Note: This article is part of a series. Check out the full series: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6, Part 7, Part 8, Part 9, Part 10, Part 11, Part 12, Part 13.

Launching a new business is not easy, never mind bringing to market an entirely new product or service.

In this series of articles, we gathered 100+ successful female entrepreneurs to share their stories and tips on building a business from scratch.

Vanessa Dew

Co-founder and CSO - Health-Ade

Vanessa Dew

Q: What inspired you to found Health-Ade and what were the main challenges you faced?

What inspired me to start our business were two things 1) wanting to leave my mark on the world and not simply be a cog in the wheel of a Fortune 500 company and 2) feeling empowered in the creation and building of something and knowing that I made a difference.  With Health-Ade, we faced numerous challenges in the beginning like cash flow and way higher demand than we had inventory to name a few but we were always able to pivot and ultimately work out the right solution and path for our business.

Q: Did you start the venture alone?

I started Health-Ade with my best friends, Daina and Justin Trout.  Health-Ade was born out of our entrepreneur club where we got together to talk about different business ideas and the dream of one day becoming our own boss.  All three of us have always had the itch to start our own business and we knew we were better together, as a founding team.  Many entrepreneurs go it alone, but the bond, trust, and resiliency we showed for each other and for the company really could move mountains and we knew we were onto something as a trifecta.

Q: What's your business model, and how have you grown your revenue?

We are in the business of making feel-good bubbly beverages! We started our journey by brewing the best tasting and highest quality kombucha on the market and selling that to distributors who put us on the shelves of stores like Whole Foods, Target, Albertson’s, and Costco.  Our business is more than just manufacturing a beverage though--we are a very employee-centric company and our culture proves to be a competitive advantage over other CPG brands.  I’m certain that our growth has not only come through strong partnerships to gain wholesale distribution, but our team has set the bar really high and allowed Health-Ade to scale exponentially.  I am proud to say Health-Ade is sold in over 35,000 stores, all channels of trade, and 200+ employees strong.

Ekiuwa Asemota

President and founder of Your Queens, Inc.

Ekiuwa Asemota

Q: What inspired you to found Your Queens, Inc. and what were the main challenges you faced?

I was inspired by the constant cycle of injustice, racism, depression, doubt, and fear that is very clear worldwide. I wanted to create a company that provides positivity through self- esteem workshops and performances. The main challenges that I face as a small business is competing with the negativity promoted all over social media and television.

Q: Did you start the venture alone?

No, I created Your Queens, Inc. with my family and dear friends.

Q: What's your business model, and how have you grown your revenue?

Our business model is to provide Performances and workshops through storytelling, song, and dance.

We have grown our revenue by providing our entertainment services and inspirational products, like dolls, shirts, and sweaters.

Crystal R. Icenhour, PhD

Co- Founder & CEO - Aperiomics

Crystal R. Icenhour, PhD

Q: What inspired you to co-found Aperiomics and what were the main challenges you faced?

Raised in rural West Texas, many of the closest women in my life frequently failed to receive sufficient medical care. My grandmother suffered from chronic pain that doctors regularly dismissed or overlooked – a situation that is far too common for women. This is why I remain steadfast in my commitment to improve the way diseases are identified and diagnosed. Our goal is not only to raise the standard of care for women, but also to ensure all patients experiencing chronic pain are heard, diagnosed properly, and able to start on the road to recovery.

The challenge with birthing any cutting-edge technology or novel concept is educating your audience and clinical validation. Science is historically rejected for no other reason than it is either untested, too radical or threatens the current way of doing things. Validating your process, verifying results and delivering those in an acceptable manner is first and foremost. After which, you face the challenge of educating the medical community, patient population and insurance establishment, which is a formidable task but necessary to become the standard of care.   

Q: Did you start the venture alone?

Not exactly. A group of researchers from George Washington University and Boston University founded the company. Having previously ran and sold a biotech startup, I was chosen to lead Aperiomics as the Founding Chief Executive Officer in 2014. Since then, Aperiomics has raised over $5M in investments and grants, which allowed us to bring our CLIA certified lab in house, hire strategic leaders and position the company for tremendous growth in 2021.

Q: What's your business model, and how have you grown your revenue?

Americans spend an estimated $200-250 billion per year on medical diagnostic testing alone. Much of that testing uses old technology and guesswork, leading to wasted time, money and untreated chronic infections. Aperiomics can identify any known pathogen with its comprehensive testing. We are the only company identifying every known pathogen with next-generation DNA sequencing – a highly accurate technology capable of analyzing genetic fingerprints and pinpointing bacteria, viruses, fungi and parasites that may be causing infection. 

In turn, our business model has the power to bring personalized medicine to the mainstream, drastically improving the accuracy of infection testing on all fronts. By integrating innovative technology, infectious disease expertise and a passion for helping others, we are improving clinical outcomes for patients. Using Deep Shotgun Metagenomic DNA sequencing, advanced bioinformatics and artificial intelligence, our team is able to test the widest range of clinical sample types (skin, urine, fecal, blood, spinal fluid, environmental samples, etc.) for all known microorganisms, advancing positive clinical outcomes for patients around the world.

Our sample collection kits are sent to physicians who assist patients with collecting and shipping samples to Aperiomics. Once received, Aperiomics’ sequences the DNA from each sample, analyzes the sequence data, and then runs it through a proprietary database of all known pathogens, generating a report that helps clinicians diagnose the patient. Aperiomics has had much success in reaching clinicians and patients looking to pinpoint hard-to-diagnose infection. We also work with some of the nation’s top companies and government entities on critical research advancing medicine.  

Amanda Levinson & Natasha Freidus

Co-Founders - NeedsList

Tash & Amanda

Q: What inspired you to found NeedsList and what were the main challenges you faced?

The story of NeedsList is the story of how two female founders decided one day to boldly disrupt the world of humanitarian aid and disaster relief--sectors that haven't fundamentally changed since the end of World War II. What inspired us to such chutzpah? Fundamentally, it was witnessing first hand the utter brokenness of our current aid systems. When four million Syrian refugees fled their war-torn country to enter Europe in 2016, the humanitarian system collapsed, unable to provide the basic necessities for millions of people on the move. The unprecedented grassroots response of thousands of civilians to help these new arrivals was leading to a new form of humanitarian response, one that was volunteer-powered and rooted in the dignity of people's needs.  Hundreds of grassroots organizations started mobile libraries, clinics and schools. They built and staffed warehouses and "stores" so families could shop for supplies with free cryptocurrency. They co-created community centers with refugees, connected them with jobs, and in general showed the best of what humanity can offer refugees. Tasha, NeedsList's cofounder, was one of these volunteers in France, inspired by the creative humanitarianism taking place around her but frustrated by the lack of tools to help. I've known Tasha for over 15 years, and as a volunteer in Philly seeing people sending over shipping containers to Europe filled with used clothing and food, I knew there had to be a better way to get items to where they were needed.

When we first started NeedsList, it was as a Public Benefit Corporation whose mission was to direct resources towards local refugee aid organizations. As two non-technical cofounders we were quickly humbled. We bootstrapped for over a year, investing our own money and resources (while raising families) into our first MVP. We set up local supply chains with Greek and French businesses so donors could purchase needed items online that would get there quickly while supporting local economies. We traveled multiple times to refugee camps in Greece, onboarding organizations and getting feedback on the software.  We hustled for sponsorships and funding, and ultimately the traction on our MVP got us into our first accelerator, which allowed us to hire more technical talent, and fully build out a working version of our platform.

When Hurricane Harvey hit, followed by Maria, followed by the wildfires in northern California, groups reached out to us asking to use our platform for disaster relief. We were to be able to provide a software that could assist them in communicating their needs with their donors, supporters and communities. And over the past two years, NeedsList has continued to evolve into a software company that envisions bold new solutions to crisis response. Our newest software, RespondLocal, is the world’s first enterprise software that automatically matches needs and resources in real-time. Our commitment is to build solutions that are locally-powered, equity-focused, collaborative, tech-enabled, and grounded in dignity. We have no other options for a world of people increasingly on the move (or quarantined by pandemics).

We know we must demand more from the organizations, governments, and businesses charged with keeping us safe.

Along the way, we've learned some incredibly valuable and humbling lessons. Building a tech startup dedicated to changing an archaic system that's supported by entrenched interests is not easy, to say the least. Our values of innovation and collaboration are not always shared by other players in the space. We were told "no" hundreds of times by investors. We've pitched in dozens of contests and lost more than we can probably count (we've also won a few :) As women we have been belittled, talked over, or ignored. And yet, we've also found tremendous champions within and outside of the disaster relief and aid sectors--people who understand that the status quo simply cannot stand. it's failing too many people, inexcusably. And who share our belief that we are all utterly at stake to one another.

Q: Did you start the venture alone?

Tasha and I started NeedsList together.

Q: What's your business model, and how have you grown your revenue?

Business model: organizations pay a quarterly or annual license for our software.

We've grown our revenue over 60% year over year.

Carla Williams Johnson

Founder - Carli Communications

Carla Williams Johnson


Q: What inspired you to found Carli Communications and what were the main challenges you faced?

Honestly, I was tired of seeing business men and women being ill advised by greedy coaches and consultants looking to make a quick buck. These ‘so called gurus’ would use the client’s lack of knowledge against them to sell them a product or service that made no sense and gave absolutely no returns on investment.  That’s when my business was born.

I feel like a superhero sometimes, to be honest. Like I’m saving the day (and the dollar) of people who are in danger of wasting their money. On the surface, I help clients with promoting their business but what I really do is assist my people with finding the best and quickest ways to truly connect with their ideal clients so that they can serve them and, of course, make some money in the process.

It is amazing the things that I’ve been through to be here today:

I’ve had to use my own courage and resourcefulness to navigate this entrepreneurial journey;
I’ve had to make my mark in an industry that tends to favor the opinions of my male counterparts;
I’ve had to break through barriers of being labeled ‘a little island girl’ from a country that I felt only few know about;
I’ve had to shine through as being honest, reliable and real where there seem to be so many fraudsters whose main goal is to deceive in the name of making a quick buck.

These are the reasons why I created my business and how I continue to thrive.

I take all that I’ve been through and use it to propel me forward.

Q:  Did you start the venture alone?

I actually did, Back in  2016, I was working an 8–4 and was extremely unhappy, physically sick and unappreciated. I was so ill; I was on an entire month’s sick leave. One morning, as I stepped into office, I was summoned by the Human Resources Manager who informed me that my job was now redundant. After sacrificing to stay in a job I hated, here I was being told that I was no longer needed, curiously enough…….I felt like I was finally free and I was extremely happy. I felt like it was God saying that this was my time to shine, on my own.

The rest, as they say, is history.

Q: What's your business model, and how have you grown your revenue?  

My goal is to show business owners and entrepreneurs what marketing strategies and tactics are best for their business.

With the global pandemic, businesses need to be even more strategic with limited funds and what I found is that during this time is that we may not be in control of a lot of things but we are in control of our brand's visibility to ensure that our customers see, hear and remember us.

Publicity is the one simple tool that has increased both online engagement and offline sales for myself and for my clients as well. Since we've pivoted to use more of the media in our strategies we've found that it's a great way to stand out from the noise and clutter online and has truly helped us build credibility allowing our customers to trust us more and ultimately invest their time and money in our brand.

Getting featured in traditional media has helped many of my clients increase their online engagement by as much as 80% when the links are shared on their social media pages, while others have experienced an increase in opt-ins and have even gotten requests to be paid to share their knowledge.  Many have noted that the day they're featured they experience a marginal increase in sales of their programs, packages and masterminds.  

Getting featured and interviewed really helped my business stand out while social media became more of a supportive medium where I would drive my newfound audience to find out more about me and what I do.

This strategy has worked tremendously well, as now that businesses are starting to reopen,we are making numerous sales and booking new clients. So far I've made over about $40k in new sales.

Gabriella Wong

Founder - AccesSOS

Gabriella Wong

Q: What inspired you to found AccesSOS and what were the main challenges you faced?

In any emergency, 911 is the go to phone call for all of us, except for people like my parents who aren't able to hear or speak out loud for help. AccesSOS provides a free mobile web app that instantly translates text to a 911 phone call with the relevant information, in real time, at scale, in multiple languages.

When my deaf father had a gallbladder rupture, he wasn't able to call 911 for help and almost died because of this lack of access. The scary thing is, it's almost 20% of Americans who aren't able to rely on help in an emergency. These are 65 million of our fellow Americans who are locked out of a system most of us take for granted because they live with hearing disabilities (like my parents), or are experiencing domestic violence and can’t safely say their emergency out loud, or can’t comfortably communicate in English. They are just as deserving of emergency help as the rest of us, but are currently at greater risk of unnecessary loss of life because our 911 system overlooks them.

The challenges I faced in trying to solve this inequity was trying to find a solution that would work with the antiquated 911 system. Some municipalities have plenty of money to implement text-to-911, but other communities lack the funds to convert their equipment (70% of 911 call centers do not accept text to 911). I recognized the power of technology to scale and bridge this gap in access. If text to 911 wasn't going to be implemented 100% nationwide until 2030, AccesSOS is trying to make 911’s systemic delays less impactful to real people like my parents by building a fully universal parallel system that hooks into the imperfect lopsided one, so no one would have to wonder whether they have access to help or not.

Q:  Did you start the venture alone?

My belief is that if you want a venture to succeed, you need a community of supporters behind it. I have a great crew of super talented and amazing human beings helping me carry out this mission, and this organization wouldn't exist without them. I encourage anyone starting out to seek diverse perspectives because some of the best ideas for solving this problem came from talking with people that were very different from me.

Q: What's your business model, and how have you grown your revenue?  

We're a tech nonprofit and believe that protecting the lives of our community needs to come before making a profit. Our pilot program is funded through a mixture of corporate sponsorships, grants, and donations. We don't want to be fundraising forever, so once we are deployed nationwide, we will be exploring revenue streams.

Kylie Antolini

Founder - Wildwood Candle Co

Kylie Antolini

Q: What inspired you to found Wildwood Candle Co. and what were the main challenges you faced?

For as long as I can remember, I have been obsessed with candles — the design, function, and scents that other brands would come out with would inspire me to keep purchasing and enjoying all over my home.  Given that this was getting to be quite expensive over time, I decided to finally register for a local candle making class at the end of 2016 to figure out how to make them myself.  I was immediately drawn to the process; the scent formulation, science and art that goes into making a candle spoke to me.  I left the class brainstorming a way to create a very low-key Etsy candle business, but within 3 days, I had a business idea that felt like something even bigger — to create a line of nature-inspired candles that were fueled by my love of trail running in one of my favorite places here in Portland, Oregon—Forest Park. I couldn’t contain my excitement and felt so passionately about this idea.

There are over 75 miles of trail in this beautiful urban park that we are so lucky to have access to, including a 30 mile long trail named Wildwood.  Every quarter mile of Wildwood, a blue diamond is marked on the bark of the tree to indicate “progress” and that you are on the trail.  The diamond shape inspired the design of the labels, and wooden wicks brought a unique nature-inspired element.  Being highly sensitive to fragrance, I have kept the scents as close to nature as possible (think opposite of department store perfume), and they appeal to a wide range of audiences.  I loved the idea of telling a story through scent, inspired by the names of the trails.  

Wanting to create the product completely from scratch myself, I faced challenges braving this new territory I had little to no experience in.  I spent a solid year just creating, refining, experimenting with my brand and product.  Creating my own labels was a big challenge — not being a graphic designer, I hodgepodged my way through Photoshop and spent many months editing and coming up against frustrating hoops to get them formatted properly for print specifications.  Also figuring out how to do taxes (I have the best accountant now!), bookkeeping, shipping, making sure I was selling my product at the “right price”, suddenly answering wholesale inquiries and figuring out how much I could produce within my means… all wonderful challenges!

My day job as a dental hygienist pays that bills but doesn’t fulfill me creatively, and for many years I have had the vague goal of wanting to hybridize my income with something I love doing.  This happened to be it.  Balancing working 3-4 days a week in hygiene with my side-hustle candle business has been so rewarding, but also a juggle and overwhelming at times.  I’m now at a place where I am struggling to figure out how to scale up, hire my first employee, and continue to grow.

Q: Did you start the venture alone?

Completely alone.  I’m a very self-reliant and sufficient person, almost to a fault!  I wanted to start my business as organically as possible—my own saved funds, my own toolbox of skills I’ve accumulated over the years, and give it the best DIY effort as possible.  For many years, I had a baking blog and have experience in photography, managing a website, social media, etc. which was helpful in not needing to outsource.  I also was very lucky to be able to utilize my own basement for production.  Over many months I cleared out space, renovated and created a layout for efficient production and storage. I had many moments of doubt, feeling like I had no idea what I was doing, but I was stubborn enough to persevere and face these learning curves with a positive attitude.

Q: What's your business model, and how have you grown your revenue?

My business model is very hybridized — I touch every single aspect of my business, from hand poured “manufacturing” and labeling the candles myself, distributing, shipping, online retail, growing my foundation locally as strongly as I possibly can.  Word of mouth and building connections over the years have honestly made it relatively easy to get my product into the right hands.  My customers are very loyal and repeatedly come back to purchase more.  Right off the bat, I was able to get into well-established boutique gift stores in Portland where they have sold extremely well.  I have collaborated and created custom candles for local businesses such as Pip’s Original Donuts, Brew Dr. Kombucha, Schoolhouse Electric. The next thing I knew, Whole Foods came knocking on my door at the beginning of 2020.  I believe in the integrity of every element of my product and the story I want to share— the natural ingredients, scent formula, value, donating 5% of profits back to the Forest Park Conservancy— and trust that it has all helped me to continue to grow my business so successfully in just 3 years.

Laila Aitken Ali

Founder - Split.FYI

Q: What inspired you to found Split.FYI and what were the main challenges you faced?

Struck by own 10-year -long experience with divorce, I was exhausted and thrown by the complexities, lack of consolidated information and loneliness that I faced during my divorce process. There was very little, if any place to turn to for truthful or information that was easy to navigate and comprehend. Most of the information on the internet was generated either by legal counsel or government sites and they felt overwhelming and hard to process.

I craved a community that I could turn to or people who could help me get through the pain I was experiencing.

Over time, this first-hand experience led me to create Split.fyi in order to propel more people in my situation forward. I focused my efforts on building a site that could act as a virtual thinking partner to help educate and support others create their own personal roadmap, navigate the tides, and reclaim their confidence and inner balance. Everything my business partner and I have learned through our own personal and professional experience with divorce has been poured into this innovative new platform.

The main challenge we faced and continue to work on is building our community for Split.fyi Starting a virtual community very hard. We have relied on our friends and family to help us spread the word. Anonymity is key to Split.FYI so it is inherently challenging to have to begin with people whom you know intimately. However, we are lucky to have developed many great clients through coaching and are blessed to gain members through their positive word of mouth. There is no greater compliment that one a former client refers you to another!

Q: Did you start the venture alone?

Initially, I worked on Split.fyi on my own. At the same time, I was working on the business model and the brand, I was also taking an accredited course on divorce coaching, where I met my now business partner, Heather Steer. Having Heather on board has strengthened the mission and solidified the vision. Together, we have joined forces with our personal and professional experiences to make Split.fyi a reality.

Q: What's your business model, and how have you grown your revenue?

We are still in development stage and plan on launching our portal December 2020.

Our business model is a subscription model and a marketplace for coaches.

We have a private members Facebook group where we provide support for our members through various modalities (webinars, blogs, Coaching Q&A, virtual meetups, weekly support hours…). We offer a place for them to ask questions, engage in community discussions and learn more about their divorce process. We will migrate all of this to our website later this year.

We have a limited access free membership and will migrate our free members to a monthly subscription model upon launching our site.

Dawn Rowe

Founder - Girl Vow, Inc.

Dawn Rowe

Q: What inspired you to found Girl Vow, Inc., and what were the main challenges you faced?

As a young Black girl, my life was driven by pain that impacted how I viewed my perspectives. My life compass was stuck at the intersection of generational trauma, failure, and poverty. I was challenged by self-harm, the lack of education, and living with a single parent who did not know she was a container for pain. I didn't know how to stop sabotaging the girl I could be consciously or unconsciously. My answer was death until my teacher Ms. Bell changed my outlook on life at the age of 16 after a suicide attempt. The age of 16 was critical. It was the first time I heard that I had a purpose and at the crossroads. When I look at girls' plight at this juncture of my life, I see similar patterns. I hear my story crafted even in how institutions draw on policies that are in direct conflict with what young people need. Girl Vow is my direct response to supporting girls and gender expansive youth the way women have traditionally supported me.

Q: Did you start the venture alone?

I did. I started Girl Vow independently.

Q: What's your business model, and how have you grown your revenue?

Girl Vow is a nonprofit organization that ascertains revenue from grants, donations, and fundraising.

Melissa Kozak, RN, CRNI

CEO - Citus Health

Melissa Kozak

Q: What inspired you to found Citus Health and what were the main challenges you faced?

As a home -based care nurse, I saw first-hand the chaos and frustration among patients, physicians and care team members as we struggled to effectively connect with each other to provide the best possible care for patients receiving care at home. The organizations I worked for all had a core system of record, or "EHR," which housed the patient record, but was really designed to be institutional first, not-patient first. What was missing was a system of outreach that connected multiple stakeholders seamlessly so care could be delivered without all the friction of manual processes.

I knew there had to be a better way. The digital revolution was taking place across the rest of the healthcare spectrum, as more hospitals and physician practices adopted technology that enabled them to automate manual processes, empower patients and care providers with information instantly, and communicate and collaborate more effectively with each other. My aha moment came when I visited a patient of mine who had an infusion pump. He said his pump had been alarming all night, it kept his wife up, and he struggled to get in touch with the on-call staff member for assistance after being placed on hold for hours. He ended up missing his critical dose of medication that night. It was then I knew that a secure communication platform could remove these barriers and enable more efficient communications amongst patients and their care team members.  

Q: Did you start the venture alone?

In 2015, I partnered with Shahid Shah, an internationally recognized and influential healthcare IT leader who is well known as “The Healthcare IT Guy” across the Internet and has successfully launched several technology companies. Shahid shared my passion for improving the lives of patients undergoing treatment and improving the way in which services are delivered to patients in alternate care sites, such as homes, clinics, and skilled nursing facilities. We put our heads together to design and deliver the first iteration of Citus Health ( formerly Call Bell™ ), our patient-empowering, mobile solution that assists patients instantly with frequently asked questions about infusion procedures and provides instant, online access to an expert if additional assistance is needed.

Q: What's your business model, and how have you grown your revenue?

Since launching Citus Health, we found that our solutions are applicable across the home-based care industry and have expanded our footprint to work with some of the nation’s leading specialty pharmacies, home infusion providers, hospice and palliative care providers, home health care agencies and more recently with behavioral health and biotherapies companies. It has been an exciting journey for us as we’ve achieved 100% year over year revenue grow for the last two years, which proves that we’re solving a major problem in the industry with the Citus Health platform.  

Our business model is to work directly with providers as well as partner with healthcare industry leaders to power their patient and caregiver virtual support solutions. Unlike many platforms that charge per user, our fees are based on patient census, which allows for unlimited clinical staff, billing staff, family members, partners and other care team members, so no one is left out of these important communication streams. We know our solution works better when everyone’s connected. 

Our mission is to continue to expand our product offering to help home-based care organizations remove barriers to communication to ensure all forms of collaboration can occur securely and in real-time, making high-quality care more accessible and efficient. I am proud of the Citus Health team and all we are doing to transform the way thousands of patients, family caregivers, physicians, pharmacists, community service providers and care teams engage with each other every day.

Note: This article is part of a series. Check out the full series: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6, Part 7, Part 8, Part 9, Part 10, Part 11, Part 12, Part 13.