It’s no secret that women have long existed in a business ecosystem designed with men in mind. Now, thanks to advances in technology, profound societal and cultural shifts, and the inevitable triumph of pure talent, women are right where they deserve to be: in the corner office.
The Midwest in particular is home to some of the most accomplished and inspiring female entrepreneurs—the region’s low cost of doing business, uncapped access to talent, and generally large market makes it a breeding ground for startups and founders.
To bring these talented folks to your attention, we’re spotlighting 23 female entrepreneurs that are leading the charge in America’s heartland. Learn about their unique entrepreneurial stories, and be sure to visit this list again as we continue to add more and more female entrepreneurs leading the way in the Midwest!
23 Inspiring Female Entrepreneurs in the Midwest
Dawn Dickson is a titan, no ifs ands or buts about it. The Ohio native’s strong will and no-fear approach has led to her and the smart vending retail company, PopCom’s incredible success. The software company, which launched in 2017, builds software for the self-service retail industry using artificial intelligence, facial recognition, and more. Its now patented smart vending kiosks allow brands to engage with customers, sell more products and understand sales metrics.
While the “iPhone of vending machines” speaks for itself, Dawn’s talents don’t stop at the product development level. With nearly $4 million in funding, the female entrepreneur became the first Black founder in history to raise the highest secure token offering (STO) crowdfunding round from the general public. She was also awarded the 2020 OBWS Entrepreneur of the Year Award presented by SnapChat, was a Finalist for 2020 Rising Pay Tech Star Award, and made Forbes’ Next 1000 list earlier this year.
Amy Brown sparked her entrepreneurial flame after a 20-year career in government service and other executive roles, starting software company, Authenticx in 2018. The Endeavor Scale Up 2020 company leverages customer interactions to provide transformative insights for healthcare organizations and solve one of the biggest pain points many health companies face: having the voice of patients in the boardroom.
Authenticx was named the top culture startup by PowderKeg in 2019 and closed an $800,000 pre-seed round last year. The inspiring female entrepreneur has gathered some recognition of her own, winning TechPoint’s Rising Entrepreneur Award last summer.
Flywire Cameras Co-Founder and COO
Sarah Alessi teamed up with Jacob Isaac-Lowry in 2014 to found FlyWire Cameras – a team of innovators that work alongside the commercial fishing industry to build sustainable and resilient seafood supply chains – for today, and for the next generation. FlyWire’s technology drives enhanced seafood supply chain transparency and traceability through the delivery of at-sea electronic monitoring solutions for the commercial fishing sector. Their technology captures and analyzes the critical data needed to maximize fishing quotas, manage bycatch, and keep fish stocks healthy for the next generation. They assess the supply chain, deploy their hardware (including miniature camera, portable monitoring system), analyze fishing data using their software (including visual imagery, GPS, other sensor data), then provides regular reporting for supply chain performance for small to large vessels worldwide.
Sarah and the Endeavor Scale Up 2020 company were recognized late last year by Commerce Lexington Economic Development and the University of Kentucky Office of Technology Commercialization’s new Who Got the Money? platform as the 2020 Female Founded Startup of the Year.
Natalia Bishop & Hannah Estes
Level Up Co-Founders
Level Up co-founders Natalia Bishop and Hannah Estes are the definition of women helping women. The female entrepreneurs started Endeavor Scale Up 2020 company with a mission to connect, educate and inspire women in their communities through pop-up style classes and private events. Currently headquartered in Louisville, Bishop and Estes plan to help women level up in their own communities around the country.
This isn’t CEO Natalia Bishop’s first entrepreneurial rodeo. The Colombia-born female founder has also started two other female-focused businesses, Story Louisville and Chocolate Box Photography. Natalia recently joined Amplify Louisville’s entrepreneur-in-residence program as well.
Emily Kaplan & Ami Murphy Iannone
Combining their corporate and creative expertise, Emily Kaplan and Ami Murphy Iannone co-founded Hopewell with CEO Brian Zuercher to provide enterprises with data and insights to optimize and align environments to worker preferences. Hopewell’s offering consists of a work experience software data product powered by immersive work experience labs.
With Emily’s 9 years of brand building experience at Chipotle, and Ami’s creative leadership background at SEEN, the female entrepreneurs are looking to take Hopewell to new heights. In addition to their Columbus location, they recently opened another work experience lab in Louisville’s historic Paristown neighborhood.
Lauren Chitwood, Abbey Ferguson & Lexie Larsen
Talk about a female founder powerhouse. Lauren Chitwood, Abbey Ferguson and Lexie Larsen make up the fabulous trio behind non-alcoholic spirits brand, Spiritless. The fully distilled, full flavor product line is distilled in a unique process which removes all but .5% of the alcohol (the same ABV as kombucha).
Like many motivated entrepreneurs, female pioneers Lauren, Abbey and Lexie started experimenting with spiritless products right at home before incorporating the brand in 2019. In the heart of bourbon country, their flagship product, Kentucky 74, is a one-of-a-kind non-alcoholic bourbon named after their place in Kentucky history as the 74th distillery in the state.
It was at home with her newborn son that Ohio-native Kristen Moorefield decided it was time to pursue the female entrepreneurial track and start a business. Some may call it fate, because after a timely run-in with co-founder Darrin Murriner in 2015, Kristen hopped on board to bring H.R. tech platform Cloverleaf to life.
The technology platform gives users automated, personalized coaching tips that are aggregated across multiple personality frameworks to drive behavior change. What’s next? The SaaS company recently secured a Series A investment from ScOp Venture Capital to help the platform accelerate support for large enterprise clients, expand its geographic reach and continue the push towards product-led growth.
HJI Supply Chain Solutions CEO
While she did not start a company, Lynn Moore is still a leading female entrepreneur in her own right as the second coming for powerhouse industrial company, HJI Supply Chain Solutions.
Promoted to CEO just last year after nearly 13 years working within the company in roles including Logistics Engineer and Vice President of Finance and Administration, Lynn oversees the company’s strategic growth initiatives as well as pricing and budget governance
New Albany, Indiana
Fresh on the entrepreneurial track, Julie Regan founded information services company, RxLightning just last year to digitize, automate and streamline the historically complicated manual enrollment process of starting a patient on specialty medications.
The future looks bright for Julie and RxLightning, having received a Vogt Award last year and announcing a new partnership with IllumiCare last month to put its technology in the hands of providers at 150 hospitals across the country.
As an entrepreneur and leader in the financial industry for more than 30 years, Dana Bowers is a veteran in the female entrepreneurial space. As Founder, Board Member and Chief Solutions Architect at Venminder, she designed an entire new approach to vendor management by creating a state of the art software and integrated services solution that allows organizations to answer the ever growing challenges and regulatory demand for Vendor Management compliance.
Dana was awarded the Ernst and Young Entrepreneur of the Year in 2009, and currently sits on the board of advisors for the University of Louisville College of Business and serves as a board member for Associates in Pediatric Therapy, a Kentucky-based company.
GlowTouch Technologies Co-Founder/President
She may not be one to brag, but Vidya Ravichandran, president of Louisville-based GlowTouch Technologies, has plenty to be proud of. In addition to running the IT company that offers contact center, back office, and technology outsourcing solutions and employs hundreds of people, Vidya is deeply committed to several ethical, enduring philanthropic causes and non-profit boards in education and the arts.
A female entrepreneur herself, Vidya is a fierce advocate for STEM education for women, and cares deeply about inequity in access to opportunities for women and minorities. Vidya was appointed by the Governor of Kentucky to serve on the Council for Post-Secondary Education, where she is striving to improve the pipeline of educational and career opportunities for all Kentuckians, irrespective of their backgrounds.
Infinite Acres CEO/Co-Founder
As the co-founder of two indoor farming companies, female entrepreneur Tisha Livingston is on a mission to make the world’s fruits and vegetables more nutritious, climate resistant, less environmentally taxing, and better-tasting. By revolutionizing the way produce is grown and shipped around the globe, Infinite Acres uses less water and fewer natural resources to reduce the carbon footprint and miles your food has to travel.
With her business partner Mike Zelkind, Tisha started 80 Acres in 2015 with a single vertical farm in a quarter-acre facility outside Cincinnati that could produce 80 acres’ worth of fruits and vegetables. Today they employ 125 people and operate six farms that provide produce to some of the top restaurants and grocery stores in the US, including Kroger and Whole Foods.
Biscuit Belly Co-Founder
Lauren Coulter and her husband Chad are on a mission to serve up serious comfort food across the country. Announcing plans to take Louisville brunch hotspot, Biscuit Belly nationally late last year, Lauren and Chad hope to add 20-25 restaurants across the country in 2021.
The pair also own LouVino, a restaurant and wine bar which has locations in Louisville, Cincinnati, Indianapolis and Fishers, Indiana.
Dr. Angelique Johnson
As the founder and CEO of MEMStim and longtime researcher of implantable neural devices, Dr. Angelique Johnson is committed to making radical improvements to new medical technologies. With the power of microfabrication, MEMStim is fully automating the manufacturing process of next-generation neural devices and plans to provide cochlear implants at a fraction of the cost of current manufactured alternatives.
Dr. Johnson is also co-founder of MedtechColor, an organization seeking to further the advancement of people of color in the medical device industry.
Megan Glover’s first entrepreneurship venture was in response to a national tragedy: the Flint water crisis. Alarmed by the lead poisoning and the general lack of transparency surrounding water quality, Glover and co-founder Chris Baggot created 120WaterAudit, a cloud-based software and managed services firm that helps customers plan, manage, and execute water-quality programs at their point of use.
120WaterAudit consists of technology kits that enable government agencies, public water systems, and school districts easily and seamlessly comply with current and emerging water regulations. Their product essentially makes water testing more accessible to the masses.
Cuddle Clones Founder
For actuary-turned-entrepreneur Jennifer Williams, her simple love of animals powered her Louisville-based business venture, Cuddle Clones. The company creates adorable stuffed animal versions of family pets, plus other customized pet products like golf club headcovers, slippers, figurines, blankets, wallpaper, coffee mugs, and more.
Every Cuddle Clones purchase provides three meals and a toy to a shelter pet, and every month, the Cuddle Clones team donates to an animal-wellness organization, a pet shelter, and an individual pet in need. While Jennifer’s own uniquely-marked dog, Rufus, sparked the idea for Cuddle Clones in 2005, Williams didn’t start the company until 2011 when she met eventual co-founder and kindred spirit Adam Greene at the University of Louisville’s Entrepreneurship MBA program.
Cuddle Clones has since been featured on BuzzFeed, CNN, Watch What Happens Live with Andy Cohen, USA Today, The Today Show, The Huffington Post, MSNBC, and more.
Cleveland native Rachel Angel worked as a pharmacist for several years before switching gears in 2018 to help place young adults with employers in Columbus and Cleveland through her free online platform, Peerro. The service helps reduce hiring time and acquisition costs for companies by allowing them to interview qualified candidates directly from the platform.
The startup was added to CincyTech’s portfolio last July, and has matched 150 students with employers since its launch. Working since she was 14 and living on her own since 16, Rachel says one of her main goals is to help make sure at-risk youth graduate directly from high school into a job, if they’re not planning to go to college, to avoid the pitfalls facing unemployed youth.
Anastasia S. Tarpeh-Ellis
With work-from-home on the rise, keeping track of everyday to-dos and an overflowing list of work-related tasks is becoming more and more stressful. Anastasia is working to mitigate this problem with Bosa, a team optimization tool that automates finding and completing tasks.
The app is a Google Chrome extension that works inside of the tools you use, and streamlines them in one place to help you and your team stay on track. Like an additional layer on top of the many tools you use specifically focused on productivity.
The product is still in its early stages, but you can sign up to receive early access on Bosa’s website.
While relaxation was hard to achieve in 2020, Tanisha Robinson and her CBD beverage startup, W*nder are looking for redemption in 2021 to help everyone find calmness in a fresh new year.
Tanisha isn’t new to the startup game. As the first CEO of Brewdog, she knows what people are looking for when it comes to beverages. “1 in 7 Americans are already using CBD, so I started W*nder to make the process easier and more effective.” As an avid CBD fan, Tanisha set out to create the best tasting, and functioning, CBD-infused beverage in the Midwest.
The brand has since expanded to western Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Indianapolis, with another four or five markets launching in the first half of 2021. W*nder is also closing a “simple agreement for future equity” round of investment soon and will go for a Series A round to help fund the expansion.
The talent in the Midwest doesn’t stop here! Learn about 26 Black Entrepreneurs Making Moves In The Midwest.