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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.