If there’s one thing we can celebrate as our society progresses, it’s seeing more and more women pave their own way and start their businesses. New statistics even showed that, from 2007 to 2018, the number of female-led businesses grew to 58% from 40% of all businesses in the U.S.
Starting a business is no easy feat. It’s like learning to drive a car — you have to familiarize yourself with how the car works, learn the rules of the road, keep your focus, and try to stay on course. And while there’s the excitement of being able to go places, there’s also the fear of crashing.
But if other women can do it, so can you! Here’s a thing or two you can learn from the experiences of five successful women entrepreneurs.
1. Be authentic in what you choose to advocate – Cherrie Atilano, AGREA founding farmer
Farming has always been a part of Cherrie’s life. She grew up working on a sugarcane farm in Negros Occidental, where she taught farmers sustainable ways of farming that she read from a book. At an early age, she already knew the path she’d take in the future — having grown to love the land and farming, there’s really only one thing for her: agriculture.
Cherrie never took away her focus from her passion. She graduated Magna Cum Laude with a Bachelor’s Degree in Agriculture, Major in Horticulture Specializing on Tissue Culture, then joined Gawad Kalinga to build a food sufficiency program called Bayan-Anihan. Eventually, she founded the Gawad Kalinga Enchanted Farm and even turned down a Fulbright scholarship to an Ivy League school to continue helping farmers instead.
In 2014, she founded AGREA, an agro-social enterprise that aims to help eradicate poverty for farming and fishing families, alleviate the effects of climate change, and help establish food security in the Philippines.
Two years later, AGREA received the United Nations Global Compact Agriculture Business Excellence Award for basically mobilizing communities, businesses, academia, local and national government, international partners, and keen individuals in bringing an ‘Ecology of Dignity’ to farming and fishing communities.
How did she do it?
“Focus! I have been in this advocacy for 21 years, never disturbed by all other great opportunities,” Cherrie said in an interview with Cosmopolitan Philippines.
“I was lucky to find my passion and purpose in agriculture. Practice excellence and be authentic in what you choose to advocate,” she added.
At present, Cherrie is a high-level ambassador of the UN Scaling Up Nutrition (SUN) Movement, committed to working towards a world free from malnutrition by 2030.
2. Trust your mission – Carmina Bayombong, InvestEd Founder & CEO
Carmina strongly believes that education is the key to any nation’s advancement. When she was studying industrial engineering and saw dozens of fellow university students struggling due to financial concerns—to the point of dropping out—she knew she had to do something.
Armed with her dream of seeing a world “where every young person has the opportunity to fulfill their dreams and help others do the same,” she started InvestEd.
InvestEd offers student loans through a proprietary credit-rating algorithm. To date, InvestEd has loaned a total of $200,000 to 276 students and enjoys a 100% repayment rate, of which 82% is repaid on time. It also recently received a $100,000 grant from the government of Dubai so Carmina could send more than 3,000 college kids to school.
Of course, InvestEd was not without challenges when it was first getting started. Carmina admitted getting discouraged when top experts in the financial industry told her to never lend to the poor because they would never pay their loans. But what’s another person’s pessimistic view to an optimistic heart anyway?
“One of the hardest choices we’ve ever had to make at InvestEd was to not follow the experts. We did the exact opposite,” Carmina told Cosmo PH. “Today, we are lending to students coming from families living on less than $2 (P103) per day. This is all because we chose not to follow experts. We trusted our gut and our mission, and we’ll continue to keep doing that in growing this company.”
For her work in InvestEd, Carmina was named one of seven laureates of the 2019 Cartier Women’s Initiative, a prestigious and international business competition that aims to encourage women entrepreneurs to solve contemporary global challenges.
3. Just do it! – Georgianna Carlos, Fetch! Naturals Co-Founder & CEO
The love shared between a pet owner and a furry friend could go a long way. Georgianna Carlos proved this by becoming one of the four Filipinos included in Forbes Asia’s “30 Under 30” 2019 list for establishing a premium pet care brand that uses only natural ingredients in its products.
Georgianna’s Fetch! journey began when she got a Bichon Frise that had recurring skin rashes. After trying several antibiotics and medicated shampoos made locally and internationally that ended up disappointing her, she started researching and consulting with experts in the field until her efforts led her to the discovery of neem.
Neem is a tropical tree found in tropical countries including the Philippines. Its seeds, bark, and leaves contain compounds with proven antiseptic, antiviral, antipyretic, anti-inflammatory, antifungal, and moisturizing uses. Not only that, but extracts from Neem leaves have anti-parasitic properties which repel fleas, ticks, mange mites, and ringworm.
From there, Georgianna collaborated with a chemist as well as business partners to create an entire natural pet care system out of pure, 100% neem extract. Fetch! Naturals then grew to become the very first pet care brand in the Philippines with an FDA and BAI registration for products that are carefully crafted to ensure safety not only for pets, but also for humans and the environment.
Georgianna’s best advice? Just do it!
“People will always judge. You’ll always stumble upon someone who’d be like, why are you starting a business in that industry? Why that business? Why even try?” she told Metro, encouraging that even then, you just have to do it. “Every little step means a lot and it kind of like builds the road for you for better opportunities in the future.”
4. Survive long enough to get lucky – Stephanie Sy, Thinking Machines founder
Stephanie has always loved maths, enjoying how you can take formulas and do anything with them. That love for maths led her to the tech sector, where she got a stint at Google in the United States and eventually founded Thinking Machines after coming back home.
Described as having “grown to become Manila’s best data science firm and a regional contender,” Thinking Machines is a startup that builds machine learning models for organisations in both the private and public sectors, including the World Bank, Ayala Corporation, and UNICEF.
Startups like Thinking Machines are often a hit and miss. With failure always a looming possibility, an admirable trait you can glean from Stephanie is her tenacity to be honest when something isn’t going well, and understanding why you have to let it go or change radically.
Now the secret that contributed to her success? “I truly believe luck is a huge factor,” Stephanie told Generation T. She also believes that if you’ve successfully sold a company, it doesn’t mean you’re that good, you often just got lucky. “[So] you’ve just got to survive long enough to get lucky.”
Among Stephanie’s many achievements include being invited to speak at the United Nations in New York about technological innovation, making it in Forbes Asia’s “30 Under 30” 2018 list, and joining the Class of 2019 of the Asia 21 Young Leaders Program.
5. Solve a real problem – Melanie Perkins, Canva co-founder & CEO
Melanie’s vision of changing the design landscape started in her mother’s lounge room in Perth. Then-19 and frustrated by how long it took to feel remotely confident while designing something basic, Melanie — who’s part Filipino — decided to launch an online design website that would be as easy as possible for people to use.
From there, Fusion Books — a website for the school yearbook market — was born. Over the next few years, it grew to become the biggest platform of its kind in Australia and has expanded into New Zealand and France. Fusion Book’s tremendous success even had Melanie dropping out of college to focus on it full-time.
After realizing Fusion Book’s ability to go beyond yearbooks, Melanie began to pitch Canva to potential investors in the Silicon Valley. Canva is an online design platform that not only makes design accessible to everyone, but also increases design literacy. It took three years for her to get an investment and launch Canva, and now, it serves over 15 million users a month across 190 countries.CEO Magazine estimates Canva to be worth US$3.2 billion as of October 19.
Melanie’s advice that propelled her towards success? Solve a real problem.
“If you find a problem that people care about, then it will make every other aspect of running a business much easier. You want to make sure that the solution you create, solves a problem that people care about,” Melanie shared with Generation T.