Women in their 30s, 40s and 50s are established, experienced breadwinners in the earning prime of their lives. They’re dynamic and impressive — they’re powerful. Could there be a better name than “Power List” for The Story Exchange’s first-ever celebration of outstanding female entrepreneurs ages 35 to 55?
Earlier this year, we issued a call for applications for our Power List, explaining why we chose to highlight this particular age group: to recognize two decades’ worth of women who are often overlooked by the mainstream media, both here in the United States and abroad. After all, business “best of” lists and entrepreneurial round-ups fall into the same pattern: “30 under 30” or “50 over 50.” What about the women in the middle, we wondered?
Over the course of two months, we received nearly 60 remarkable applications from women who stand at the helms of established, profitable, growing businesses. The 10 finalists are a diverse group of women working in a diverse range of fields — engineering, matchmaking, tech, fashion and more — who are unified in their success.
In many cases, their businesses exist — and thrive — in traditionally male-dominated industries. Our Power List includes Sarah Isaacs, CEO of information-security firm Conventus Corp. in Chicago, Ill., which hauls in $5 million in revenue annually, Stacy Francis CEO of wealth-management firm Francis Financial Inc. in New York, N.Y. and fellow finance entrepreneur Bonika Wilson of consultancy Wilson Capital Management Inc. in Charlotte, N.C.
The difficulties women often face in these industries — which range from traditional startup woes to outright sexism — weren’t deterrents. In fact for some, the toughest hurdles were motivators. “I didn’t allow [sexism] to be an excuse,” Elsa Ramo of entertainment law firm Ramo Law PC in Beverly Hills, Calif., told us. “I allowed it to be a challenge.”
There are also female entrepreneurs on our list who are working in spaces more often occupied by women, including Stacy Ratner, whose Chicago-based nonprofit social venture, Open Books Ltd., is solving literacy problems for urban students, and Melissa Austria, founder of men’s fashion retailer Gotstyle in Toronto, which has also broken the $5 million mark.
The women who applied to be on the Power List have several things in common. Almost 70 percent are mothers, compared to 17 percent of applicants for our Young Women to Watch list of entrepreneurs ages 35 and younger. Last year, we wondered, “What happens when these young, ambitious, entrepreneurial women have children?” It seems we now have an answer: They continue to succeed in business.
In terms of the companies themselves, a significant portion of applicants boasted annual revenues in the millions of dollars, and every one of them has created multiple jobs in their respective markets, often for other women. These business owners worked hard to get where they are today — the vast majority of applicants self-funded their businesses at startup, and 55 percent have advanced degrees.
Beyond the numbers, we were struck by how similar their sources of inspiration were. These women noted very similar catalysts for starting their businesses — namely, personal or professional autonomy and a desire to fill a previously unmet need in the marketplace.
Asked how they define success, three of the 10 women on the list independently cited the same quote from famed poet and author Maya Angelou: “Success is liking yourself, liking what you do, and liking how you do it.”
The Power List Mantra: “Success is liking yourself, liking what you do, and liking how you do it.” — Maya Angelou
They also recalled similar challenges while starting and growing their ventures, including financial concerns, brand awareness and achieving a healthy work/life balance. Jennifer Kearney of energy-management advisory Gotham 360 LLC in New York told us that she started her business when her employer denied her request for more flexible hours when she returned from maternity leave (that employer also offered to be her consultancy’s first client).
Effective growth tactics and smart hiring decisions were also common concerns. As Talia Goldstein of matchmaking service Three Day Rule explains it, “Our biggest challenge is rapidly scaling a business that is high-touch, while maintaining quality, which is of utmost importance to us. I spend a lot of time thinking about how to recruit the best talent for our team.”
There are also common issues that women in this age bracket face when trying to establish businesses borne of a nasty mix of sexism and ageism. Yet there are advantages, too. Cynthia Schames of AbbeyPost told Fast Company that “forty-something women have a ton of juggling abilities, and I think that that makes us essentially the best entrepreneurs.” That mentality reflects perhaps our favorite element of our applicant pool, which is the high level of confidence these women express in themselves.
On average, they rated their skills at 92 out of 100, and their abilities at a 91. The confidence level of the group shines through in the bold ambitions like those of Indrani Mukherjee: “We would like to see our company, Bamboooz, as the most successful commercial bamboo products and design company in India.”
For the women who made the Power List, and those who did not, business ownership is about much more than financial success. Take Kryshon Bratton, who heads two construction companies, Bratton Pools and Piper Whitney Construction. Though she plainly appreciates the power and importance of financial independence, the reason she said she deserves to be on the Power List was: “I am living a life as a business owner, wife and mother, and it’s a life better than I ever thought I would have.”
Through their ventures — and for most, their families — they are doing their part to make tomorrow’s world a better, more equal place, and they are doing so with confidence and intelligence.
Congratulations to our top ten — and to all of our applicants — on your many successes!