5 Successful Women Entrepreneurs Who Give Back
Business success stories are inspiring enough, but when you hear about entrepreneurs who give back out of their profits and wealth, it’s enough to make you want to applaud their generosity and maybe even support them with your own hard-earned dollars.
We’ve rounded up the stories of a few female entrepreneurs who are changing the world, not only with their business savvy, but also with their penchant for doing good and spreading some love. Maybe one day we’ll see your daughter on a similar list.
Spanx: founder and owner, Sara Blakely
In 2012, Sara Blakely became the world’s youngest self-made female billionaire at the time, thanks to her brainchild, Spanx, the body-shaping undergarments that became a game-changer for women everywhere. Like many startups, Spanx began as a solution to an irritating problem.
Blakely wanted to wear a new pair of cream slacks to a party, but she wanted to avoid panty lines, so she cut the feet off a pair of pantyhose and wore them underneath. They kept rolling up her legs all night. But she liked the way they made her look in the pants. She decided she needed an undergarment that didn’t exist.
Keeping her day job in sales, Blakely began developing her idea, despite knowing little about fashion design, retail, or business. She spent two years and $5,000 of her own money patenting the idea, locating a manufacturer, creating a prototype, and successfully selling it to Neiman Marcus. She launched Spanx out of her Atlanta apartment in 2000, and her big break came shortly after when Oprah named it one of her favorite new products.
Today, Blakely is estimated to be worth more than $1.1 billion, is still self-funded, and owns 100% of the business. The company’s inventory has moved beyond hosiery to include bodysuits, leggings, activewear, and now a line for men. Sara created the Sara Blakely Foundation in 2006 to “help women globally and locally through education and entrepreneurship,” and has since given millions to charities around the world. Spanx also has a rotating philanthropy board made up of employees that is allocated a portion of the company’s profits to give away. She also signed joined Bill and Melinda Gates’ and Warren Buffett’s Giving Pledge, promising to donate at least half of her wealth to philanthropy.
S’well: Founder and CEO, Sarah Kauss
It was in 2009 at her at her five-year Harvard Business School reunion when Sarah Kauss first learned about the world’s clean-water crisis. Months later, while hiking with her mother in Arizona, she drank her own water from a cheap, thin metal bottle that had warmed up in the sun. That’s when her entrepreneurial spirit kicked in and she thought, why not create an environmentally (and fashionably) sound bottle that would keep liquids cool?
In 2010, in her New York apartment, Kauss founded S’well, a water bottle company that doubles as a fashion brand. Kauss bootstrapped the company with $30,000 of her own money. Its bottles are not simply functional (double-walled, copper-coated stainless steel bottles that keep beverages hot for 12 hours and cold for 24), but artistic, beautiful, and creative. The average S’well owner purchases more than five of these $25 to $45 bottles, and twice a year, 30 new bottle designs are released, and several are discontinued.
Despite being S’Well’s only employee for the first year and a half, Kauss had no trouble scaling. After early bulk orders from Harvard and Facebook, Oprah (again) featured the bottles in her annual list of favorite products, and soon after, orders came in from Starbucks, Crate & Barrel, and J.Crew. In 2014, S’well hit a huge milestone, selling $10 million worth of bottles. A year later, sales skyrocketed to $50 million. Profits from each bottle sold go to charity partners UNICEF, American Forests, and Drink Up to plant trees and improve access to safe water.
Epic Systems: Founder and CEO Judy Falkner
She may not be a household name like Mark Zuckerberg or Elon Musk, but Judy Faulkner, the founder and CEO of Epic Systems, has earned her place among the who’s who of successful and innovative tech billionaires. In fact, she is America’s wealthiest self-made woman in tech. Why has she remained relatively unknown? Because until recently, she’s rarely granted interviews, preferring instead to focus on growing her business.
Epic is a private healthcare company located in Madison, Wisconsin, that sells medical-records software; Faulkner launched the company in 1979 with about $75,000 in capital.
The company is now in a league of its own, with $2 billion in annual sales. Epic’s databases contain medical information for nearly half of the US with big-time clients that include Kaiser Permanente, CVS Health, and Johns Hopkins. The software allows doctors to pull up a patient’s full medical history on the spot, which helps to streamline the process of switching doctors or visiting specialists.
Faulkner and Epic donate to local schools and health care facilities nationwide. The company gives to a several charities each year, some chosen by employees. In 2015, Faulkner also joined the Giving Pledge, promising to donate at least half of her $2.5 billion fortune to philanthropy.
Figs: Co-founders Trina Spear and Heather Hasson
Trina Spear and Heather Hasson are co-founders of Los Angeles-based FIGS, a company “revolutionizing the antiquated medical apparel industry.” Through its Threads for Threads initiative, for every set of scrubs sold, FIGS gives a set to a healthcare provider in need.
But they started the company as a way to help health care workers here in this country by replacing typically boxy, oversized, scratchy scrubs with high-tech fabrics and trendy silhouettes. Spear first discovered a need in the slightly under-the-radar scrubs market when she worked on a private equity deal for a large U.S. scrubs maker. A mutual friend introduced her to Hasson, a fashion designer who was working on a new type of scrubs. The two women started FIGS, the first e-commerce site to sell scrubs directly to consumers.
They created their own exclusive fabric that is anti-microbiotic, stain repellent, liquid repellent, and odor proof—plus it’s durable. The endurance properties start at the yarn level, so they aren’t added with a sprayed-on additive, which means these key properties won’t get washed out. FIGS calls it technical comfort. They look like something Nike might sell if it decided to create performance wear for the medical industry.
Back to Threads for Threads: For every set of scrubs sold, FIGS donates a pair to a medical professional in a less fortunate country. So far, they’ve made it in to 28 different countries. Clean scrubs reduce hospital infection rates by 66%, so by donating these uniforms, FIGS is helping both health care workers and patients—it’s a win all the way around.
The Next Generation
And speaking of winning, have you met our also inspiring and hard-working contest entrants who are just beginning to take the startup world by storm? Many of them also donate their profits to great causes including childhood diabetes, obesity, and tooth decay as well local animal shelters, children’s hospitals, and many more. Take a quick look at their videos and vote for the one you’d like to see featured in The Startup Squad’s first book.