Here Are the Most Successful Female Entrepreneurs in the World
The world of entrepreneurship has long been dominated by men, but in the last few decades, some powerful women have stormed onto the scene to shake things up. Female entrepreneurs with inspiring success stories can now be found in virtually every industry.
It wasn’t easy for these women to break through the stereotypes to turn the business world on its head, which makes their self-made success even more impressive. These successful female entrepreneurs took a few seeds and turned them into massive empires all over the world.
The idea of a boy wizard came to Joanne Kathleen Rowling in 1990. Seven years later, she finally turned the idea into a book. She was fighting poverty and struggling to survive as a single mother, but the publication of Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone helped her achieve instant success and turned her life around.
The book quickly advanced into a full book series and then into a series of films, all of which became international phenomena. Self-made J.K. Rowling serves as a beacon of hope for other struggling women. She started at the bottom and ultimately blew the top off the top. Her current net worth is estimated at around $1.2 billion.
In 2005, Arianna Huffington co-founded The Huffington Post. Over the course of six years, she transformed it from an online news source that was much like a blog to a $30 million business, outpacing many competing companies that seemingly had her beat with more money and more power.
Selling The Huffington Post to AOL in 2011 for $300 million was quite a lucrative move. In a field where experts claimed it was impossible to make money, she personally earned $18 million on that sale. She's still at it with her next endeavor, a wellness company called Thrive Global, which is worth more than $120 million.
Cindy Mi dropped out of high school in China and ultimately became one of the world's leading female entrepreneurs. Her poor experience with education as a youth led her to found VIPKid, an online platform that allows Chinese students to connect with English teachers to complete a rigorous curriculum with digital tutoring.
Mi started VIPKid in 2013 at age 29. She's still the CEO, and the company is valued at more than $3 billion, with upwards of 500,000 students and 60,000 teachers. In China, it's difficult to find quality English teachers, and that is what Mi sought to provide with VIPKid.
Rashmi Sinha was an academic before she became a successful entrepreneur. She earned her Ph.D. in psychology at Brown University and completed postdoctoral research in neuroscience at the University of California. In 2006, she grew tired of it all and decided to leave the academic world and dive into entrepreneurship.
Later that year, Sinha, her husband and her brother launched a startup called SlideShare. San Francisco-based SlideShare is a hosting service for sharing professional presentations, documents and other content. Fortune named Sinha one of the Most Powerful Women Entrepreneurs in 2012, the same year LinkedIn bought SlideShare for $119 million.
Tina Sharkey is the co-founder of the 2017 startup Brandless, an e-commerce company that sells quality home and wellness goods at reasonable prices. Brandless makes quality goods affordable by eliminating the expensive element of branding. This year, Sharkey stepped down as CEO to focus on the mission, culture and community of Brandless, aiming to create a bigger impact.
Before Brandless, Sharkey co-founded a community-focused startup called iVillage, served as chairperson of BabyCenter and oversaw several business branches of AOL. In July, SoftBank invested $240 million in Brandless, putting the company's value at more than $500 million. Sharkey's community-minded expertise should serve the company well as they go up against Amazon in the coming years.
Oprah Winfrey is a self-made billionaire with a net worth that is upwards of $2.7 billion. She had a rough childhood but rose to the top through hard work, first as a radio host and then as a local TV anchor before finally hosting her own show in Chicago called AM Chicago.
The show was renamed The Oprah Winfrey Show in 1985, and Oprah quickly became a national sensation. She went on to co-found the cable station Oxygen, write five books, launch her own magazine and create her own radio channel with SiriusXM. Time and CNN have named Winfrey the world's most powerful woman — for good reason.
Without a closer look, you might see billionaire Gina Rinehart as simply the heiress to a fortune from her father's iron ore mining company. The truth is she turned her late father's floundering estate into Hancock Prospecting, a thriving global business.
Gina Rinehart is now the richest Australian citizen, with an estimated net worth of $14.8 billion. Forbes considers her to be one of the richest women in the world, and it was her business and entrepreneurial sense that led her to such wealth. Although much of her wealth comes from her stake in mining projects, she has diversified and is also Australia's third-largest cattle producer.
Rosalía Mera proved you can go from being a primary-school-dropout-turned-seamstress to becoming the richest woman in Spain. When she passed in 2013, she was worth more than $6 billion due to the value of her shares in Inditex, the textile company she and her former husband co-founded in 1985.
Most people have never heard of Inditex, but they have heard of the company’s flagship brand, Zara, a clothing retailer with shops in 86 countries. Inditex is also behind Bershka and Pull&Bear, similar fast-fashion clothing stores that put out new clothing lines every few weeks. Mera used her wealth for many good causes in her lifetime, including cancer research, renewable energy and fighting government corruption.
Angela Merkel became the first female chancellor of Germany in 2005. She was re-elected in 2009, 2013 and 2018. Germany is now the EU's largest economy, which makes Merkel the leader of the region in many ways. She has topped the Forbes’ list of most powerful women in the world many times during her years as German chancellor.
Merkel's response to the refugee crisis of 2015 was to open Germany's borders. Her response to climate change is pushing for clean energy and emission cuts globally. Her net worth is $11.5 million, and it will be fascinating to see how she uses her wealth for advocacy after this term is over.
Self-made billionaire Sara Blakely is the founder of Spanx, an underwear brand that focuses on shapewear for women. She began developing her idea with the only money she had to her name, $5,000. The business took a while to launch because of continuous rejections from investors, but she believed in her idea, despite all the setbacks.
Now, Spanx is the go-to body sculpting brand in 65 countries, and Blakely is the youngest self-made female billionaire to be included on Forbes' World's Billionaires list. She is the sole owner of Spanx, a company that has upwards of $250 million in revenue per year. Her personal net worth is around $1.1 billion.
Worth more than $800 million, Tory Burch has become one of the most powerful women in the world, according to Forbes. Her rise to fame and riches began when she decided to start her own fashion brand in 2004. She is the Executive Chairman and Chief Creative Officer of Tory Burch LLC.
Burch's growing fame, success and capital led her to become involved in philanthropic endeavors, founding the Breast Cancer Research Foundation and the Tory Burch Foundation Fellow program, where 10 female entrepreneurs a year get the chance to explore their own dreams. Her goal is to help women overcome the stereotype that they don't belong in the business world.
Before she became famous for her role in the TV sitcom Modern Family, Sofia Vergara co-founded Latin World Entertainment Holdings Inc. in 1986 to provide talent management for Latinos in Hollywood. The company is now a multi-billion-dollar business, and Vergara's net worth comes in at about $120 million.
Vergara has been listed on Forbes’ list of most powerful women, and she has been the highest-paid TV actress several times in recent years. She also has other business ventures on the side, the most recent being EBY, an underwear subscription service that donates 10 percent of its net sales to provide loans for female entrepreneurs.
In the 1990s, Beyonce was a singer-songwriter member of Destiny's Child. Now she has become a solo artist who has made it big. Not all pop stars take their wealth and turn it into something else. She has launched fashion labels and cosmetics lines under her own global brand.
Beyonce's personal net worth is $400 million, but she is part of an entrepreneurial power couple as the wife of Jay-Z. Between the two of them, the couple's worth is more than a billion dollars. She has had a $50 million deal with Pepsi since 2014 and is a spokesperson for L'Oreal, on top of many other opportunities that bring her money and fame.
Huda Kattan had a stable job in finance, but she was unhappy and decided to leave that life behind to become a makeup artist and start a beauty blog in 2010. Three years later, she and her sister launched Huda Beauty in response to difficulty finding quality fake eyelashes. Now, Kattan is worth $610 million.
On Huda Beauty's first day, the company sold out of its signature Faux Mink lashes, in part thanks to public support of the product from Kim Kardashian. Huda Beauty is valued at more than a billion dollars. Kattan also launched a brand of fragrances called Kayali in 2018, and another brand of skincare products is expected soon.
Martha Stewart's fame and fortune didn’t come from her younger days of modeling. She turned her entrepreneurial spirit loose on gourmet cooking. Stewart started a catering business in 1973 by placing an ad in a local newspaper, and her life changed dramatically. Within 10 years, her company grew into a million-dollar business.
Stewart is now famous for her cookbooks, lifestyle publications and home decorating advice. She consolidated her various business ventures into her own media company, Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia, in 1997. That's when she expanded to television and radio. Despite facing criminal charges of insider trading in the early 2000s, she has bounced back and is now worth $640 million.
Cher Wang is the co-founder of the mobile technology company HTC, launched in 1997. At one recent point, one in six smartphones sold in the U.S. was an HTC model. It's no wonder the Taiwanese entrepreneur has been featured several times on Forbes' World’s Billionaires list. Her personal net worth comes in at $1.6 billion.
It's not easy for a woman to become a billionaire in the male-dominated tech industry. Wang broke through the stereotypes and is now considered one of the world's most successful women. Aside from being a co-founder of HTC, she serves as the company’s president, CEO and chairperson.
Software engineer Weili Dai co-founded Marvell Technology, a semiconductor company that provides high-performance storage and networking products, with her husband in 1995. She served as the company's president and was a huge driving force in its success until 2016, when she and her husband were investigated for accounting fraud. No fraud was found, and the couple remains on the board of directors.
Dai has since moved to Las Vegas, where she continued expanding her wealth with investments in technology and real estate. Her net worth is currently estimated at $960 million. She remains a tech leader and an inspiration to women globally who are looking to break into the tech industry.
Indra Nooyi has been with PepsiCo since 1994. She became CFO in 2001 and then CEO in 2006. The road to Nooyi's success began in her home country of India when she was a product manager for Johnson & Johnson. Eventually, she moved alone to the U.S. and earned her master's degree from Yale School of Management.
Female CEOs are still not common at large, publicly traded companies like PepsiCo. Before she stepped down in 2016 at age 62 to pursue other goals, Nooyi topped the list of the world's highest-paid female CEOs, making $25.9 million annually.
Diane von Furstenberg
Diane von Furstenberg invented the wrap dress in 1974, a garment that changed women's fashion forever. She was only 27 years old at the time, and her dress design found instant success, landing her a spot on the cover of Newsweek. Unfortunately, dress sales eventually began to decline, and she found herself facing bankruptcy.
In 1997, she relaunched the wrap dress (as well as other designs) and now has more than $500 million in sales each year. Her more recent sustained success was possibly because she learned from her past mistakes. The relaunch focused on sustainability in fashion rather than fashion based on fads.
Into the Gloss was Emily Weiss' 2010 blog, and when she launched it, she had no idea it would turn into such a wildly successful company. She was working as a fashion assistant for Vogue at the time, and the blog focused on the beauty routines of elite women in fashion.
In 2014, her blog led her to launch Glossier, her own makeup and skincare company. She admits that at the time she had no idea what she was doing. Just five years later, the beauty company is valued at $1.2 billion. The marketing strategy Weiss employed to reach such great heights was all about millennial branding — and Instagram.
Meet India's first female entrepreneur, Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw. In 1978, she founded a biopharmaceutical company called Biocon, and the company’s products are now sold in more than 120 countries. Biocon was originally a startup operated out of Mazumdar-Shaw's garage in Bangalore, India, but it eventually turned into a mammoth, internationally competitive company worth $11 billion.
Mazumdar-Shaw is India's wealthiest self-made woman with personal net worth of $2.4 billion. Her company has made big advances in the development of cancer drugs and treatments, and she has used a portion of her massive wealth to support her philanthropic goals. She wants to make cancer care sustainable and affordable through the Mazumdar Shaw Medical Centre.
Susan Wojcicki became Google's 16th employee in 1999, shortly after the company was founded in her garage by Larry Page and Sergey Brin in 1998. She served as the company’s first marketing manager. In 2006, Wojcicki convinced Google to acquire YouTube for $1.65 billion. She has been YouTube's CEO since 2014, growing its worth to $90 billion.
Did her degrees from Harvard University help Wojcicki become one of the most powerful, self-made women in the world? Perhaps, but she attributes more of her success to acting like an owner rather than an employee at Google. Today her net worth sits at $490 million.
In 2019, Sophia Amoruso is worth about $290 million, but this achievement didn’t come without a number of ups and downs. Amoruso founded Nasty Gal, an eBay store that sold vintage clothes, in 2006. By 2012, the business was worth millions and had its own line of clothing.
Amoruso stepped down as CEO of Nasty Gal in 2015 because the company was faltering financially, but she didn't let this failure get her down. Instead, she decided to pursue another business venture, Girlboss, a site that empowers women through beauty, wellness and careers. Girlboss is now wildly successful and worth millions.
The Chief Operating Officer at Facebook is a woman, and her name is Sheryl Sandberg. She has been in that role since 2008 and also serves on the boards of The Walt Disney Company, Women for Women International, V-Day and the Center for Global Development.
Based on that, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that her net worth is $1.7 billion. Sandberg has been named one of the world's most influential people by Time magazine. In 2018, she brought Facebook back from a $56 million loss to $22.1 billion in profits by refocusing the company as a place for small business advertising.
Zume Pizza's co-founder and CEO, Julia Collins, grew the pizza startup into a $2 billion business in just three years. Robots make the pizza for this automated company, and all the ingredients come from local farmers. On top of that, the rapid production allows the company to deliver pizzas much faster.
Before 2018, Zume Pizza was valued at just $170 million. Skyrocketing to a $2.2 billion value so quickly puts its funding at the top of investments in food robotics since 2013. Forbes is calling Collins' company "the Amazon of food," which is no small compliment.
Vera Wang was 40 when she launched her fashion label in 1990 with a wedding dress design. She was working as Ralph Lauren's design director when she finally decided to go solo with her fashion expertise. On top of her enormous talent, Wang used her contacts in fashion to help her jumpstart the company's success.
She is known for her red carpet fashion designs and wedding dress collections, but her luxury brand has also become a fashion and lifestyle empire that includes jewelry, shoes, accessories, housewares and more. Today, this self-made fashion mogul is worth $420 million, and her designs have been worn by the likes of Michelle Obama and Ariana Grande.
Angie Hicks came across a gap in the market when she was trying to connect household services with recommended vendors. As a result, she co-founded Angie's List in 1995. Angie's List had humble beginnings, with Hicks going door-to-door to get people to sign up in its early stages.
In 2018, Angie's List reported more than $700 million in revenue. The company has come a long way since 1995 and so has Hicks. She herself has a net worth of $190 million. Hicks touts her perseverance as the primary source of her success, and now her company is a huge name in the home services industry.
Bare Escentuals was a startup struggling to survive before Leslie Blodgett showed up in 1994. She changed the company's marketing and moved its distribution to the QVC channel, changing the game for this mineral-based cosmetics brand. In 2010, Shiseido acquired Bare Escentuals for $1.8 billion, with the stipulation that Blodgett remain the face of the bareMinerals brand.
Today, the mastermind behind bareMinerals is worth $400 million. She is on the board of directors for Spanx, Stella & Dot, Maternal Health Organization and Every Mother Counts, and she continues to invest in new startups that she deems worthy.
She may not be very well known, but Nigerian Folorunsho Alakija is worth nearly $1 billion, making her one of the richest women in the world and certainly the richest female entrepreneur in Nigeria. Alakija's wealth originally came from her first tailoring company, Supreme Stitches, which she started after studying fashion design in London.
The success of Supreme Stitches led Alakija to other entrepreneurial endeavors, including investments in the oil, fashion, real estate and printing industries. Now, she is the vice-chair of Famfa oil, whose partners include Chevron and Petrobras. The company has a 60% stake in the Agbami oil field, a highly lucrative asset.
Billionaire businesswoman and marketing guru Lynda Resnick is vice-chair and co-owner of The Wonderful Company, a global $4.2 billion enterprise based in Los Angeles. The company sells gourmet almonds, pistachios, citrus fruits, pomegranates, fine wines, bottled waters and even floral arrangements through subsidiary Teleflora.
Resnick and her husband own 135,000 acres of orchards in California, Texas and Mexico, and her net worth is $2.8 billion. She has been ranked by Forbes among the top self-made women in America, and she uses her personal wealth to contribute as a major donor to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, along with supporting many other philanthropic endeavors.