On International Women’s Day, it’s important to remember how far women — especially women entrepreneurs — have come in the United States. Just 32 years ago, a legislation passed that was called HR 5050: Women’s Business Ownership Act of 1988 (WBOA). This passing of this Act allowed women to take out business loans in their name for the very first time.
How did women entrepreneurs obtain business loans prior to HR 5050? A male relative was required to be the co-signer on their loans. This definition varied a bit, as a “male relative” could be anyone from a husband to a woman’s son.
The passing of HR 5050 did more than give female entrepreneurs the right to take out a business loan on their own. It recognized how women could change the entrepreneurial landscape. This is the first federal legislation that acknowledged the importance of female entrepreneurs in the national economy.
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In the three decades since the passing of HR 5050, female-led businesses (not surprisingly!) continue to experience exponential growth. According to research from Crunchbase, there has been a gradual rise of unicorn companies with at least one female founder passing the $1 billion valuation mark each year since 2005. 2018 marked the creation of the most unicorns yet with 12 global unicorns born with at least one female founder. Less than halfway into 2019, Crunchbase reported 10 more unicorns were created — with female founders, of course.
Which women entrepreneurs are behind some of today’s most noteworthy unicorns? In honor of Women’s History Month, we rounded up female unicorn leaders on their way to becoming household names.
1. Emily Weiss | Glossier
Glossier, as Crunchbase succinctly puts it, is more than female-founded. It’s a female-focused makeup business and a highly social one at that. Weiss utilized social media in order to better understand the types of beauty products consumers needed and preferred when she launched Glossier in 2010.
On March 19, 2019, Glossier reached billion-dollar status. The beauty industry has more than a few rising stars, including cosmetics company Winky Lux and skincare brand Drunk Elephant. Like HR 5050, however, there was also a time not too long ago when this industry was largely dismissed by venture capital firms. (Even crazier to think about when you consider that this is globally a $532 billion industry.) The success of unicorns like Glossier are proving beauty is big business and encouraging more VC firms to fund these breakthrough startups.
2. Jennifer Hyman and Jennifer Fleiss | Rent the Runway
Subscription fashion service Rent the Runway has a few things in common with Glossier. Co-founders Fleiss and Hyman debuted the business in 2009, a year before Glossier’s introduction. Founded by women, Rent the Runway offered consumers the chance to rent designer dresses and accessories for a fraction of their store price. The company also utilized social media and referral programs to encourage more consumers to sign up and subscribe.
In March 2019, Rent the Runway officially became a unicorn with a valuation of $1 billion — just two days after Glossier’s billion-dollar announcement. Don’t you just love it when unicorns come in pairs?
3. Tan Hooi Ling | Grab
Traveling to Southeast Asia? You’ll likely download and swipe on the app Grab for pretty much… everything you need.
Grab provides rideshare services, food deliveries, and cashless payment solutions. Co-founded by Tan Hooi Ling in 2012, Grab quickly hit unicorn status and kept running. As of 2018, the mobile app is valued at $6 billion . While Grab has yet to expand to the United States, it’s important to touch on unicorns throughout the world. The collective impact that they globally possess to disrupt a variety of industries paves the way for even more legislation to be created worldwide that empowers female entrepreneurs.
4. Linda Avey and Anne Wojcicki | 23andMe
If you’ve ever been curious about your genetic background, chances are likely you did a take-home test with 23andMe to discover the answers. Co-founded by Linda Avey and Anne Wojcicki, the biotechnology business hit unicorn status in 2015 after launching in 2007. To be sure, it’s hit a few stumbling blocks recently on the path to growth, but it’s influence has been undeniable.
23andMe wasn’t created without an understanding of the healthcare industry either. Wojcicki has a background as a biotech analyst. Using this technology has empowered more than 10 million consumers to have a better understanding of their genetics and overall health. It’s a big leap forward in healthcare, and an even bigger stride for women who are often underserved, despite the amount of money they spend, in the industry.
5. Melanie Perkins | Canva
Let’s say you co-found a multimedia design and publishing tool that allows users to create cool graphics. This same platform includes high quality stock images, including those with unicorn imagery. Is it possible that one day your business will embrace its own law of attraction and become a unicorn?
This definitely seems to be true of design platform Canva and its CEO and co-founder Melanie Perkins. Canva debuted in 2012 and joined the unicorn club in 2018. The tool has also gone global, available in 190 countries and 100 languages around the world. However, despite its unicorn status Canva remains adamant that this is just the beginning when it comes to making design readily accessible. Canva’s mission remains focused on “empowering everyone to design anything and publish anywhere.”
As we move forward in 2020, it’s important to recognize that the female-led unicorns we see today owe so much of their success to HR 5050. There’s even more where that came from, too. Who knows what types of legislation will pass over the next 32 years to help benefit female business owners!
Deborah Sweeney is the CEO of MyCorporation.com which provides online legal filing services for entrepreneurs and businesses, startup bundles that include corporation and LLC formation, registered agent services, DBAs, and trademark and copyright filing services. You can find MyCorporation on Twitter at @MyCorporation.