40 female founders who crushed it in 2016

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40 female founders who crushed it in 2016

The stats are nowhere near where women need or deserve them to be, but when it comes to female founders receiving venture funding, we’re beginning to see a significant shift — maybe even a kind of tipping point. Not only was it comparatively easy this year to find female founders who continue to run their companies (in the past, many more have assumed other positions within their startups); it was easier than ever to find female founders whose companies have also raised significant amounts of funding, are hitting new milestones, and in many cases, developing very novel technologies.

The following list of women is far from comprehensive; we don’t claim that it is. In fact, we could easily have put together a list of 100 female founders who’ve had a great 2016. We know, however, you have things to do and places to be, especially this time of year.

That said, please feel free to weigh in with other candidates who you’d put on this list — either in the comments section or else via email. Last year, we wound up running one list, then another, all because of your valuable feedback.


Kathryn Minshew and Alex Cavoulacos

Kathryn Minshew and Alex Cavoulacos met while working McKinsey, and the company they subsequently cofounded (with a third cofounder, now back in school), has since become a go-to destination of tons of millennials and a growing percentage of older job seekers. For some context, The Muse now garners more than 50 million visitors per year, many of whom apparently come for the troves of features at the site, from skill-building courses, to actual coaching.

Investors like it, too. The Muse has raised $28.7 million across four rounds, including a $16 million Series B round that closed in June, led by Icon Ventures.


Ida Tin

Three-year-old, Berlin-based Clue is among the fastest-growing period tracking and fertility apps in an increasingly crowded market, thanks to machine learning that becomes more accurate in predicting a user’s menstrual cycle with every piece of input the app receives. In fact, it just raised a $20 million Series B round in late November led by Nokia Growth Partners that puts its total funding at roughly $30 million. Behind it all is cofounder and CEO Ida Tin, who before launching Clue led motorcycle tours around the world — then wrote a book about her travels that became a Danish bestseller. (Did we mention that she also speaks seven languages?)


Katrina Lake

“My new obsession? Stitch Fix.” So said a friend on a recent outing – one whose husband has since begun using Stitch Fix’s more recently launched service for men. The couple is far from alone. Six-year-old Stitch Fix, cofounded by CEO Katrina Lake while at HBS, is evidently clicking with a whole lot of customers, who pay a $20 fee to receive a box of five items chosen expressly for them based on their preferences, then receive them on demand or at regular intervals.

To date, the San Francisco-based company has raised $48 million from investors. More tellingly, it counts respected investors Bill Gurley and Steve Anderson as board directors. It has also reportedly tripled its head count over the past two years and now employs several thousand full and part-time employees.


Ashley Dombkowski

You may not have heard yet of Before Brands, a company aiming to bring new, nutritional products directly to families. But investors know its cofounder and CEO, Ashley Dombkowski, who has 20 years of experience as an operating exec, entrepreneur, and investor under her belt. (Past gigs include as a financier with Bay City Capital and MPM Capital, as well as at 23andMe, where she was chief business officer for a spell.)

Maybe it’s no wonder it just took five months of operations for investors — from Gurnet Point Capital to real estate billionaire John Arrillaga — to provide Before with $13.1 million in Series A funding this October.


Sallie Krawcheck

Sallie Krawcheck isn’t your typical startup founder. She has served as a president at Bank of America. And CFO of Citigroup. And the CEO of Smith Barney and Sanford Bernstein before that. What she learned from that experience? That sexism is real. She also spied a powerful business opportunity in empowering women financially, which is exactly what Ellevest, the digital investment startup she founded in late 2014, says it aims to do.

Krawcheck expounded on the merits of a gender-based approach at our New York Disrupt show earlier this year; she has sold plenty of investors on the idea, too. They’ve now plugged $19 million into the young company, including via a $9 million round that closed in September.


Priscilla Chan

Priscilla Chan might have become publicly known as the better half of Facebook cofounder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg. But Chan — a pediatrician whose own parents fled Vietnam in refugee boats, and who became the first college graduate in her family — has since become better known as a philanthropist.

Indeed, last year, she and Zuckerberg pledged more than $1.6 billion to charities and almost exactly a year ago, they announced they will donate 99 percent of their Facebook shares – worth $45 billion at the time — to the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, a philanthropic and political action company.

More, Chan founded a school this fall that employs an integrated health and education approach and currently works with 50 families from East Palo Alto and Menlo Park’s economically depressed Belle Haven neighborhood.


Cindy Mi

Cindy Mi was reportedly so enamored of the English language, she spent her lunch money on English-language books and magazines to educate herself. Today, Mi fittingly runs VIPKid, a Beijing-based startup that matches Chinese students with mostly North American instructors. Why that’s so brilliant: it puts money in the pockets of underpaid instructors while catering to parents who are willing to spend any sum to ensure their kids get a leg up on the competition.

Investors certainly give VIPKid high marks. So far, firms like Sequoia Capital China and Sinovation Ventures have invested $125 million in the company – most of it via a $100 million Series C round that closed it August.


Kathy-Lee Sepsick

Kathy-Lee Sepsick has been included on 60 patents and patent applications, many of which have been developed at her 12-year-old company Femasys, where she is CEO. The Atlanta, Ga.-based company is currently testing a non-surgical female sterilization device that works by permanently blocking the fallopian tubes with a biomaterial that’s delivered through a catheter. (The aim is to reduce the risks involved in surgical sterilization.)

Femasys also makes diagnostic tools for assessing female infertility and cervical cancer.

Investors support the company’s ambitions; earlier this month, they provided it with $40 million in Series C funding.


Alexandra Friedman and Jordana Kier

Lola was started last year by Alexandra Friedman and Jordana Kier, former Columbia Business School pals who decided to create the kind of product they’d want to use: 100 percent organic cotton tampons that users never need to run to a store to fetch. (The company operates a subscription service.)

Investors seem to agree there’s a big market opportunity. The company closed on $7 million in Series A funding earlier this month — and it has raised $10 million altogether this year. Spark Capital led its newest round, but other backers include “Girls” co-stars Lena Dunham and Allison Williams.


Padmasree Warrior

There’s no getting around it; Padmasree Warrior is a badass. Previously CTO of both Cisco and Motorola, Warrior — who was born and educated in India — is today the CEO of U.S. for NextEV, an up-and-coming electric vehicle car company that she says she was drawn to owing to her concerns about climate change and global pollution, as well as its opportunity to one-up Tesla (though she’ll admit to owning a red Model S).

That NextEV’s electric supercar is gorgeous and, it claims, the world’s fastest electric car, probably makes her feel pretty good about her newest employer, too.


Danielle Weisberg and Carly Zakin

Danielle Weisberg and Carly Zakin, co-CEOs of the popular daily e-newsletter TheSkimm, met while studying in Rome, then wound up working together again at NBC News. As associate producers, they might have worked their way to the top of the media giant. Instead, they wanted to create their own conglomerate, starting with The Skimm, whose aim is to make it easier for millennials to “be smarter.”

Up next, they say, a “multi-platform audience company” that will employ video, as well as print, to share news and product endorsements. Investors seem to think they can pull it off, too. In June, the company raised $8 million in Series B funding led by 21st Century Fox.


Emily Weiss

If you haven’t heard of Glossier, you may just be a dude. The online beauty brand has become a cult favorite thanks to its face masks, dewy skin tints, and eyebrow pomade. Its founder, Emily Weiss, created the company after authoring a popular beauty blog called Into The Gloss while working as a fashion assistant at Vogue; through both experiences, she gathered insights that today fuel Glossier, including the value of releasing limited collections, which is how Glossier roles out its sought-after products.

The strategy is working as well as Glossier’s smoothing face mist. Investors have provided the three-year-old company with $34 million to date — including a recent $24 million Series B round that Glossier will use to expand internationally.


Mathilde Colin

When Mathilde Colin, the CEO and cofounder of Front, told people that she and cofounder Laurent Perrin were starting an app for email, they were repeatedly warned that email won’t be around for long. The pair didn’t believe it, and now Front — whose tools allow teams to assign “team emails” to individuals, track who’s responding, and integrate other software products — has the growing confidence of investors, too.

The company has now raised more than $13 million over several rounds, including a $10 million Series A that closed in May. Its backers include Social Capital and Slack cofounder Stewart Butterfield.


Amy Chang

Amy Chang ran Google Analytics for seven years, and though she loved the job, she also knew when it was time to start her own company. No doubt busy executives will be glad she did. Chang’s company,  Accompany, makes an intelligent, adaptive virtual chief of staff application that might just replace the role of chief of staff role if it can bring enough order to the complicated lives and schedules of its users.

Accompany has already swayed its investors, who provided it with $20 million in Series B funding earlier this month. The round brought the company’s total funding to roughly $40 million.


Laura Behrens Wu

Laura Behrens Wu studied economics at Harvard. Now, the former business analyst is making it easier for developers to integrate domestic and international shipping into their apps and services with Shippo, a shipping service platform that employs a few lines of code to tie merchants and marketplaces to carriers like FedEx and UPS. (Shippo says it can match them more quickly and cheaply, too, than companies going it alone.)

The prominent venture firm Union Square Ventures isn’t a-freight of what Behrens Wu and her cofounder, Simon Kreuz, are selling. It led a $7 million Series A round in the three-year-old company in September.


Denise Thomas

During the go-go ‘90s, an innovative company called OffRoad Capital emerged on the scene, pairing accredited investors with startups seeking funding via its online platform. It imploded when the dot com bubble burst, but in 2013, OffRoad founder Stephen Pelletier and former OffRoad executive VP Denise Thomas rejoined forces to create ApplePie Capital, a San Francisco-based online loan business that’s focused on franchise financing and which Thomas leads as CEO.

Why the franchise industry? Because data suggests it’s a lot less risky than small businesses at large. Investors apparently agree. Earlier this month it raised $16.5 million in Series B funding.


Jean Liu

Jean Liu isn’t a founder. But as the president of Didi Chuxing, China’s largest mobile transportation platform, she is widely credited with playing a vital role in the company’s success — and what a year it has had.

In August, you may recall, fiercely competitive Uber agreed to leave China in exchange for 17.5 percent of Didi. As part of the deal, Didi also invested $1 billion in Uber.

Didi isn’t content to chase Uber out of China alone, however. Just days after the companies’ apparent truce, Didi and Softbank were revealed to be participating in a new round of funding in the Southeast Asian ride-sharing service Grab, suggesting that Didi doesn’t want Uber to grow competitive in other regions, either.


Melonee Wise

If you received your packages in time this holiday season, that might be thanks in part to Fetch Robotics, whose robots follow workers around warehouses as they pluck items from shelves, then take them to packing areas when an order is complete.

The company is led by CEO Melonee Wise, one of the first hires at the robotics research lab Willow Garage. Wise isn’t looking to take on giant distribution centers. Instead, she sees an opportunity to help small and mid-size businesses catch up on the automation front.

Investors see it, too. So far, they’ve provided the company with $23 million across two rounds.


Poppy Gustafsson

As chief executive officer for EMEA of the cyber defense company Darktrace, Poppy Gustafsson oversees operations across the region. It’s a big job, considering how fast the three-year-old, 300-person company is growing.

What its 1,500-plus clients most appreciate about Darktrace is its ability to respond to not only human-written cyberattacks but also machine-learning-based attacks. Investors are excited about its capabilities, too. They’ve provided Darktrace with roughly $104 million to date, including via a $64 million round led by KRR in July.


Stephanie Tilenius

Stephanie Tilenius, a former executive with both Google and eBay, knows a bit about how people transact. She’s using that know-how at Vida Health, a subscription-based app that pairs patients with health “coaches,” from nutritionists to therapists, getting them to transact on behalf of their own wellness.

Customers like Duke University and Stanford think it’s a pretty smart idea, and you can see why. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate that heart disease, stroke, cancer, diabetes and other chronic diseases account for about $2.5 trillion of the $2.9 trillion that Americans spend in annual medical costs.

Investors like Vida Health, too. Earlier this month, the two-year-old company raised $18 million in Series B funding led by Canvas Ventures; to date, it has raised a little more than $28 million.


Orly Shoavi

Not so long ago, Orly Shoavi was scouting for startups, companies, and technologies that would improve the technology of the Intel subsidiary Telmap, which developed internationally used location-based navigational services. Within a year of Intel shutting down that operation, Shoavi — who has two computer science degrees from Technion and an MBA from Tel Aviv University — had cofounded and become CEO of her own company, Herzliya-based SafeDK, a mobile SDK management platform that helps app publishers build better, safer apps.

Investors have given her 2.5-year-old company fresh support, too. The company raised $2.25 million in seed funding six months after it was launched; last month, it raised another $3.5 million in Series A funding.


Shan-Lyn Ma

Shan-Lyn Ma knows a thing or two about marketing, having spent time as a marketing manager at Yahoo before moving on to a GM role at Gilt Groupe, then becoming chief product officer at the jewelry business Chloe + Isabel.

That background appears to be paying off at her 3.5-year-old company, Zola, an online wedding registry startup for millennials that’s on track to ring up $120 million in gross sales over the next year and, according to Recode, has spent just $10 million over three years to get there.

Investors love its fresh approach, too. They just provided the company with $25 million in Series C funding earlier this month.


Shivani Siroya

Five years ago, Shivani Siroya founded Tala, a mobile tech and data science company that provides credit scoring and accounting tools for emerging markets, including Tanzania and Kenya. The idea: to enable the unbanked to easily access micro loans.

Siroya — a former investment banking analyst who went on to spend numerous years as a financial consultant with Health Net, Citigroup, and the United Nations Population Fund — has convinced investors of her vision, too. Last year, the company (formerly known as InVenture) raised $10 million in Series A funding to expand into West Africa, including from Collaborative Fund and GV. Several months ago, it raised another $3 million via a convertible note.


Lorna Borenstein

Lorna Borenstein has taken on numerous roles in her professional career, including as an insurance underwriter and a lawyer and as a VP at both eBay and Yahoo.

But she might be having the most fun with her newest endeavor, four-year-old, Grokker, an online and mobile platform that she founded four years ago and which users now access to watch a wide variety of on-demand instructional videos in yoga, meditation, fitness and cooking.

The company is growing quickly enough that investors just provided it with an undisclosed amount of Series B funding earlier this month. The round brought Grokker’s total funding to $22.5 million.


Lisa Falzone

Revel Systems was founded in 2010 with the goal of changing the point-of-sale market, and many would say its mission was accomplished. Cofounder and CEO Lisa Falzone, along with cofounder and CTO Christopher Ciabarra, developed a sufficiently quick, secure iOS-based system that investors have given the company roughly $130 million in funding over five rounds. More, IBM was said in August to be in early acquisition talks with the company.

Nothing has closed, but no matter, seemingly. Revel shortly afterward announced a huge partnership with Shell, the oil and gas giant, to implement its point-of-sale system across its retail network of gas stations globally.

That’s a big honking deal. Shell Retail operates 43,000 sites in 70 countries, and Revel’s technology will be implemented in select locations across that system.


Jackie Hunter

Three-year-old, London-based BenevolentAI wants to harness the power of AI to process massive amounts of scientific information and provide scientists with the analytics they need to speed up drug discovery.

We like the company’s odds. Under the leadership of CEO Jackie Hunter, BenevolentAI became the first company of its kind in Europe to install a deep-learning supercomputer for use in its algorithm-driven drug discovery programs. And last month, with assistance from Johnson & Johnson Innovation’s Centre in London, BenevolentAI acquired an undisclosed number of clinical stage drug candidates and their related patents. Why that matters: the compounds come with a wealth of clinical and biological data that should provide BenevolentAI with new insights into the biology of diseases as it works to seek out promising drug candidates.

Investors, who provided the company with $100 million in the summer of 2015, might be feeling pretty good about their bet right now, too.


Samantha Payne

Samantha Payne is the co-founder and COO of Open Bionics, a London-based company that recently unveiled the ability to download and 3D print limbs by open sourcing its designs. More, the two-year-old startup is developing bionic hands in the style of superheroes. (Payne demonstrated the technology on stage at our Disrupt conference in London earlier this month and the audience was blown away.)

The company, which has been kept afloat so far through government programs and funding from the Techstars accelerator, is currently raising seed funding. In the meantime, it just partnered with the National Health Service on a feasibility study to determine whether it can provide a multi-grip bionic hand to amputees for significantly less money.

It’s looking promising: Open Bionics says it can produce its robotic hands in a matter of days and for just a few thousand dollars.


Carolyn Yashari Becher, Joanna McFarland, Janelle McGlothlin

Carolyn Yashari Becher, Joanna McFarland, and Janelle McGlothlin are mothers. They’re also founders of HopSkipDrive, a transportation service that parents use to book rides for their kids. Indeed, like a lot of parents who feel pressured by the demands of their kids’ schedules, the threesome created the service to address a need in their own lives.

They have a tough road ahead. They’re going up against Uber, which is used by plenty of parents of teenage children who’ve come to trust the service over the years. They’re also operating in the wake of Shuddle, a similar service that couldn’t make the economics work and shut down in April after failing to raise more funding.

Still, you can’t win if you don’t try, and investors like this team. To date, they’ve provided the L.A.-based startup with more than $14 million in funding, including through a $10.2 million Series A round that closed in January.


Leura Fine

Leura Fine, a professional interior designer who grew frustrated by the “archaic” business model of the interior design world, has managed to help change it over the life of her three-year-old, L.A.-based company, Laurel & Wolf, which matches homeowners with designers who offer recommendations entirely through the service.

The company offers three design packages for which users pay a one-time flat fee that includes the entire design process from start to finish. Laurel & Wolf takes a 20 percent cut of the fee, while the rest goes to the designer. (Its “signature plus” package tops out at $349 per room.)

Investors like the designs Fine has for her industry. Last year, Benchmark led the company’s Series B round and another backer, CRV, suggested in a piece last week that the company is increasingly going mainstream.


Jessica Matthews

At age 19, Jessica Matthews invented an energy generating soccer ball that provides off-grid power for the developing world. She was an undergrad at Harvard at the time, and her inspiration was her aunt’s wedding two years earlier in Nigeria, where the energy predictably failed, and diesel generators were subsequently dragged out. At the time, feeling queasy from the fumes, her cousins tried to reassure Matthews.

Instead, Matthews is hoping to help them and many others by producing clean power through kinetic energy at her company Uncharted Play, which partners with consumer electronics manufacturers and others to put its technology into everyday products. Among them: a jump rope that doubles as a light.

The company appears to be hopping. Matthews says Uncharted Play has been profitable for the last three years, with gross profit margins doubling year over year. And investors just provided it with $7 million in Series A funding in September to grow its reach.


Julie Wainwright

The RealReal is an online marketplace that’s been taking business from both eBay and Sotheby’s for nearly six years by making it simple for well-heeled consumers to sell their lightly used designer goods. The company processes enough pieces of clothing, shoes, handbags, fine jewelry and fine art each month that this year, it projects that it will do more than $400 million in revenue.

The business is growing so quickly, in fact, that the biggest challenge for Julie Wainwright, RealReal’s founder and CEO, may be managing all the moving parts of her business. The support of investors helps. In April, The RealReal raised $40 million in a Series E round that brings its total outside funding to $123 million.

It also helps that Wainwright has navigated tough waters before. Back in 2000, she was brought in to manage Pets.com, a fast-growing pet supply startup that became a poster child for dot com failures when the market went south. Though dealt a difficult hand, she still managed to return investors’ capital.


Rana El Kaliouby

Affectiva — a startup developing “emotion recognition technology” that can read people’s moods from their facial expressions captured in digital videos — wants its technology to become the de facto way to add emotional intelligence  to any interactive product.

Investors seem to think the company has a shot. In May, they provided the company with $14 million in a Series D funding, a round that brought the seven-year-old company’s total funding to roughly $33 million.

As part of that same financing, co-founder Rana el Kaliouby  a former MIT research scientist with a PhD from Cambridge —  was promoted from her longtime role as chief strategy and science officer to CEO.


Tyler Haney

Tyler Haney launched the sportswear company Outdoor Voices in early 2014 while still a 23-year-old business student at Parsons School of Design. The Colorado native, who ran track and played basketball, has  noted that in her hometown of Boulder, “casual activity is integrated into everything you do.” That lifestyle inspired her to create a new brand for doing things daily — from dog walks to runs to yoga.

Outdoor Voices is resonating in a big way with millennials — and investors. The company has so far raised $22.5 million from VCs, including a $13 million Series B round that closed in July. (General Catalyst is its largest outside shareholder, but actress Gwyneth Paltrow is also an investor.)

The company, which runs a flagship brick-and-mortar store in Austin, is also now expanding its store locations, including in New York, as well as Texas.


Na'ama Moran

Four-year-old, Sourcery Technologies has raised $5 million in venture funding this fall. What its software does: helps restaurateurs and corporate kitchens order from vendors, keep track of their inventory and costs, and figure out the appropriate prices for different ingredients.

This isn’t the first company for cofounder and CEO Na’ama Moran, who graduated from Cornell with economics and political science degrees and previously cofounded a mobile applications start-up and a services platform for local businesses. Sourcery looks to have the most staying power, however.

There’ve “been a lot of consumer-facing tech development in the food and hospitality space,” as a Sourcery investor told TechCrunch back in September. Meanwhile, there are far fewer people focused on the day-to-day business and financial needs of restaurant owners and operators, which leaves a big opportunity to chase.


Michelle Cordeiro Grant

Lively, a New York-based direct-to-consumer lingerie brand, is starting to take off with consumers, and for good reason. Founder and CEO Michelle Cordeiro Grant previously worked within the online division of Victoria’s Secret and at apparel startups like Jack Threads, where she says she saw too many designs for women — created by men. As she told TechCrunch recently, the “stories told in lingerie were basically about how you as a woman would put this bra on and think about how would the man perceive me in this.”

Lively is instead providing customers with quality materials that look and feel great and are closer in aesthetic to swimwear than to the pin-up looks pushed by traditional brands.

It’s convincing investors of its merits, too. In October, the company raised $4 million in seed funding.