November is National Entrepreneurship Month, which aims to spotlight founders and small business owners and their contributions to innovation and economic impact. According to Fundera there are 12.3 million women-owned businesses in the United States. For many, launching, growing, and scaling is a lonely ride. Jenny Shum, General Manager of Chase Ink says something that can help make the journey less isolating is leaning into a like-minded community for support. “It’s that connection to the community that helps business owners find the resources they need to succeed.”
The Role Being Recognized Can Play
While the importance of being part of a community isn’t new, something that’s talked about less often is the power of winning awards. “Small businesses are at the heart of our communities,” Shum says. “Continued recognition and collaboration with trusted partners and peers can often help a business overcome potential headwinds and flourish.”
That’s why back in 2022, Chase Ink partnered with Entreprenista to launch the Entreprenista 100 Awards. The awards honor and celebrate trailblazing women founders who are changing the world. Jessica Abo sat down with three winners to learn more about their business and how being recognized helped boost their visibility, credibility, and bottom line.
Anouck Gotlib’s Story
After studying fashion design and working at fashion houses like Zac Posen and Natan, Belgian-born Anouck Gotlib went on to become the director of marketing of Belgian Boys, which makes quick breakfasts and cookies in whimsical packaging to bring joyful European treats to families across America. In 2018, she was named CEO.
When the pandemic caused the sudden loss of nearly a third of Belgian Boys’ business from airlines, food service accounts and more, Gotlib not only donated more than 80,000 treats to struggling local communities and frontline workers, but she also grew revenue and doubled the team. She joined The Entreprenista League and says being part of the community gave her the strength she needed to get through that challenging time. “Having a community gives you a sense of belonging. It’s seeing people and being seen. It’s elevating others and being connectors.”
She leveraged her network to secure Belgian Boys’ first outside investment in 2021 from Equilibra, the family office of KIND Snacks founder Daniel Lubetzky and was recognized as an Entreprenista 100 winner. She says winning and award has given her the confidence to reach higher and to raise the bar to drive more impact. Her advice for other women founders is to “surround yourselves with amazing people and to build the strongest team around you. Bring people together that inspire you and together you will build great things.”
Tori Bell’s Story
Tori Bell discovered firsthand the power of community while founding the organization “Black Women at Facebook,” which grew to 3,000 members globally under her leadership. Her passion to create inclusive change within companies, inspired her to take the plunge into entrepreneurship herself and launch Inclusion Unpacked in 2021. Bell says the biggest hurdle was securing funding to start. “Black women on average receive less than 1 percent of available venture dollars,” she says. “I knew the hurdle would be steep.” She managed to raise the capital she needed to create her digital membership community, which provides education, events and a support network for founders and leaders committed to building diverse, equitable and inclusive companies from the ground up.
“After applying for numerous grants and programs, I finally secured one after I received an Entreprenista 100 Award. The grant came at a crucial time for us. Since winning the award, we have secured venture capital investment and experienced a surge in sales from new customers.” With the support of her own trusted community, Bell has racked up several impressive accomplishments and accolades, including admission into several notable incubator programs, as well as being the first black woman to win Columbia Business School’s prestigious startup pitch competition. She says, if you’re starting out, you have to make yourself visible. “Being part of a network is essential. A significant portion of your early success is often a result of others advocating for and supporting you.”
Jill Apgar’s Story
After struggling firsthand to manage her biracial daughter’s curly hair, Jill Apgar was inspired to create a solution for other multicultural families. When she noticed silk pillowcases helped her own hair, a lightbulb went off, and Apgar designed a silk crib sheet prototype. Her daughter Cora’s tangles and dry skin improved almost magically overnight using the buttery-soft Coco Beans sheets. In 2020, after a serendipitous pandemic layoff from her corporate role, she decided to take the plunge and officially launch Coco Beans, a luxury bedding and sleepwear brand specially designed for children with textured hair. She also fearlessly pioneered a new bamboo pajama line amid market uncertainty, further diversifying the brand’s offerings with an eco-friendly fabrication kinder to both skin and the planet.
Apgar says she has had to navigate her own share of challenges, including supply chain issues caused by the global pandemic. “We were able overcome our cash challenges by shifting to an organic marketing strategy leveraging our small but loyal social media following as well as activating the Central Ohio market through a series of local pop up shops,” she says. “My advice is to start fast and small. Rather than waiting for a product or service to be ‘perfect’ and prioritize getting to market and start building a relationship with your customers. The feedback will help you deliver a better product or experience and ultimately you are building trust with customers – a key pillar of long term success.”
Apgar says transitioning from a corporate environment to owning her own business was a lonely road, but being part of women-founder communities like The League has been critical. “These women have been so generous, sharing lessons learned from both wins and failures, lending a compassionate ear during the challenging times, encouraging me to level up and cheering me on each step of the way.” She adds being honored with an Entreprenista 100 Award boosted her brand credibility as well as her reliability as a founder and she encourages more women to put themselves out there.
Coming Full Circle
While these three founders are overcoming obstacles with the help of mentors and peers, they are not only leading fast-growing companies, but also empowering the communities around them. This year, they will be on the selection committee for the Entreprenista 100 Awards. The deadline to apply is November 22, 2024.