Tech, food, and finance are rarely welcoming, and often hostile, to female founders. But each of the following entrepreneurs–a small subset of Inc.‘s list of 100 women founders building America’s most innovative businesses–is breaking through in a male-dominated profession: overhauling our food systems, programming cutting-edge robots or world-changing apps, and bringing financial services to people who have never had access to them.
Lisa Q. Fetterman | Nomiku Meals
After knockoffs hurt sales of her home sous vide machines, Fetterman began offering frozen meals based on recipes devised by herself and Michelin-starred chefs. RFID readers let the machines recognize each meal and cook it perfectly. The company sells the devices at cost and makes money on its food. And revenue is doubling. –Leigh Buchanan
Lisa Sedlar | Green Zebra Grocery
When living in Boulder, Colorado, Sedlar would see fit cyclists grabbing junky snacks at the minimart. This disconnect inspired her idea for a corner store that sold healthy food. Launched in 2012, Green Zebra–named after an heirloom tomato–has several shops in Portland, Oregon. Sedlar, soon to close a $10 million funding round, is exploring locations in Seattle, L.A., and the Bay Area. –Hannah Wallace
Sevetri Wilson | Resilia
Wilson’s first company, a consulting agency for nonprofits, faced a serious challenge: Plenty of nonprofits needed help, but not many could afford it. Her second company, New Orleans-based Resilia, is an attempt to solve that problem. Its software-management platform aims to make nonprofit consulting faster, cheaper, and more reliable through automation. Resilia began in 2015 with corporate filings for newcomers. Now, the company also helps foundations, cities, and other organizations track budgets, manage grants, and train new hires. A New York City office is coming in October. “We’re still here,” says Wilson, a solo founder operating outside of America’s startup hot spots. “So we must be doing something right.” –Cameron Albert-Deitch
Emily Feistritzer | Teach-Now Graduate School of Education
A 78-year-old former nun, Feistritzer learned a long time ago that she didn’t like traditional teaching methods. So, in 2011, she founded Teach-Now to train and certify teachers online. Now with master’s certifications in high-growth disciplines like early-childhood and special-needs education, Teach-Now has helped 4,000 aspiring teachers in 125 countries. “I owe everything to my mother,” says Feistritzer. “She was a teacher.” –Anna Meyer
Olivia Ramos | Deepblocks
ROSE MARIE CROMWELL
Ramos had master’s degrees in architecture and real estate development, but it wasn’t until she had worked in those industries for a decade that she saw a need for software that could merge demographic, zoning, financial, and market data all in one place. Using her Deepblocks A.I. software, developers and brokers can pull together a feasibility analysis for any parcel of land in 20 minutes instead of the usual two to four weeks. Real estate pros in 1,100 U.S. cities are already using the software. Ideally, the savings will flow through to property renters and buyers. Ramos says: “Perhaps we can lower the cost of living.” –H.W.
Jennifer Fitzgerald | Policygenius
Former McKinsey consultant Fitzgerald spent the financial crisis advising big, flailing insurance companies. So, naturally, she decided to start an insurance company of her own. Policygenius, which Fitzgerald co-founded with McKinsey colleague Francois de Lame, started as an online broker of life insurance, selling old-school policies to phone-call-averse Millennials via quirky subway ads. In January, the New York City startup began offering home and auto insurance, an expansion Fitzgerald calls “an absolute rocket ship.” The growth is a challenge for recruitment. But she is glad, she says, to have “champagne problems.” –Maria Aspan
Ennie Lim | HoneyBee
Lim knows how important, and precarious, one’s credit score can be. After her divorce, the so-called age on her score suddenly sank to zero–and older is generally better. Her only option for a personal loan: payday lenders. “Payday loans take advantage of some of the most vulnerable people in America,” says Lim of the $90 billion industry. In 2018, she launched HoneyBee to make small, low-interest loans to people through their employers. Typical borrowers might make $20 an hour and suddenly need $600 to fix their car, without which they can’t get to work. Loans are due in 90 days, and if an employee leaves, HoneyBee can collect against paid time off. So far, HoneyBee has made $1.8 million in loans, and it plans to be operating in all 50 states by next year. –Kimberly Weisul
Sheena Allen | CapWay
Allen grew up in a one-bank town in rural Mississippi. Now she’s running a fintech company to help some of the 32.6 million underbanked American households enter the financial mainstream. CapWay lets people check account balances, and it is rolling out a debit card. The company has also drawn the attention of retailers and sellers of digital subscriptions. If these businesses want to keep growing, says Allen, “they’re going to need an audience that hasn’t always had access to plastic.” –M.A.
Shivani Siroya | Tala
People in emerging markets often have little access to basic financial services. Just as bad, says Siroya, “as we’ve moved people into the formal economy, we’ve broken things,” like community lending. Siroya was determined to do something about it. Her vision was for an app that could generate a credit score and then offer and administer a loan–all via a smartphone. She taught herself to code, entered dozens of business plan competitions, and won multiple fellowships. By the time she sought funding, in 2013, Siroya had launched her app in Kenya and had 50,000 customers. Now, Tala has more than three million customers and has raised $225 million in equity. –K.W.
Melonee Wise | Fetch Robotics
From manufacturing to delivering a product to a customer’s doorstep, the race for ever more efficiency is fierce. Wise’s autonomous, mobile robots make it easier to find, track, and move items around warehouses and factories. As they haul things, the robots are also gathering useful data about everything around them. “We use that data to tell people about the inside of their facilities,” Wise explains. Understanding where there’s congestion, for instance, is powerful information for a warehouse manager. A mechanical-engineering PhD and founder of a previous robotics startup, Wise has led San Jose, California-based Fetch Robotics since shortly after its founding in 2014. In July, Fetch raised $46 million in venture capital, bringing its total funding to $94 million. This year, it also landed a major new client, Universal Logistics, which uses Fetch-designed robots to move car parts around the Nissan plant in Smyrna, Tennessee, the largest auto factory in North America. Fetch has several hundred robots deployed in 19 countries, and Wise is excited about expanding in Europe. –Brit Morse