beyond all else, people are what matter most.

You can’t fake it. The key to a successful business and brand is authenticity. If you don’t stay true to the core of what you started it all for, you will come off the rails. You need to be motivated by purpose, not money, to be successful. When you start making decisions for the sole purpose of making money, you lose the essence of who you are, and your business starts to waver. It requires a lot of strength and, dare I say, balls to stay true to this as you begin to scale, but I believe that it is because authenticity is at the heart of everything we do that our brand is still meaningful and growing 12 years in.

You need to be decisive. If you talk to the team of people that I have worked most closely with over the years, they will tell you that one of the things they like most about working with me is that I will always make a clear and decisive decision. I am convinced that this ability is essential to being an effective leader. I may not always make the right decision, but I believe that making one and getting it wrong is still the right way to go about building and scaling a business. I have never been concerned about failure, as I see it as an opportunity to learn and grow. Once you let go of that fear, making a decision is easy.


Liz Wessel, CEO & Co-Founder, WayUp

Who She Is and How She Has Overcome Limitations:

Liz Wessel is the 27-year-old Co-Founder and CEO of WayUp, the go-to platform for millions of early-career professionals to explore opportunities, receive advice, and get discovered by employers. Founded in July 2014, WayUp is a venture-backed startup based in NYC that has raised $27.6M and was named by CNN as one of the 30 most innovative companies changing the world. WayUp has worked with businesses of all sizes — from startups to Fortune 500’s like Unilever, Starbucks, and Disney — to help them reach, recruit, and engage with the next generation of talent.

Liz has been featured as one of Forbes’ 30 Under 30 and has been named one of the “18 Coolest Women in Silicon Valley” by Business Insider. Before founding WayUp, Liz worked at Google as a Product Marketing Manager in California and then moved to India where she led all branding initiatives for one year.

Liz has been a featured speaker at TedX, Advertising Week, TechCrunch Disrupt, SXSW, and several other notable events.”

Here are the most important lessons I’ve learned from my experiences:

“It’s hard to pick only three lessons, since I feel like I learn something new every day from our incredible employees, fellow NYC founders, investors, mentors, and more.

Three lessons that stick out to though are:

1. No one actually knows what they’re doing (except doctors…I hope!)

As a founder, you can’t worry about the fact that you’ve never raised capital or managed a large team before. All you can do is take your best guesses, try new things, surround yourself with people who are smarter than you, and don’t make the same mistake twice!

2. Do things that don’t scale (a la Paul Graham).

When we first started WayUp, I managed all of our user support for more than a year — in addition to doing everything from HR to finance to product and more. While this wasn’t “scalable,” it gave me the opportunity to engage with thousands of students directly and helped me understand the kinds of tools and features we needed to build into WayUp’s product.

3. Hiring is the most important thing you’ll do as a CEO.

I’m not kidding when I say that our competitive advantage as a business is our employees. I’m not only saying this because I’m the CEO of a career site — hiring the right people is so incredibly important. Make sure you hire ambitious, hardworking people who care deeply about your mission and who are ready to get their hands dirty. Having the right team is crucial for building a successful organization, and maintaining your company culture.


Tammy Whitworth, Chairman and CEO, Window World

Who She Is and How She Has Overcome Limitations:

“Born and raised in Wilkes County, North Carolina, Tammy Whitworth’s mission to honor her roots guides her as much as her vision for the future. Serving the community that she and her family have called home for generations is part of what keeps Tammy driven to shepherd Window World®, America’s largest exterior remodeler, successfully into its third decade and beyond.

After attending Meredith College and earning a Bachelor’s of Science in Business Administration and Political Science, Tammy began her career in the renovation and remodeling industry at a wholesale building products company. She and her husband Todd purchased their first Window World store in Wilmington, NC from Leon Whitworth, Todd’s father, and opened their second store with friends in Winston-Salem, NC.

In 2007, Tammy and Todd purchased Window World, Inc., the corporate office of Window World, from Leon Whitworth. While they were committed to implementing the change necessary to see the company into its next era, they remained steadfast in their resolve to keep the core of Window World, its family approach, constant.

Tammy and Todd started Window World Cares®, the charitable arm of Window World, in 2008. Their eldest child, Anna Grace, was premature and spent the first days of her life in a hospital. Having experienced the strain of worrying about their child’s health, Tammy and Todd decided to partner with St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital®. Named for the patron saint of lost causes, St. Jude takes on the toughest cases of childhood cancer and other life-threatening illnesses, and does so without regard for a family’s ability to pay.

Overcoming personal tragedy, Tammy became CEO of Window World after the passing of her husband, Todd, in 2010. Since then, she has led the company in its pursuit to establish world-class training for franchisees, through profound changes in product, installation, and standards regulations, established a Board of Directors and most recently, an Advisory Council of Franchisees. Her vision for Window World remains to position store owners with the best possible tools to be successful, providing opportunity for hard-working families across the nation.

Still proud to call North Wilkesboro home, Tammy serves on the board of Wilkes Community College and supports local initiatives year-round. As a mother of three children, an avid horse enthusiast, and full-time executive, she uses her experience, in both life and business, to guide other aspiring working professionals as they pursue their own dreams.

Here are the most important lessons I’ve learned from my experiences:

“ “Think small to think big:

Ever since my late husband Todd and I purchased Window World from his father in 2007, I’ve known I wanted this company to grow. But I’ve learned that while it’s great to think big, it’s equally as important to think about all the aspects that make up a company. Without our franchise owners, Window World certainly wouldn’t be able call itself the largest replacement window and home remodeling company in the country.

I took on the role of CEO of Window World in 2010 after my husband’s passing. I wanted to lead this large company successfully into the future while keeping it in touch with its roots, so I decided to adopt the franchise system. We have about 200 locally owned stores across America, and the owners know what works in their communities and what doesn’t. Each store is unique, and local ownership allows Window World to stand out and remain in touch with its customers.

Give back to the community:

To really appreciate Window World’s success, I’ve learned it’s important to share that success with others. I started Window World Cares®, the charitable arm of Window World, in 2008 after the premature birth of my first child, Anna Grace. Gaining firsthand experience of the strain of worrying about a child’s health inspired me and Todd to partner with St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital®. Over the past decade, Window World donated $8 million to St. Jude.

Family comes first:

My family is at the core of everything I do, and the idea of family is the most important aspect of Window World. It was with the support of my family and this company that I’ve been able to deal with personal hardships, including my battle with breast cancer and the passing of my husband.

This is a family-owned company, and many of our franchise owners are husband and wife teams. Others are parents working with their children, passing the store on from one generation to another. I’m also a mother first and a CEO second. I’ve learned that if you keep your priorities straight and know family comes first, you can incorporate that into your career and find plenty of success. Not only am I a leader of this company, I’m the leader of my family and hopefully seen as a positive role model for my three children.


Anna Brockway, Co-Founder and Chief Marketing Officer, Chairish

Who She Is and How She Has Overcome Limitations:

Anna Brockway is the Chief Marketing Officer and Co-Founder of Chairish, the San Francisco-based online curated marketplace for chic vintage furniture and decor. Anna conceived of Chairish as way to inspire home decorators to bring their unique personal style to life through design. Prior to founding Chairish, Anna was the Vice President of Worldwide Marketing for Levi Strauss & Co. She has appeared as a guest on the NBC’s TODAY show. Anna graduated from Columbia University of New York City and now resides with her family in San Francisco.

Here are the most important lessons I’ve learned from my experiences:

“I left corporate life as VP of Worldwide Marketing at Levi’s and stayed home for 10 years raising my kids. At 42, I started my entrepreneurial journey. Here are a few things I’ve learned along the way:

“Not Ready But Going in Anyway” Many women I meet have dreams of starting a business but are waiting for their life to calm down, to do more extensive research, to finalize the perfect logo or blah blah blah. The perfect set of circumstances are never going to arrive. If you wait for the stars to align in order to begin, you never will. Just get started.

“No one knows”. Most of what is happening in the technology space is new and changing monthly. There is no Yoda. Women in particular seem to be nervous when they don’t know the answer. Trust me: no one does. Do your homework, ask for advice and then trust your judgement.

“Manners Matter.” Thank yous and a good old-fashioned good personality matter. People want to help out nice folks and for good gals and guys to win.


Kaarina Kvaavik and Heather Morgan Shoemaker, Co-founders, Language I/O

Who She Is and How She Has Overcome Limitations:

“Heather Morgan Shoemaker and Kaarina Kvaavik started Wyoming-based Language I/O in 2012. Language I/O develops software that allows brands such as LinkedIn, iRobot and SurveyMonkey, to easily provide customer service support in multiple languages. These clients love the software because the unique solution is embedded inside customer relationship management (CRM) platforms such as Salesforce and Oracle Service Cloud, where their support agents are already working.

Heather is a software engineer with a master’s degree from the University of Colorado College of Engineering and an Alaska native. Before software engineering, Heather worked as an interpreter for the US Immigration and Naturalization Services, taught English in Mexico City and spent five years as a newspaper reporter.

Kaarina Kvaavik was born into a tri-lingual household. She spent her impressionable years learning English, Swedish, Finnish, Norwegian, German and Russian. After moving from Sweden to the US in the early 90s, Kaarina broke into localization and worked for some of the industry’s largest translation vendors.

Heather and Kaarina met at a Boulder, Colo. software startup in 2004. Heather’s quiet, analytical personality complimented Kaarina’s outgoing one. They worked together for a few years and then joined other ventures, but stayed in touch.

In 2010, Heather left a lucrative corporate job and started a software development firm. At the time, Kaarina co-owned a translation services company. One of its clients was going global at a breakneck speed and asked if Kaarina’s company could automate the translation process for self-help content that was “stuck” inside a CRM. Without help, the client would need to hire half of a full-time person per language to manage process (not including translation) and would still miss its time-to-market goal.

Kaarina called Heather and said, “Can you develop an automated solution for this client?”

Heather knew she could automate the process, but instead of solving a problem for one client, she suggested building a product that many companies could use. And so, Language I/O was born. When Language I/O launched, it had a product, a partnership with RightNow Technologies, which was acquired by Oracle and its first customer.

Heather and Kaarina relied on nest eggs developed from other business successes to fund Language I/O, a good decision since they eventually decided to forgo funding. Today, they have large clients such as LinkedIn, iRobot and Shutterstock; have more than tripled their employee base and more than doubled revenue year-over-year.”

Here are the most important lessons I’ve learned from my experiences:

“1. For us, not getting VC funding was a blessing although it didn’t feel that way in 2012 when we were just getting started. Both of us had personally put our homes on the line to finance Language I/O so we knew our families would suffer if things didn’t work out. However, now that we’re the fastest growing company in Wyoming and continually adding large global clients, we realize that if we’d taken VC funding, we would have lost control of our company and potentially been forced to take on clients or projects that don’t fall in line with our mission. We also have complete control over how quickly we grow and are one hundred percent accountable for our profits and losses.

2. Although Kaarina lives in Boston and we could have incorporated there or in an area known for producing top tech talent, we chose to incorporate in a state very few people associate with technology — Wyoming. As such, we stand out. We’ve been recognized in ways we never would have if we had buried ourselves in Boston or Silicon Valley. We’ve been ranked the fastest growing company in the state, the first time this designation has ever been handed to a women-owned company and we are frequently featured by the media for our growth and development.

3. This ain’t our first rodeo and we mean that in the kindest of ways. The fact that we are experienced — we’ve run companies before — that we’ve been around the software development and localization industries for years and we are not fresh out of school works to our advantage. Our partners and clients want to know they’re working with experts in their field. They want to know that because of the many years we’ve spent in localization and technology, we know what innovations and improvements must be made to products to make our customers’ lives easier. We know that we can’t be everything to everyone and we know the value of a true partnership. We know the benefit of running a company as two partners who complement each other and understand the importance of working and playing hard.


Pam Ginocchio and Melisa Fluhr, co-founders, Project Nursery

Who She Is and How She Has Overcome Limitations:

Project Nursery is an online community of parents and designers that shares daily décor inspiration and photos from its users’ modern, design-minded nurseries. As permanent fixtures in the interior design industry, children’s market and DIY culture, co-founders Melisa Fluhr and Pam Ginocchio are regularly sourced for their exceptional approach to all things nursery. Among the many editorial credits they have acquired in a variety of parenting, home décor, lifestyle and business publications and blogs, they have been tapped as contributors for the likes of People.com, HGTV.com, StrollerTraffic, and BabyCenter, and have earned the coveted title of “Style Gurus” for home décor giant, Serena & Lily. Partnered with consumer electronics leaders VOXX Accessories Corporation, Project Nursery is putting their years of experience curating the best kid-friendly designs to good use by launching a consumer electronics line for families. The collection reflects the modern style seen in today’s nurseries and features VOXX Accessories Corporations’ state-of-the-art digital technology that is integrated into multiple successful consumer electronics brands across the globe.

Here are the most important lessons I’ve learned from my experiences:

“Lesson #1: Ask for advice from other women that inspire you. Coffee date? You bet. Women are typically generous with their knowledge and time. When you have a tight knit industry, you’d be surprised at how many successful entrepreneurs will be more than happy to pay it forward. We find ourselves telling peers what not to do more often than not and there’s some serious value to that.

Lesson #2: Don’t be afraid to say NO. Men navigate the business world without apologies, so why can’t we? Trust your instincts and go after what you want. It’s okay to be a people pleaser but not at the cost of your own business. When it comes negotiations, cut to the chase and say what you want and do it with confidence.

Lesson #3: Work/Life Balance? Yea, unicorns exist too. We get asked time and time again how we “do it all”. We’ve determined that as mothers and women in business, we simply can’t do it all and that’s okay. Find what works best for you, be nimble and keep your larger goals top of mind always. Realize that some weeks you’ll nail it and others you’ll want a do-over. It’s all about progress not perfection!”


Birgit Coles, Founder, Simbi

Who She Is and How She Has Overcome Limitations:

“When friends Birgit Grossmann Coles and Lori Manuel Steed met almost 20 years ago, they had no idea that they would one day combine their shared passion for art with their shared compassion for Haiti. After experiencing the devastating results of the 2010 earthquake, both were compelled to help. SIMBI came into being with a mission to “”Save Lives, Improve Lives, & Empower Lives”” by creating sustainable jobs and providing clean water for the people of Haiti. SIMBI’s non-profit foundation, Aqua Haiti, supports, promotes and finances water purification throughout the country in addition to partnering with organizations to bring awareness and education of the importance of filtered water and proper hydration. Relying solely on solar-powered energy, SIMBI’s manufacturing facility in Haiti has a zero carbon footprint. And, its use of organic, biodegradable products and ‘up-cycling’ philosophy falls directly in line with the founding partners’ commitment to corporate social responsibility.

Married to a Haitian, Birgit has lived in Haiti for the last 20 years, where she raises her family. She holds a degree in International Business from The George Washington University that she put to good use creating the first online art gallery based in Haiti, Art Media Haiti, with her partner Lori. An American with German heritage, this mother of three has embraced Haiti and its culture, passionately participating in local philanthropic events. She is a dedicated admirer of Haitian art and has helped promote it locally and internationally.

Now as President of SIMBI INC, she runs the company from both Haiti and their sales headquarters in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.

Here are the most important lessons I’ve learned from my experiences:

“I witnessed firsthand the destruction, devastation and despair caused by the earthquake in 2010, and saw a way to help through manufacturing and charity.”

“ “Patience. Patience is needed not only when dealing with people, but in anticipation of outcomes, be it business or otherwise.

Trust your gut. Don’t question it. Usually, it’s steering you toward the right answer or to do the right thing.

It’s OK to say NO. It can be difficult at times, especially in my line of work, but it is necessary. Spreading yourself too thin does not do your cause or business any justice, since you won’t be able to focus on creating real success. My favorite line — “”You’re not pizza, you can’t make everyone happy.”” As soon as you realize this, you waste less time and make fewer mistakes.


Leila Janah, CEO, Samasource and LXMI

Who She Is and How She Has Overcome Limitations:

Leila Janah is the Founder and CEO of SamaSource and LXMI, two companies that share a common social mission to end global poverty by giving work to people in need. She is also the author of Give Work: Reversing Poverty One Job at a Time and co-author of America’s Moment: Creating Opportunity in the Connected Age. Leila was included as one of The New York Times T Magazine’s “Five Visionary Tech Entrepreneurs Who Are Changing the World” in 2015. She was also named a “Rising Star” on Forbes’ 30 Under 30 list in 2011, one of Fast Company’s “Most Creative People in Business” in 2011, and was profiled as one of Fortune’s “Most Promising Entrepreneurs” in 2013. She received a BA from Harvard in African Development Studies and lives in San Francisco. “Throughout my career, I’ve had opportunities across the spectrum — everything from volunteer positions to entry-level jobs to my current role as founder and CEO of two companies. Over the years, I’ve learned a few key lessons that have turned out to be valuable whether you’re ten years into your career or just getting started.

Here are the most important lessons I’ve learned from my experiences:

1. Zoom out: Like most entrepreneurs, I have a tendency to take things very personally. When you start a business, it can feel like a part of you is exposed to the world, making every setback and critique feel earth-shattering. In those times, it’s important to know when to step back and emotionally remove yourself from the situation. As part of this exercise, I try to pull myself away from my desk, and spend some time in nature. By zooming out, and adjusting my focus to the sea or the stars, I’m taken in by the vastness of the world around me and my problems instantly feel more manageable.

2. Resilience is key: Social media makes it so everyone has a highlight reel prepared, without making any of the outtakes visible to the public. Nothing in life that’s worth doing or having will ever come easily. Entrepreneurs are used to hearing “no” a thousand times before they ever hear a “yes.” My success is built on rejection and late nights, but also on my resilience. The ability to be resilient is a greater contributor to your success than brilliance, talent, or raising a lot of money. Struggles and dark times build your character, and show you (and the world) what you’re truly capable of.

3. Don’t be afraid to be vulnerable: When you’re leading a team, it’s natural to want to appear impenetrable and stoic, especially during stressful periods. However, strong leaders can’t be afraid to show their softer side. If you share your more vulnerable moments with your team, not only does it take pressure off of you to appear detached and unaffected, it helps your team understand you and feel inspired by you in new ways. This goes for personal relationships, as well. Show the people in your life kindness and compassion, and never prioritize your work life over your relationships.”


Victoria Elena Nones

Who She Is and How She Has Overcome Limitations:

“I am a Latina/American entrepreneur, musical comedian, and dog mom. My biggest limits have been a lack of access to capital, resources, and not having a formal business degree/education. I’ve never let that stop me.

I grew up in a single parent family surviving on Mcdonald’s and Taco Bell. To date, I’ve been a speaker at Yale, Accenture, Caterpillar, 1871, & others. My work has been featured in various press (The Washington Post, ELLE Magazine, NY Magazine, The Samantha Bee Show, American Inno, The Chicago Tribune, Jezebel, NBC, Fox, and more) and I continue to bootstrap 3 companies to success.

At age 27, I started my first business with my meager savings of $1,000, a vision to be my own boss doing something I loved, and by sleeping on friend’s couches. I turned that $1,000 into a 6 figure pet care company within just 2 years — and it’s still thriving and growing 5 years later (www.sitinchicago.com).

At age 30, I saw a need for gender parity in the comedy industry and started Women In Comedy (www.womenincomedy.org). Two years later, with 100% donations, volunteers, and passion- we’ve launched 4 Women In Comedy chapter cities in NY, LA, Chicago, and DC. We even had Maria Bamford donate a performance at our last L.A. event!

At age 32, I’m in the process of a tech startup for comedy that is disrupting traditional comedy education. (www.satiracomedy.com).

I don’t understand the meaning of “limits”. “Limits” are just temporary roadblocks and there’s always a way around them.

Here are the most important lessons I’ve learned from my experiences:

“Don’t let the lack of money stop you from pursuing your dreams/passions. The greatest entrepreneurs can spin poop into gold. Believe in yourself, your vision and your ability to get creative when it comes to problem solving.

Relationships Are Everything: If you lack capital, relationships can make up for what you don’t have in the bank. I like to say that “relationships are my currency.” Barter. Every individual has a wealth of knowledge and a network of people who may just be able to help you, and you can repay the favor with your time or talents instead of with cash if necessary.

Ignore the Haters: There are a million people who will seek to sabotage your vision and often it’s because they are projecting their own limitations or anger at the world on you/your company. Get these toxic people who tell you that you will “never” or you “can’t” out of your life. Feel sorry for them that they’ve imposed such limits on their life, and don’t let them cloud yours.


Phoenix Gonzalez, co-founder and president of sales at dotstudioPRO

Who She Is and How She Has Overcome Limitations:

“Phoenix Gonzalez is the co-founder and president of sales at dotstudioPRO a white-label OTT SaaS Platform. With over 15 years of experience in entertainment media, her passion and profession lie at the intersection of media and technology. With a proven track record of leadership and success, Phoenix has delivered video technology solutions that help to transform the way we consume media digitally, across platforms and devices today, clients including Minnesota Vikings, American Beauty Stars — Lifetime and Nosey TV — NBC/Marathon Ventures to name a few.

As a female co-founder in entertainment technology, Phoenix knows the importance of giving back to her peers. In 2017 she joined the LA Board of the National Nonprofit “”Step Up Women’s Network””, helping mentor underprivileged teen girls from under-resourced areas getting them career ready and off to college. She also sits on the Advisory Board of “”Take the Leads”” new initiative “”50 Women Can Change the World in Media & Entertainment,” which is a 4-month intensive and intimate women’s leadership training program specifically tailored for women in Media & Entertainment to open the door to deeper understanding and a quickened pace to equality for all. Phoenix is a powerhouse who continues to defy all odds in her career and has been recognized by her peers in multiple industries.

Here are the most important lessons I’ve learned from my experiences:

1. You can achieve anything no matter your gender, color, disabilities and circumstance, I am as many others living proof. One would think the cards were stacked against me, being born of a single Trinidadian Canadian mother, raising myself on the streets from the age of 15, never finishing high-school or college, dying in a car accident at 21 years old and having to learn how to walk, write and read all over again all in a 6-year span. This lead me to become a working actress as a form of therapy, turned successful sales person in corporate America, earning more than my family ever did with a diploma or degree. Now, I am an entrepreneur with a successful technology company built with a whole lot of heart over the past 7 years.

2. NO is a doorway to YES! Wise words from my amazing mother! Understanding human behavior and conditioning is a great tool for being successful in business. If you think about it, one of our first words learned is NO. As we learned to crawl and explore our life around us, our parents used that word often to teach us lessons. The word NO is a natural first response in my opinion and knowing that, being okay with it and striving to change that brings forth successful results for us and those around us.

3. Never count yourself out! During my 6 year recovery from my car accident my insurance agency denied me cognitive therapy and would only provide me with physical therapy. Knowing I needed help with the brain trauma, which caused a slight form of dyslexia and short-term memory loss, a friend inspired me to take acting classes to get my memory back. A few years later, I ended up making a career for myself in acting and got the chance to audition for a Jackie Chan movie “”The Tuxedo.” I remember walking into the audition and feeling less than worthy. I was the ONLY black actress at the audition and I knew the scene called for a cocktail dress, which meant my right arm that was completely scared during the accident, might be an issue. It turns out this role changed my life and my perspective. I have never counted myself out after that experience and I am better off for it!


Rita Goldberg, CEO, British Swim School

Who She Is and How She Has Overcome Limitations:

“In 1980, in Britain, Rita Goldberg was a teacher working for the Manchester Education Department in their Aquatics department. She was taken to see a small home in Lancashire, the owner of which was an ex-swim coach who had put a small pool inside his garage and was giving lessons. A seed of ambition was planted! She knew then that she wanted to open a swim school — even though she was repeatedly told it could never be done.

It took many months and challenges, trips to council meetings, and refusals of permitting — but with the help of a great city councilor, she eventually got her permits. For funding, she traipsed from major bank to major bank, all of whom said it was a great concept, but wouldn’t fund the money. At that time, BBC had a show called Enterprise 80. People were asked to submit business plans and Rita applied on a whim, never expecting to hear from them again. Well, she did! And though not eligible for the ultimate prize money, hers had been among the final 50 business proposals in which the reward was a guaranteed business loan (from a bank that had previously turned her down!).

On a snowy March day, her dream came to fruition. The doors opened to 120 children and grew rapidly after that. 10 years later, she immigrated to the USA, and after many trials and tribulations, started British Swim School. The company has grown rapidly, following the launch of their first franchise in 2011. They now have over 100 franchised swim schools, giving more than 14,000 lessons per week across twenty U.S. States, Canada and Turkey.”

Here are the most important lessons I’ve learned from my experiences:

“1. The number one lesson for me is that you should never think you know everything! Most of us who open businesses are very experienced in our field initially. The biggest mistake that I thankfully did not make, is knowing how much I did not know. Keeping that thirst for knowledge alive is a must!

2. As a woman in business since the 1980s I have always had to fight, somewhat. Many women in business feel, understandably, the need to compete with the men and rise to their level. I learnt that “fighting” need not be done the same way as a man does. I have always tried to retain my femininity and “fight” in my own way. It seems to have stood me in good stead.

3. I learned to follow my gut when making decisions. First feelings are almost always the right ones. They may need honing, but they are usually the best.”


Linda Yates, founder and CEO at Mach49

Who She Is and How She Has Overcome Limitations:

“Linda Yates is a seasoned CEO widely recognized for compelling global strategy and building intrepreneurial capacity in large organizations that create valuable new lines of businesses, solving critical customer problems.

Known for inspiring experienced executives to reimagine their organizations for the future, Linda is a well-known advisor to many of the G1000’s C-suites.

A native of the Silicon Valley, with an extensive network, she has served as a bridge between the Silicon Valley and the Global 1000 her entire career.

She launched Mach49 in May of 2014, as the first Silicon Valley incubator/accelerator focused exclusively on helping G1000 companies create, build and launch a pipeline of new ventures generated from within their organizations.

Linda spent a decade as a member of the Board of Directors Sybase Inc. (now SAP) and has been a board member and advisor to many private companies and entrepreneurs.

Before launching Mach49 Linda was CEO of Strategos — a leading international strategy consulting firm she co-founded with business guru Gary Hamel, helping G1000 clients innovate in fundamentally new ways by “Bringing the Silicon Valley Inside.”

Prior to Strategos, she spent six years with the Mac Group/ Gemini where she was Head of the San Francisco office, co-head of the High Tech practice on the West Coast and, later, Europe (based in Amsterdam). She spent two years at Smith Barney in corporate finance and M&A and has extensive global experience having lived/worked in / traveled to over 60 countries.

Linda is a Henry Crown Fellow with the Aspen Institute. She is an environmental and 21st century education activist and co-founded Creekside Learning Lab as a demo site for best practices in 21st century learning.

She holds a BA in Foreign Affairs from the University of Virginia and a MA in International Relations and Comparative Politics from Stanford University.

She lives in Silicon Valley with her husband Paul Holland, General Partner of Foundation Capital and their three daughters. Together Linda and Paul built Tah.Mah.Lah, widely regarded as the greenest house in America.”

Here are the most important lessons I’ve learned from my experiences:

“1. Work From the Future Backwards.

• Don’t wait to see trends develop and then follow them; anticipate the next big changes in the business environment and position your company to take advantage of them. Challenge your team to create what’s next, don’t merely iterate on what’s now.

• You must stay current on the art of the possible (trends/technology). Understand emerging trends and new technology regardless of industry, opportunities are found in the white space.

• Learn by doing, not analyzing, embrace failure and apply the learning to future ventures.

• Surveys are statistically significant but strategically irrelevant, to invent the future you need to understand customer pain, to understand customer pain you must talk to customers yourselves — even as the founder or CEO. Otherwise, you are just outsourcing your empathy and visceral understanding of your customer to someone else who is just going to repackage it and sell it to your competitors.

2. Be Bold; Be Direct; Tell the Truth.

• Don’t be afraid to ask for the big order, if you can’t convince your customers to make a big commitment to you, you can’t help them grow exponentially and dramatically increase shareholder value.

• Don’t be a kiss ass, hold up the mirror and tell the truth to your customers (one of the CEOs of a large Global 1000 company told me, “Linda, you are the only one who tells me the truth anymore”).

• Make your board do real work, like interview customers and make strategic introductions from their network.

• Focus on real execution, rather than window dressing, check-the-box exercises, or “kumbaya” interventions. Teach and empower your teams to create, build and launch new, disruptive businesses outside the orthodoxies, antibodies and inertia of the “”Mothership.”” Need help with this? Find a partner that can lead internal entrepreneurs in the right direction with actionable tools, methods and infrastructure.

• Your goal is to mitigate the greatest risk on the least amount of capital. Run real experiments with real metrics that provide the objective truth that you and your new product/venture teams commit to live, or die by. Learning to kill projects is an important life and leadership skill!

3. Work Your Competitors into the Ground.

• Move fast, urgency and action win.

• Build teams where everyone has a superpower that every other team member recognizes and respects. Teams where everyone knows each person’s respective role and gifts are hyper functional, with the sum truly greater than its parts. They can move faster than competitors and take action because they trust each other’s decisions.

• Lead from the front. One of the reasons my teams will outwork competitors and respect each other is that they know that *I* will outwork my competitors and that I trust their superpowers.

• Pass your superpowers to your customers — genuinely care about building their capability to solve customer pain and leave their competitors way behind.


Chris Johnson, founder, Studio88 and Design Tec

Who She Is and How She Has Overcome Limitations:

Chris Johnson is an interior designer and owner of Design Tec, an award-winning interior design firm based in Newport Beach, Calif. With 40 years’ experience in the industry, she in now embarking on a new business plan. Studio88 is her newest project; a co-working space she designed and made specifically for interior designers — and the first of its kind on the West Coast. Johnson has worked with top tier architects and developers in California and throughout the United States in the residential, hospitality and retail interior sectors. Realizing the need for a beautiful, functional space with a multitude of resources for independent interior designers across industry sectors, who may not have the assets to set up in their own dedicated office space, or who need a temporary space, Johnson founded Studio88 as an innovative co-working space. Opening an interior design studio can be an expensive endeavor, so she wanted to break down that barrier, offering members and tenants a myriad of unique opportunities to help support their business, including discounted vendor relationships, open space environments, private offices, design tables, extensive reference libraries, business class copiers, warehouse facilities, and onsite staff to help create and connect with others for the chance to visualize out-of-the-box ideas and bring them to fruition. From the small team looking for a private office, to those who enjoy an open co-working space, Studio88 — with 24/7 access — creates an environment that caters to every designer’s needs. Short-term leases are also available when space is needed for just a day or the week to meet with clients, or to utilize the resource library and vendor discounts.

Here are the most important lessons I’ve learned from my experiences:

“1) Never give up. Throughout my career I have experienced successes and failures, but these lessons have built character. Along the way I have learned to always keep the vision of the final product alive and do whatever it takes to get the job done.

2) Be open to change. Change is inevitable, especially in the interior design business. Knowing how to react and deal with the change has gotten me far in my career. No project I’ve worked on has gone completely according to plan, so accepting change is a great way to approach a new design. My greatest asset is to be a solution driven thinker.

3) Trust your survival instincts. I started as a self-employed artist when I was sixteen years old. Selling artwork on the streets was a great character builder. Solely one that has given me the strength to build inner fortitude.


Janelle Benjamin, Co-Founder & COO, SuperData Research

Who She Is and How She Has Overcome Limitations:

“Janelle Benjamin is the co-founder and current Chief Operations Officer at SuperData Research, the gold standard for the most accurate and up-to-date industry research across gaming, esports, mobile, virtual reality and augmented reality. At SuperData, Janelle oversees business operations, including finance and hiring. She also drives corporate strategy forward, ensuring the company efficiently offers the highest-quality data and insights to customers and consumers.

An experienced trend researcher across a variety of consumer industries, Janelle has over a decade of analytical and methodological expertise, backed by her degree in statistics and financial mathematics from NYU’s Stern School of Business. Before founding SuperData she had a number of startups as a serial entrepreneur, she also built financial models for investment banks and worked as an analyst for Buzzmetrics, a social media monitoring research firm, until its acquisition by Nielsen Online in 2007.

As a black woman running a digital gaming research company, Janelle has broken limits by taking on a leadership role in a traditionally male-dominated industry. In just under seven years, she’s taken the reins and made SuperData profitable as the leading game data analytics company. SuperData itself has also broken limits, as its the only research company to provide insight into the current generation of interactive entertainment using transaction and immersive technology data.

With her entrepreneurial spirit and determination to never take “no” for an answer, Janelle is a dynamic leader in the games and data research industries.” “

Janelle’s career as an entrepreneur has seen failure, growth and success. Here’s her top three lessons she’s learned over time.

Here are the most important lessons I’ve learned from my experiences:

1. Mind the money. My first startup attempt ran out of money. Thanks to that experience, I now constantly watch the money dial and every metric related to it; how much revenue we are generating, who/where are we generating revenue from, how long did it take from first contact to close, what’s the margin on each product, and on and on, watching revenue is the key to running a successful business. The ultimate result of all our decisions, from employee retention efforts to product development, is our revenue. Our revenue numbers tell me everything I need to know.

2. It’s my fault. The second lesson is to forget the clients, the market, even competitors: we own our own failures. The root of our failures is always caused by something going wrong internally. To learn from our failures we need to examine them, so now at SuperData we have post mortems for every sales process and deliverable. We’re constantly thinking about how we can improve our efficiency, customer experience and product. But it’s important to balance this with the understanding that mistakes are how we learn and if you’re working with humans, mistakes are inevitable.

3. Girls can be ambitious too. I’m a woman and a mom and extremely ambitious. They can and do coexist. My son describes it best, “”My mommy builds big things and creates jobs.”

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