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Women's History Month: Celebrating Women Entrepreneurs

It's March, meaning spring is in the air, and it's Women's History Month. Dedicating the month to women's history is a great opportunity to raise awareness for women's invaluable contributions to society. For us, it's the perfect time to highlight a couple of inspirational women entrepreneurs: Sarah Breedlove and Evelyn Berezin.

 

We also have a handy article on preparing to exit your business, and our own Natalie Roberts was a guest on The Badass Women in Business Podcast. We'll tell you about both of those, and we have some interesting numbers on the state of women-owned businesses, too.

 

From Poverty to Business Trailblazer: Sarah Breedlove

Sarah Breedlove, better known as Madam C.J. Walker, was an incredibly successful entrepreneur in the early 20th century. She was the daughter of former slaves living as sharecroppers in poverty and orphaned at seven, along with her five siblings. She was married at 14, had a daughter, and unexpectedly became a single mother of a two-year-old when her husband died.

 

Determined to make a better life for herself and her daughter, Breedlove left Louisiana for St. Louis, Missouri, in 1889, where she found inspiration in the educated friends she made at the St. Paul African Methodist Episcopal Church and through the National Association of Colored Women. Those friendships showed her the black community and women didn't have to live as second-class citizens.

 

That inspiration came into play when she was looking for a treatment for her hair loss, leading her to "The Great Wonderful Hair Grower" by Annie Malone — a black woman entrepreneur. Breedlove moved to Denver, Colorado, in 1905, where she worked as a salesperson for Malone's products. While there, she married Charles Joseph Walker, started calling herself Madam C.J. Walker, and became an entrepreneur herself with her "Madam Walker's Wonderful Hair Grower."

 

She proved to be a savvy business leader, and by 1910, she relocated to Indianapolis, Indiana, where she built a factory to manufacture her growing line of cosmetics and beauty products. Along with providing leadership opportunities to women in her business, Breedlove offered training for her sales representatives across the US and launched the National Negro Cosmetics Manufacturers Association. She also used her wealth to support the NAACP and the anti-lynching movement, paid the tuition at Tuskegee Institute for several black students, and may have created the first national businesswomen events in 1917 with her Madam C. J. Walker Hair Culturists Union of America.

 

When she died in 1919, Breedlove was worth $1 million, equivalent to about $25.7 million in 2023. She was a strong business leader who helped open the door for women entrepreneurs throughout the 20th century.

 

Hello, Wordprocessor: Evelyn Berezin

 

Evelyn Berezin is known in technology circles for inventing the word processor, but she was also a successful entrepreneur. She earned a degree in physics in the 1940s but couldn't get a related job, so she went to work for a computer company. She quickly rose through the ranks designing computer systems, which she managed without formal training.

 

In 1962, she designed what was considered one of the largest computer systems ever built to manage the United Airlines' reservation system. Still, she was frustrated by the male-dominated business world preventing her from progressing beyond a certain point. She solved that problem in 1969 by founding her own company, Redactron, to design and sell a computerized word processor to replace typewriters in offices. The Data Secretary went on sale in 1971 and was considered revolutionary.

 

Berezin later sold her company to Burroughs and became a consultant and venture capitalist. She also served on the board of several companies and was added to the Women in Technology Hall of Fame in 2011. Berezin's work in the computer industry and as an entrepreneur laid the groundwork for a technology revolution that led to personal computers, word processors, spreadsheet apps, and data communication technologies we take for granted today.

 

Women Entrepreneurs Today

 

Thanks to pioneers like Sarah Breedlove and Evelyn Berezin, there are 12.3 million women-owned businesses in the US. Women-led private tech companies have a 35% higher ROI compared to their male competitors, and 500,000 jobs were created between 1997 and 2007 by women-owned businesses. The number of women entrepreneurs is on the rise, too, with 114% more compared to 2003. Fundera has even more fascinating statistics about the state of women-owned businesses.

 

There is, however, still room for improvement. The Harvard Business Review says venture capital funding for women-led startups declined from 2.8% in 2019 to 2.3% in 2020. And women make up just 12% of the decision-makers at VC firms. No doubt Sarah Breedlove would have something to say about that if she were alive today.

 

Recent Articles and Appearances

 

Just like Evelyn Berezin, there may come a time when you're ready to exit your business. Our recent blog post, Successful Business Succession Planning for Women Entrepreneurs, looks at what's involved in preparing for a successful transition for both you and your company.

 

iKadre founder Natalie Roberts discussed Mergers and Acquisitions for women-owned businesses on The Badass Women in Business Podcast with Aggie Chydzinski and Cristy O'Connor. They had a great chat about creating a legacy for your business and how to set the stage for a successful transition.

 

It's been a great month, and we're looking forward to discovering what the new season has in store for all of us. Stretching the Spring analogy a little thin, just as plants bud and blossom this time of year, we hope your business continues to find new life, too.

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