America at work
8 Women-Owned Businesses and the Entrepreneurs Behind them
Free Enterprise Staff | March 7, 2016

One of Barbara Lynch’s first forays into the world of fine dining came as a teenager on a dinner cruise, where she cooked lobster and expensive cuts of beef for more than 150 people each night.

Prior to that high-pressure job, Lynch hadn’t accrued that much experience in the kitchen, or any, for that matter. In fact, the closest she had come to preparing meals outside of her home had been at Boston’s St. Botolph Club, where she worked not as a cook but as a server, alongside her mother—a fact she hid from her first employer, according to The New York Times.

Lynch, who never attended culinary school, learned a lot while hustling in the cramped kitchen aboard a ship that made the same journey each night through the waters just off the coast of Martha’s Vineyard. She took those skills with her as she moved into prominent dining establishments in her native Boston, including stints at a number of celebrity chef Todd English’s eateries.

Ultimately, Lynch went out on her own and, she told Inc. Magazine, raised $2 million so she could open the first of what would become a string of restaurants that would eventually make up Barbara Lynch Gruppo, the company she started that bears her name, employs more than 250 people, and pulls in more than $20 million in revenue each year, according to the Times. The success of her various food outposts earned her the 2014 James Beard Award for outstanding restaurateur—the food world’s equivalent to the Academy Awards.

That someone like Lynch, who grew up on welfare in South Boston during the 1970s, was able to rise up the ranks in what was—and, in many ways, still is—a male-dominated industry, is a testament to her entrepreneurial drive. Yet Lynch isn’t the only woman to have conquered her respective professional field. Over the past few decades, many women have made astounding strides in the business world, as more females have risen to the highest rungs of the corporate ladder.

Similarly, more and more women have chosen to start their own companies. According to the National Women’s Business Council, the number of women-owned businesses increased more than 26 percent between 2007 and 2012, with 9.8 million such companies currently operating. Since we can’t spotlight all of them, we’ve identified eight companies founded by women that are leading this ongoing revolution. Though they might come from different walks of life and have opposing corporate philosophies, each of these women embodies the entrepreneurial drive that has made U.S. businesses the envy of the world.

1. Barbara Lynch Gruppo: Ask anyone who lives in Boston and he or she will rave about chef Barbara Lynch’s namesake company, which operates some of the city’s most prestigious—and profitable—restaurants and bars. Since opening her first eatery in 1998, the steakhouse No. 9 Park, Lynch has continued to draw crowds and critical acclaim, both in Beantown and beyond.

2. LearnVest: LearnVest, which offers financial planning and budgeting guidance, was founded in 2009 by Alexa von Tobel. The certified financial planner (C.F.A.) has guided the company to success over the past five years, as she has raised more than $70 million in financing and spearheaded initiatives that have led to explosive growth in its customer base.

3. Rent The Runway: Co-founders Jennifer Hyman and Jennifer Fleiss dreamt up the concept behind Rent The Runway while they were classmates at Harvard Business School. On a trip home to New York City, Hyman was inspired by her sister’s frustration at not being able to afford a designer dress for an upcoming wedding. Rent The Runway was born of that need, as the company allows its more than 3.5 million members to rent dresses for a much smaller fee than they would normally cost at retail.

4. Eventbrite: Eventbrite is an online ticketing service that lets organizers plan, set up, and market various events. Co-founded by Julia Hartz, the company also lets users buy and sell tickets on the platform, which has both processed billions of dollars worth of ticket sales and expanded into more than 175 countries. Hartz, who serves as the company’s president, has played an instrumental role in Eventbrite’s success, as she oversees its growth and in-house strategies.

5. Marvell Technology Group: Marvell Technology Group is a worldwide semiconductor powerhouse co-founded by Wili Dai. As Marvell’s current president, Dai oversees a global workforce of more than 7,000 employees and has spearheaded the company’s push into developing markets such as China. She’s also among a group of prominent female executives urging young women to pursue careers in the fields of science, technology, engineering, and math (S.T.E.M.).

6. Epic Systems: One of the fastest-growing healthcare companies in the U.S., Epic Systems was founded by Judith Faulkner. Faulkner is the definition of a self-made entrepreneur, having started Epic without financial assistance and grown it over the course of the past few decades largely on the strength of her own work ethic and expertise. Epic is now one of the most widely used providers of electronic medical records systems in the U.S., and Faulkner is one of its richest businesspeople: This year, Forbes estimated her net worth at $3 billion.

7. Artsicle: Artsicle is leading a charge that aims to democratize the notoriously inaccessible art world by allowing its users to rent works of art and, in the process, better understand their own taste preferences and sensibilities. Co-founder Alexi Tryon came up with the idea for the company after her own experience hunting for an emerging artist’s works left her feeling less than enthusiastic about the art world’s gatekeepers.

8. HARPO Productions: No list of women-owned companies would be complete without mentioning Oprah, a television and media magnate who’s been a transformative fixture in popular culture for the better part of the past three decades. From presiding over her incredibly successful eponymous television show, to launching her own channel, Oprah is a business power player who occupies a unique place in the zeitgeist thanks to her genre-bending career.

To hear how the business community is applying a gender lens to local and global development work, please visit the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation’s 2016 International Women’s Day Forum.