13 Entrepreneurial Women and the Women Who Inspire Them [Giveaway]

The number of women-owned businesses in the US jumped an incredible 45% between 2007 and 2016. Why? We’re good at it. 

Lest we generalize too much (heck, I’m often a disgrace to my sisterhood), let me just say that I think entrepreneurship qualities have little, if anything, to do with gender or race, where you were born or where you went to school. There’s a more obvious and documented correlation between business intuition and how you were raised – did your parents teach you resourcefulness and drive? Were they themselves entrepreneurs? Did you watch them hustle in the face of adversity?

But then again, there’s something to be said for science.

A 2015 Centre for Entrepreneurs study of 500 UK executives and entrepreneurs found some surprising results with respect to gender’s impact on success and attitudes around running a business.

The women in the study showed more ambition and were better calculated risk-takers than their male counterparts. Most interestingly, were the findings on over-confidence:

“62% of male entrepreneurs say their businesses are prospering compared to 42% of women, despite the fact that the female-run business in our sample report higher profit before tax.”


Continue reading to the end to hear about our #GIRLBOSS giveaway – you could win 6 months on Shopify plus a prize pack of books and resources to help kickstart your business.


This year, several Canadian women on the 2016 PROFIT W100 List received the honour because of companies they founded on Shopify (seven of them, in fact). Beyond our own borders, there were even more women doing amazing things. Many of them have even built their businesses around supporting and empowering other women.

We reached out to a few of these inspiring entrepreneurs. We asked them about their successes, the books on their shelves, and the women who inspire them. Here are their stories:

Christine & Jenny

Co-Founders, Charley Chau

“We're accidental entrepreneurs,” Christine tells me. Charley Chau was born innocently out of a side-hustle when sisters Christine and Jenny began designing and sewing their Snuggle Bed – now a bestselling product for the company – from the floor of their sitting room. The business grew beyond their expectations. The two eventually made the scary decision to give up job security and dive full-time into Charley Chau. 18-hour days, shaky financial periods, and legal battles all paid off – they are now shipping beautiful pet beds to over 30 countries worldwide.

Tell us about a woman who inspires you.

“Our mother left Hong Kong at the age of 18 to come to England, didn't speak a word of English, had no family or friends in the UK and was about to marry our father, who she had never met in person. Growing up we saw mum work full time with our dad, helping to make their business a success, and at the same time she was a mother to four children, taking care of us and making sure we did our homework and all that parent-y stuff. As our parents' business grew and became more successful our mother could have stopped working to stay at home full time but she didn't – she carried on working, being a true partner to dad in all aspects of their lives while still managing to be a a great mother. Mum set a great example to us at a time that most of our friends' mothers stayed at home. Many of our friends' parents expected their daughters to finish college, meet a nice boy and then settle down and have a family but our mother was different - she brought us up to stand on our two feet and showed us that you could be a woman, run a business successfully and have a family at the same time, and that it was no big deal. Mum did it all and never complained once!”

What should we read next?

Honestly Healthy in a Hurry: The Busy Food-Lover's Cookbook by Natasha Corrett”

Paula Barbosa

Founder, My Sweet Brigadeiro

When Paula moved from Brazil to New York to study fashion, she began making brigadeiros – her grandmother's traditional recipe – to delight her friends. The sweets became such a hit at parties, that people began to request them. And so, a business was born.

"I think that having a sixth sense about something and following it, is part of my story. My business started as a gesture of love for others – I wanted to please my friends through food. I wanted them to have a taste of my country, of my story. It wasn't just a sweet good, it was much more than that. I believe that women tend to have more guts to follow their senses, instead of needing solid confirmations." 

Tell us about a woman who inspires you.

“My Grandma Lucila, who inspired me and is always with me somehow. I'm very proud to be spreading to the world something I learned with her – it's more than just the Brigadeiros, it's everything I've learned with her.”

I believe that women tend to have more guts to follow their senses.

Rachel Mielke

Founder, Hillberg & Berk Accessories (2016 W100)

Rachel founded her jewellery line Hillberg & Berk in 2007, with the clear goal of empowering women through her brand. To date, more than $500K has been donated to organizations that do just that. She has won several honours and awards for her entrepreneurial achievements, and counts Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II and Olympic gold medalist Tessa Virtue among her famous clients. Her advice to other women? Be brave and take risks. “Betting it all in business can seem irresponsible, but without large bets there are no large returns,” she says.

Tell us about a woman who inspires you.

“When I think about women who inspire me, I think of the women working at Hillberg & Berk. It is amazing to work alongside women who not only believe passionately in the mission of our company, but also who live with intense positivity and resilience. We are a diverse group, but we all share a deep desire to make a difference and uplift others.”

We are a diverse group, but we all share a deep desire to make a difference and uplift others.

Jenny Bird

Designer, Founder, Jenny Bird (2016 W100)

Self-taught, Jenny founded her jewellery line as a reaction to the “soulless, short-lived fashion” she was seeing everywhere. She designed each piece as an extension of herself with care to inject meaning and purpose into every piece. Her namesake company was born in 2008, and in 2011, she added her husband as President. The two have grown the company to the mammoth it is today, selling in over 600 retailers worldwide. Along with her 2016 W100 honour, Jenny has been nominated twice for CAFA Canada’s Accessory Designer of the Year, and the brand has recently been featured in Vogue Korea.

Tell us about a woman who inspires you.

“Hedvig Alexander. There’s so much that inspires me about her – first, and foremost, her dedication to effective development work that is built around sustainable solutions vs. handouts. She has the most impressive resume: a former army captain with the International Security Assistance Force, military observer in Georgia, diplomat at the Danish embassy in Moscow, and manager of a large urban regeneration project in Kabul. She now runs Far & Wide Collective – a support system for craftsmen and women in developing countries, who do not have access to the market know-how it takes to grow a successful company. I have just designed a collection for Far & Wide, launching in late September.”

What should we read next?

Notes on a Life by Eleanor Coppola”

Jaswant, Nimi, Roupi, and Simi Kular

Co-Founders, Jaswant’s Kitchen

When Jaswant’s daughters moved away from home, they realized they hadn’t absorbed their mother’s natural gift for cooking authentic Indian cuisine. Thinking there had to be a way to simplify the process for them, she thought. Jaswant looked for products and found that many contained fillers, artificial ingredients, and lots of fat. Jaswant’s Kitchen – a source for spice blends and simplified takes on traditional recipes – had its start at a food show, where positive response urged them to forge ahead. Aside from their Shopify store, they are now represented by 30 local retailers and have plans to expand into other parts of Canada and the US.

“Working together with my daughters as women entrepreneurs gives me a great sense of pride and personal satisfaction,” Jaswant says, “I have always believed it and tried to instil this thought in my children that you can do anything you set your mind to and that nothing is impossible.”

I spoke with her daughter Nimi about her own experience:

“The food industry has been traditionally pretty male dominated. It’s refreshing to see the amount of support and encouragement we get for being a women-led team and also for being a family run business!”

Tell us about a woman who inspires you.

“One woman in particular that I am inspired by is Payal Kadakia who is the CEO and Founder of ClassPass. I love the product and I follow her on social media. She radiates positivity and gets a ton of media. She also happens to have the same ethnic background, which helps me relate to her.”

What should we read next?

#GIRLBOSS by Sophia Amoruso”

It’s refreshing to see the amount of support and encouragement we get for being a women-led team.

Feeling inspired yet? There are a ton of great small business resources to help you get started. From conferences and communities to books and funding, there are plenty that are specifically women-centric too. And don’t forget to enter our giveaway at the end of this post – we want to help one ambitious woman build her own empire!

Megan Reilly Cayten

Co-Founder, Catrinka

Catrinka came to life when Megan was looking to take a break from her international infrastructure development career to focus on her kids. Now planted in Brooklyn, she spent much of her career bouncing around the world, developing an even deeper appreciation for hand-woven textiles – a love that she inherited from her grandmother. She wanted to start a company that honoured this tradition, but also invested in women. Catrinka is an ethical fashion brand, providing fair work for women and donating back to education and mentoring programs for adolescent girls on the margin.

“I spent most of the first 15+ years of my career as the first woman in my role, and often the first on the team. I was the first woman to coxswain a men's first boat on the crew team in college, and I learned there ways to compensate for anatomy I don't have – by building relationships with my rowers, and working harder than anyone else to earn their trust. When I was developing a power project in Honduras, I built a relationship with the President that enabled us to get our permits despite fierce local opposition. I was the first professional woman in my infrastructure fund office to get pregnant, and had to take the lead on negotiating maternity leave and then find places to pump. The IT closet was a favorite. After a career spent almost entirely in the company of men, managing multi-million dollar projects with vast but widespread impacts, I love creating my own opportunities to invest in the individual women artisans and the girls who Catrinka's sales support.”

Tell us about women who inspire you.

“I really honor and respect women war correspondents, like Lynsey Addario and Janine di Giovanni, for risking everything to share the horrors of war with the world, and connecting with women, children and men with such empathy, over and over again. They have made choices in the balancing act of love and children, and passion and drive to have a positive impact in distant corners of the world, that I deeply respect.”

What should we read next?

By Invitation Only, written by two of my closest friends, and business school classmates, Alexis Maybank and Alexandra Wilkis Wilson.”

Heather McDougall

Social Entrepreneur, Yoga Teacher, CEO, Bogobrush

Heather pursued law, working in venture finance and non-profit lobbying before her foray into entrepreneurship. When she and her designer brother put their heads together to create a product that was both beautiful and socially conscious, they looked no further than the family business. Though they didn’t pursue their dentist father’s line of work, they paid homage with Bogobrush, a toothbrush with heart.

“The first source of outside funding we received for Bogobrush was from the Michigan Women's Foundation. With their support, we were able to build our website, go on a national Give Tour, and order our first round of made-in-the-USA product. Aside from money, I have access to events and mentors from their network. It's been great for me to engage with so many women who've paved the way before me in business, and it's a reminder for me to do the same for other gals along the way.”

Tell us about a woman who inspires you.

“I recently discovered Chelsea Handler’s new show on Netflix, and it's my first real exposure to her. I like that she is an empowered woman who is the protagonist in her own life. She finds success in being honest about who she is and the things she cares about. I don't always agree with the things she does, but I respect those differences, and I'm inspired to continue owning my story and my personality.”

What should we read next?

“This year I set out to read and learn about women who've found success in their worlds. I read Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg and loved all the research that sheds light on so many things I've experienced – consciously or not – as a woman in this world.”

It's been great for me to engage with so many women who've paved the way before me in business.

Angie Kim

Founder & Creative Director, AYK

After an eye-opening seven months in India, Angie returned to her hometown of San Francisco, looking for a career change. She was impacted by the country’s makers and craftspeople, and the intimacy of their work. Leaving her decade of work in Industrial design behind her, she enrolled in pattern making and leather tooling classes, while developing her brand’s freshman collection. AYK launched officially in 2014, and has had steady growth since her successful Kickstarter campaign.

“As a designer, I feel grateful to be in a position where I'm able to express my perspective and hopefully add some joy, usefulness, and flow to a woman's life.”

Tell us about a woman who inspires you.

“My mom. She's awesome. And brave. She immigrated to San Francisco with my dad 36 years ago from South Korea with very little money, little knowledge of the English language, but with an impeccable work ethic and a positive attitude. With that, my parents together have gone from one adventure to the next opening up different eateries around town, buying their first home, and being the most supportive mom and dad through every challenge in my life – especially as I've started my own journey as an entrepreneur. I feel lucky to have had them as an example of what being a leader is about.”

What should we read next?

Yes Please by Amy Poehler. It's not a business book, but it's real talk.”

Alyssa Kerbel

Founder, mini mioche (2016 W100)

Alyssa had an early start as an entrepreneur, founding her first business – a wholesale fashion agency – in her 20s. In 2007, after the birth of her daughter, she faced the challenge of finding simple, neutral, high quality basics for infants. It inspired her to start a new business – one that would allow her to be more creative and hands-on. Alyssa used her fashion industry experience to launch mini mioche – an organic, Canadian-made infant wear brand. She recently ranked among PROFIT’s top 100 women in business in 2016.

Tell us about a woman who inspires you.

“It may be cliché but my mom is one of the most inspiring people I know. She has re-invented herself and her career many times over the years because she has many different passions and interests. She went back to school as an adult and got her masters in epidemiology. She does what she wants (even when others thinks she’s nuts). She throws herself wholeheartedly into any project. And she has been extremely supportive to me and my businesses and is also the most amazing grandmother to my two kids.”

What should we read next?

“I recently saw Jessica Herrin, founder and CEO of Stella & Dot, speak at a leadership conference I attended. I immediately purchased her new book Find Your Extraordinary. I enjoyed it so much that I purchased 3 more for a few of my close girlfriends and gave it to them saying that they had to read it and then pass it along to someone else they thought would find value in it.”

It may be cliché but my mom is one of the most inspiring people I know.

I was almost hesitant to write this post. I predicted that I'd be so inspired by this list of amazing women, that my conclusion would be a resignation letter. That’s the peril of working at Shopify.

All day, every day, we tell people: “Anyone can do this! You can do this!” At some point, inevitably, you wonder, “Even me?”

(Yes, you.)


One winner will receive a prize pack to help start the entrepreneurial journey: 6 months on Shopify, #GIRLBOSS by Sophia Amoruso, Year of Yes by Shonda Rhimes, The Productivity Planner, Boss Lady Pencil Set from Harvest Paper Co., and a Hustle Mug from The Shopify Stockroom.

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