Women ARE Running Startups

1/11/13Follow @sramana

There has been tremendous sensationalizing of the women and entrepreneurship issue. Self-proclaimed (male) pundits pontificate on how women entrepreneurs face tremendous obstacles, huge prejudice.

I disagree.

A blog post that I wrote on the subject in October 2010 still garners readership and discussions. Meanwhile, our 1M/1M virtual incubator continues to work with women entrepreneurs actively, and I am happy to report that women ARE starting up companies, and building interesting businesses ranging from healthcare IT to e-commerce, and everything in between.

What’s more gratifying: the trend is alive and well on a global basis.

Here are some women that I would like the readers to meet.

Michaeline Daboul: MMIS

Michaeline Daboul spent nearly 25 years in the pharmaceutical and life sciences industries, working with major names such as GlaxoSmith Kline, Merk, and Roche. The desire to dig deeper into her profession inspired a move to a friend’s medical education and marketing services firm, where she would educate physicians on the use of new drugs and treatments to enhance patient care.

In 1999, this work became her own, and MMIS took shape as a means to educate physicians through the Internet—the first company to provide continuing medical education (CME) online. As business grew and revenue began to flow, Daboul decided the time was right for a shift in focus. MMIS currently takes the form of a technology company, developing and marketing software products for globally accessible, secure collaboration and compliance for healthcare businesses.

The Portsmouth, NH-based company has already released two competitive trademarked central technology platforms. NetworkFortress, a collaboration suite, and MediSpend: a tracking system for aggregate spending used by pharmaceutical and medical device companies launched as a SaaS platform in January 2011. MMIS recently introduced a third platform, low cost and high-feature and capable of being integrated with MediSpend, so disruptive that it now leads in its category.

Since the launch of MediSpend in SaaS form, MMIS has reached customer numbers that close competitors, such as Cegedim and Aggregate Spend 360, required a full five years to accrue. The company has already crossed the $1 million revenue mark and services a full roster of clients. Daboul’s biggest challenge—that of building a channel to scale her business—is also nearing an end as major system integrator partners continue to show interest.

Kimbra Orr: Kimbra Studios

In 1998, when graphic design and marketing maven Kimbra Orr spotted a locket to her taste but wished it would instead allow her to showcase her photos, it occurred to her that there was no reason not to create one of her own. She began to design sterling silver charms, keeping in mind the idea that great memories should be showcased, not tucked away—and Kimbra Studios was born.

Kimbra Studios has since grown into an e-commerce company, headquartered in Littleton, CO, that provides customers with everything from photo necklaces to wine accessories, as Orr expanded upon the general concept of photo gifts and introduced a higher quality standard. Her innovative designs are intended to be treasured, based upon her original premise that the jewelry she created would be passed down for years.

Aided by 25 years’ past experience in graphic design and marketing, as well as additional work in interior design and event management, Kimbra Studios is an entirely bootstrapped business that has continued to grow since its start. An average customer spends between $80-$100 per order, and Kimbra Studios has gathered a base of over 2,000 photography studios with wholesale accounts, spending between $50-75 per order. Additionally collaboration with channel partners such as Kodak Gallery, PhotoBucket, Rite Aid, and Office Depot, among others, provide the company with a steady stream of revenue. And in a potential market of $2.2 billion by 2015, Orr continues to increase market penetration and revenue through her website, custom wholesale, OEM channels and licensing.

Erin Lewis: Fashion Forward Maternity

Though an engineer by profession, Erin Lewis found herself fixating on the difficulties that she and other pregnant women faced trying to look the part of the professional while pregnant. She decided to end the pointless struggles involved in spending a fortune on new clothes—or buying and borrowing those that never fit in the first place—by creating a place where any pregnant woman could find exactly what she needed.

Fashion Forward Maternity is an e-commerce maternity clothing rental company, where women can find suitable clothing for any occasion, wear them for up to a month, and return after using. Based largely upon the success of similar operations like Bag Borrow or Steal, Fashion Forward Maternity supplies designer clothing (partners include Maternal America, Olian, and Paige Denim, to name a few) for just $23.50 per month, shipping included. Returned clothing is cleaned by a third-party cleaner using green techniques, to ensure there are no health risks for pregnant or nursing mothers.

Average customers of the Colorado-based company rent 5-6 pieces per month, but while some have requested as many as 30, it is equally as acceptable to stay with one for a special event. The site also offers referral discounts, meaning some shoppers can walk away with an entire month’s order for free.

Lewis and her two business partners have bootstrapped the entirety of their funding to date. After positive revenue generation for the first month of business, Fashion Forward Maternity has continued to grow its customer base on a steady 15 percent each month.

I continue to be bullish on the women entrepreneur issue, and stand firmly against the thesis that women face prejudice in the startup world. On my blog, I have featured case study after case study of successful women entrepreneurs: Victoria Ransom, Julia Hartz, Therese Tucker, Amy Pressman, Judy Estrin, Sara Sutton Fell, Wendy Tan White, and numerous others. Together, these women have been responsible for hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue.

The issue is not that women face prejudice. The issue is that not enough women become entrepreneurs.

For those who do venture into this turbulent world, the rules of the game are the same as it is with men: Entrepreneurship = Customers + Revenues + Profits.

As long as women entrepreneurs remain focused on those fundamentals, we will continue to move forward as a society.

For those who choose to whine about prejudice and obstacles, you are wasting your time.

Sramana Mitra is the founder of One Million by One Million (1M/1M), a global virtual incubator that aims to help one million entrepreneurs globally to reach $1 million in revenue and beyond. She is a Silicon Valley entrepreneur and strategy consultant, she writes the blog Sramana Mitra On Strategy, and is author of the Entrepreneur Journeys book series and Vision India 2020. From 2008 to 2010, Mitra was a columnist for Forbes. As an entrepreneur CEO, she ran three companies: DAIS, Intarka, and Uuma. Sramana has a master’s degree in electrical engineering and computer science from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Follow @sramana

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