9 Companies You Didn't Know Were Started By Women

You're not dreaming: women are taking over the business world. Slowly. OK — so maybe we're not "taking over" just yet, but we are certainly present: A Crunchbase study caused a big stir earlier in 2015 by revealing that the number of businesses being kick-started by women in America is climbing. Which is great, if only because we're not exactly starting from a position of strength on this one. The Huffington Post reported that the number of women founders is still only 17.9 percent — but that's up from 9.5 percent in 2009. Progress! And at least part of that will be because there have been some pretty stratospheric lady-led company successes.

It's often not a surprise for people that more stereotypically "feminine" businesses, like those connected with fashion or beauty, have a female founder. The Body Shop's Anita Roddick, Spanx's Sarah Blakely, and Net-a-Porter's Natalie Massenet — all of whom made millions (or billions) off their creations — get the high profiles, the recognizable names, and the "yeah, of course" shrug of recognition. Because why wouldn't a woman want to found a company dealing with women's particular concerns? But the impact of female founders goes much further — even if women who've created less stereotypically "female" businesses don't get as much of a spotlight.

According to, women who take the plunge with a start-up actually rate themselves as three times happier than other women — so if you've been toying with an idea since college, it's probably worth doing your research. You may end up nabbing a cover of Forbes and hosting cocktail parties with Anna Wintour. (I bet she serves killer canapés.)

1. Flickr, Co-founded By Caterina Fake

If you've ever combed Flickr for gorgeous photos, you have Caterina Fake and her other founders to thank. The photograph site, founded in 2004 in Canada, is only part of Fake's contribution to commerce: the Vassar-educated entrepreneur is also an angel investor who's put her faith (and her money) into Etsy, Kickstarter, TypeKit, and other awesome start-ups.

2. HTC, Co-founded By Cher Wang

HTC (High-Tech Computer Corporation) is behind a huge swathe of the world's smartphones, tablets, and other fancy electronic shenanigans — and the Taiwanese company was founded by two people in 1997, one of whom was Cher Wang. The daughter of a plastics entrepreneur, Wang, who was educated in California, made a pretty damn good gamble in founding HTC. She's now the wealthiest person in Taiwan, and is worth approximately $8.8 billion.

3. Cisco, Co-founded By Sandra Lerner

Lerner is often used as a cautionary tale on what happens when you start a business with a romantic partner. The sheer success of Cisco, the networking company she founded in 1987 with husband Leonard Bosack, whom she met at Stanford, meant that their marriage eventually failed — though Lerner herself didn't exactly fall into a hole. Instead, she founded make-up line Urban Decay, also a raging success. She's got a golden touch.

4. Eventbrite, Co-founded By Julia Hartz

Ticketing site Eventbrite is one of those inventions for which music and entertainment lovers thank whatever deity they like. It's also, according to polls, a really good place to work. The idea and corporate culture are both traced back to co-founder Julia Hartz, an ex-MTV exec who founded Eventbrite with two others in 2006. It's since gone on to process a whopping three billion dollars worth of transactions.

5. Build-A-Bear Workshop, Founded By Maxine Clark

OK, so parents (and aunties, and big sisters, and general people who come into contact with small children) may be slightly wearied by the Build-a-Bear cult, but you can't deny that the phenomenon — where children can customize their own teddy by taking an active part in its construction — is an absolute hit. Maxine Clark, who founded the company in 1997, was apparently inspired by a shopping trip for Beanie Babies, and though they've since fallen into pop culture no-man's-land, Build-a-Bear appears to be basically unstoppable, with 425 stores around the world.

6. Polyvore, Co-founded By Jess Lee

Jess Lee's founding story is somewhat unique. She wasn't actually part of the first core team that created Polyvore, the communal fashion site of the pre-Pinterest world; she was an early user who sent in detailed feedback of the site, and her contributions were so valuable that she was invited to be part of the group. Lee was a product manager at Google at the time, and would eventually become Polyvore's CEO and preside over its sale.

7. BET, Co-founded By Sheila Crump Johnson

BET, or Black Entertainment Television, was founded in 1979 by Sheila Johnson and her husband Robert — although they would both later distance themselves from the channel's direction and get divorced. They did, however, sell BET before they split, for a whopping $2.9 billion. She's not resting on her laurels and millions, either. She's become a prominent investor in films created by African-American voices, including Lee Daniels' The Butler, and will probably be a serious force to watch on the film landscape in the next few years. If she puts her money somewhere, we're going to listen.

8. 23andMe, Co-Founded By Anne Wojcicki

You probably know 23andMe even if you don't believe you've heard of it. It's that company that's offering scans of your DNA to identify risks of hereditary disease, your potential ancestry, and other bits of fun with genomes. Wojcicki, one of its co-founders, used to be married to Google co-founder Sergey Brin, but 23andMe may prove to be a far bigger claim to fame. And, unusually, the personal genomics company has another trick up its sleeve: one of its other co-founders is also a woman, biologist Linda Avey.

9. Petplan, Co-Founded By Natasha Ashton

Owners of sickly dogs and cats will be eternally thankful to Natasha Ashton and her husband Chris, who founded the pet insurance company Petplan back in 2003. They came up with the idea after a whopping veterinary bill for their cat crippled their finances, and went on to found their "nose to tail" business to help others in a similar situation. The cat, Bodey, later passed away, but the Ashtons have since earned a swathe of awards, a Forbes profile, and sales of around $53 million a year. Bodey would be proud.

Images: Petplan, 23andMe, Cisco, HTC, Polyvore, BET, Build-A-Bear, Flickr, Eventbrite