As female-led companies continue to sprout up in both the U.S. and globally, efforts are underway to provide education and greater access to resources that can help keep the train of success running.
The U.S. Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs has established the Academy for Women Entrepreneurs (AWE), giving more women the knowledge, networks, and access to launch and scale successful businesses. In addition, the World Bank is stepping up efforts instituting the Female Entrepreneurship Resource Point that increases best practices with tools that assimilate gender into private sector development and entrepreneurship promotion programs globally.
World Bank research shows how women-owned firms in the U.S. are growing at more than twice the rate of all other firms, adding nearly $3 trillion to the economy and creating 23 million jobs. Female entrepreneurship is also increasing in developing countries, with female ownership representing 8-to-10 million small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs).
It appears women are now sweeping away the remnants of the glass ceiling by taking ownership and agency into more and more entrepreneurial efforts. Many women are looking to bring greater female attention to fields such as science and health that males have historically guided. Combining education with a strong passion for affecting change, they are leading efforts to build better solutions for women and all members of society.
This reporter sat down with a former engineer turned business owner, Sheila Adel, a woman blending her knowledge formed in science with a desire to provide remedies for female-oriented health and comfort. Her development of Lady Ease, a line of feminine skincare products, demonstrates a determination to offer real solutions for women while being steadfastly unafraid of the stigma attached to the subject.
Like many entrepreneurs, the impetus to develop a company often starts with a personal connection. In Adel’s case, her post-menopausal state affected her body’s ability to balance hydration. “It propelled me to build my business. But unfortunately, it took many gynecological visits to finally get the answer that it was the reduction of estrogen causing the skin to become thin and dry. There was a lack of education readily available.”
What started as a successful remedy for her ailment soon became a mission to provide other women with the same comfort level. “It gave me purpose knowing that I can fulfill a need and help other women,” she says.
Adel applied her prior experience in engineering, research and executive management to launch a prototype with the help of a team that adopted best practices to produce a naturally pure product free of harmful ingredients. Already involved in a burgeoning home construction business that had turned a $30,000 business loan into $36 million in revenue, she leaned on that knowledge and continued family professional support to get Lady Ease off the ground. “It was an evolutionary process involving persistence, patience, ingenuity, creativity and resiliency,’ says Adel. “I didn’t have all of those traits at once, but they evolved as the focus shifted to getting the brand created for other people.”
Assembling a Team
After reading an article on the power of hiring experts and getting out of the way, a light bulb moment occurred for Adel. “When you start a business, you cannot do everything. It’s knowing your gaps and filling them with other experts,” Adels adds. “You can fall into feeling obligated to do everything. Instead, focus on the strengths of other individuals on your team and bring those positions to life.”
Time is the essential element for anyone getting a startup off the ground and according to Adel, it takes the trust of experts to make the business happen and function in a timely manner. “There is research and development (R&D), testing, design work on bottle types and packaging, and working with suppliers to figure out,” says Adel. “However, having trust in both the familiar and new team members makes it function correctly.”
Satisfaction of Seeing Value
Adel points to a sense of satisfaction when you can finally hold a completed product in your hand. “You’ve created something that didn’t exist before and it feels good to create something that has value in the market,” says Adel.
There is a profound sense of validation from others loving the product and experiencing the benefits and comfort. “It’s a warm and fuzzy feeling and truly the meaning in life,” says Adel. “It can bring me to tears. I know how uncomfortable vaginal dryness can be, and providing others with peace of mind, knowing that there’s nothing harmful in it, is so very rewarding.”
While getting the product off the ground had many challenges, the real challenge for Adel was the conversation surrounding the issue. Getting past the stigma of talking about vaginal health is part of the hurdle.
“I attended a Thanksgiving dinner with women in the kitchen preparing the meal and one person said to me, how’s your business going? Then someone else asked, what kind of business are you in? Oh, it’s feminine skincare, vaginal moisturizers, I said. It went from a chatty room to total silence and people putting their heads down,” shares Adel.
“It kind of hit me hard because it was a group of women together, not one-on-one where you could get close to a person and discuss a confidential subject. After that, things warmed up a little, but I remember the uncomfortable nature of the situation.”
Adel took the experience as a clear takeaway that the challenge of the brand’s tone would be opening up the conversation and making it comfortable for women. “The importance of this product is that it remains respectful, honors women and maintains dignity,” she says. It needs to avoid the joking and propensity for slang associations and concentrate on the real benefits of female health, stresses Adel.
According to a report by McKinsey, women spend more than a third of their lives in peri or post-menopause. In addition, trend-tracking projects that 1.2 billion women will handle the ramifications of this life stage globally by 2030.
With entrepreneurial efforts increasing by women such as Sheila Adel and her menopausal-focused remedies, perhaps it’s time to awaken to the importance of fundamental issues facing women and the solutions that female-owned enterprises are making to effect change.
Is the education sector prepared to support a new generation of entrepreneurs unafraid to tackle previously restrictive topics and sectors? The World Bank and the U.S. Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs illustrate the interest level, from both the private and public sectors, in the acceleration of women’s healthcare as a true frontier of importance, and business.
Can female entrepreneurs now ask bigger questions about healthcare and family structure and can they develop thriving businesses to answer these issues?
Education, writ large, may invoke previous course corrections (teaching girls STEM subjects as an example) to establish a path that proactively paves the way for female students of entrepreneurship to realize their subsequent impact on their gender and business potential.
Interviews have been edited and condensed for clarity.