Women Entrepreneur Role Models: Who Would You Name?

In a recent study, blur Group surveyed more than 1000 national and international entrepreneurs about the top business people that inspire them the most.  Almost 10% of those surveyed were women. But when it came time to cast a ballot for the top entrepreneurs, women didn’t even receive 3% of the vote.

Women Entrepreneur Role Models

Richard Branson, British entrepreneur and Chairman of the Virgin Group, received 27.5% and topped the list for his creative ideas and ongoing innovation of new products.  And I agree, he is inspiring. But what about the ladies?  Is it an issue of out of sight, out of mind?

Maybe we just a need a little reminder.  So, here are 10 leading ladies to consider – including the two that made the list, Oprah and Roddick, and the tweet-able mention, Hashemi (she was “tweet-in” after the fact).


  • Oprah Winfrey, has been at the top of the television talk show industry since she aired 25 years ago.  With the production company, the magazine, the television network, the dreams that she launches for other professionals, and her philanthropy, entrepreneurship and inspiration is a lifestyle.
  • Arianna Huffington, Founder of the The Huffington Post, is one of Forbes 100 Most Powerful Women. This author and syndicated columnist recently sold her online empire to AOL for $315 million, making her the Editor-in-Chief of The Huffington Post Media Group.
  • Tina Brown, considered to be as resilient as Donald Trump (according to author and onetime billionaire, Felix Dennis) is the Co-Founder and Editor-in-Chief of The Daily Beast.  Brown is also the author of The Diana Chronicles, Editor-in-Chief of Newsweek, and host of CNBC’s Topic A with Tina Brown.

FINANCIAL Inspiration

  • Suze Orman, personal finance expert, author and television host, has built an empire around plain talk about money issues. Orman is also one of the Time 100 World’s Most Influential People.


  • The late Anita Roddick was a British businesswoman and Founder of the cosmetics company, The Body Shop.  Mixing her convictions with business, her cosmetic company was one of the first to block the use of ingredients tested on animals. Serving more than 77 million customers in 51 different markets, she referred to “entrepreneurship as survival” and that it “nurtures creative thinking.”
  • Diane von Furstenberg, businesswoman and designer, introduced the wrap dress more than 30 years ago and has built and expanded a fashion house around it. She is also the recipient of the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Council of Fashion Designers of America.

RETAIL Inspiration

  • Sahar Hashemi, Co-Founder of the British coffee bar and deli franchise, Coffee Republic is a lawyer turned entrepreneur and author of “Anyone Can Do It — Building Coffee Republic.”
  • Maxine Clark, referred to as the Chief Executive Bear at Build-A-Bear Workshop, left a corporate career to start her own business. Three hundred stores and $437 million later she has taken a child’s shopping experience to the next level.

TECH Inspiration

  • Caterina Fake is Co-Founder of Flickr – the photo-sharing site that Yahoo! purchased for 8 figures in 2005. Fake (that is her real name) is one of Time Magazine’s Top 100 Most Influential People.
  • Gina Trapani is the founding Editor of Lifehacker.com (mega-blog and home of smart and savvy solutions for life and technology) and one of the Fast Company Most Influential Women in Technology.

That’s my list, but there are quite a few women that are at the top of their game — billionaires, millionaires, and power houses in their industries. When you add inspiration to the mix, it seems to change things. After all, we are inspired by the stories that we know and that has a lot to do marketing and transparency.


Jamillah Warner Jamillah Warner (Ms.J), a poet with a passion for business, is a Georgia-based writer and speaker and the Marketing Coordinator at Nobuko Solutions. She also provides marketing and communication quick tips in her getCLEAR! MicroNewsletter.

7 Reactions
  1. I’ve reported about this issue before, suggesting that it is due to media’s dearth of coverage about female entrepreneur heroes and role models. Check out Springboard Enterprises. Another great reference list is Fast Company’s annual Most Influential Women in Technology feature.


  2. Thanks Kirsten. It’s good to know about Springboard Enterprises.

  3. And don’t forget how many athletes and entertainers that have build successful empires, such as Maria Sharapova, the Olson twins, Lady Gaga, Beyonce, etc.

  4. I would also mention Halla Tomasdottir and Kristin Petursdottir, two Icelandic women who started Audur Capital, a financial advisory firm created in response to the financial crash in Iceland with the intention of operating with more female centered values in hopes of averting catastrophes in the future.

  5. Hi Jamillah,

    It is nice to see someone giving attention to all the women entrepreneurs out there as it always seems to go unnoticed. All the names you quotes are exceptional women and must be appreciated for their strong efforts. Thanks for sharing!

    Riya Sam

  6. Hi Jamillah,

    Inspiration for women in the entrepreneurial world can come from any woman who did incredible things – and was truly ahead of her time.

    Ruth Gruber, born in Brooklyn in 1911, was the world’s youngest PhD (she competed her studies in one year while living briefly in Germany), went on to be a famed journalist, exploring Siberia, Alaska – and then sent to rescue 1,000 refugees out of Europe during WWII, on a request from the White House. She married late, had children late – and did not take her husband’s last name. She did all of this before the 1950s. Few women had such influence and respect in their fields.

    Almost 100 years old, she’s still writing, still active – and if you ever see her speak, it’s never about her – it’s about her stories.

    Truly an inspiration.


  7. What about Brownie Wise? Without her we would not have in home party systems or direct sales. She was an inspiration for all.