Center for Women & Wealth

Since the launch of the Center for Women & Wealth in 2015, we have met and been inspired by many powerful women who are pioneers in their respective fields. Through their work, they are challenging the status quo, reshaping industries and changing the way we live our lives.

Here, we showcase these inspiring women and share how 2019 is set to be a pivotal year in their professional journeys.

Elizabeth O’Day Elizabeth O’Day, Ph.D., Founder and CEO, Olaris Therapeutics

With the founding of Olaris Therapeutics, Dr. O’Day is revolutionizing how diseases are diagnosed and treated. Her innovative metabolics platform and machine learning algorithms introduced a new way to treat each patient precisely. Beyond running her business, Dr. O’Day co-chairs the World Economic Forum’s Global Future Council on Biotechnology and Precision Medicine Initiative’s advisory board.

What inspired or motivated you to take a professional risk?

I didn’t see it as a risk at all; instead, I saw it as my responsibility. We are fortunate to live in an era where there are truly some amazing treatments for disease. Unfortunately, we’re still not great at figuring out which person will benefit from which therapy – this is the so-called drug treatment problem. As a Ph.D. student at Harvard, I remember analyzing a metabolomics spectrum on the i600MHz NMR and realized we could solve this problem. Every day since then, I have felt it my duty to keep moving our technology forward to help make precision medicine a reality.

Jessica Knez Jessica Knez, Founder, All Too Human

Knez and her partner, Joseph Morrissey, opened a 2,500-square-foot fashion and lifestyle boutique near Newbury Street in Boston in 2015. The boutique carries exclusive international finds and fashion-forward looks from emerging brands to big brand names without local distribution.

What inspired or motivated you to take a professional risk?

After working in New York as a buyer at Bergdorf Goodman, I jumped at the opportunity to fill a clear void in Boston’s fashion landscape after learning that the city’s only major fashion boutique closed its doors. I knew that as a Bostonian with a large Boston-based family and ties to the city, I had an advantage over my outside competitors and would be able to create a business that felt personal and unique to the city.

Bonnie Swayze Bonnie Swayze, President, Alliance Rubber Company

For more than 90 years, Alliance Rubber Company has been manufacturing American-made industrial and consumer rubber band products. Today, under Swayze’s leadership, this family-owned business is supporting 175 families and proving the viability of U.S. manufacturing.

What are the unique challenges of being a female leader in your field?

Women presidents of U.S. manufacturing companies are a small minority. Years ago, I was the first female appointed to the board of directors of the WSA – Wholesale Stationers Association. I would attend the meetings where I was the only female on a very large board. I would say, “I feel conspicuous by my gender, but I hope at the end of this, I’ll be conspicuous by my intellect,” and that would always get a chuckle from the men.

Being a woman-owned small business helps you obtain the set-aside business designation. Fortune 500 companies with supplier diversity departments are looking for Historically Underutilized Businesses (HUBs) and trying to divert a certain small percentage of their purchases to HUBs. There’s also the Buy American Act recognized by the U.S. government and GSA, which propels them to look for U.S. manufacturing.

Liz Bales Liz Bales, Founder and CEO, Doc & Phoebe’s Cat Co.

After starting her business out of her kitchen in 2014, veterinarian Bales is now known as the founder of the award-winning Indoor Hunting Cat Feeder – the first and only science-based feline indoor hunting system that satisfies a cat’s natural instinct to hunt. In 2019, Doc & Phoebe’s will continue to educate pet parents and improve cats’ lives.

What advice would you give your younger self?

You don’t need anyone to believe in you. Believe in yourself.

Life is an iterative process. Don’t expect to start at the finish line. When you start anything new, you know nothing. This is scary, but it’s true, and it’s normal. In this moment, you have choices. You can choose to be paralyzed by fear and self-doubt that turns into a feeling of worthlessness, or you can choose to experience this feeling as excitement and openness that drives you forward to learn and achieve with confidence. Moreover, the real fun is in the learning and doing, not in mastery.

Vidya Plainfield Vidya Plainfield, Board Member, TechSpeed

After a successful 16-year marketing career at several consumer products and healthcare companies, in 2018 Plainfield took the leap of running her family-owned technology and data company, TechSpeed. Plainfield and her team of more than 100 consultants, managers and data processors have led TechSpeed to new growth opportunities, expanding with a new office in Philadelphia and launching several new offerings in the areas of data mining and research.

What advice would you give your younger self?

Like most young people, I was anxious to succeed. I would work late, grind it out and had a general do-whatever-it-takes attitude. My pursuit of performance perfection had upsides; I got recognized often and was promoted quickly. However, there was a dark side. I found that I perpetually struggled with accepting failures in myself and in others. It was not until much later that I learned the value of embracing failure. No one is perfect, and not every pursuit will be a success, so the best option is to learn to “fail fast.” Forgive your failures and move on. Try your best, make mistakes, learn from them as fast as possible, and get busy doing more of what works and less of what doesn’t.

Christi Walsh Christi Walsh, Author, Producer and Co-Founder, Wake Up Call

Walsh is an accomplished American author of three romance/suspense novels found in the “The Chroma Series,” the executive producer of the Lifetime Movie “I’ll Be Watching” and an entrepreneur who co-founded the coffee company, Wake Up Call. In 2019, Walsh will open her ninth coffee shop location in Washington and continue to capture her readers’ imaginations with her suspenseful storytelling.

What inspired or motivated you to take a professional risk?

I’m not sure I fully comprehend what that word means, as I don’t think I am taking risks. I am just moving forward in the best way I know how.

In our younger days, we are invincible. There is no risk in climbing that tree or crossing that street – we just do it because we must. Our parents look on in angst or fear, but as we wave to them from across the street, we wonder why they are taking so long to get over here. I have that same outlook professionally. I don’t see the risk. I just see what I must.

Ita Ekpoudom Ita Ekpoudom, Partner, GingerBread Capital, and Founder, Tigress Ventures

Ekpoudom’s mission is to guide and support the next generation of successful women business leaders and investors. She founded Tigress Ventures in 2014, an advisory and consulting firm that specifically helps women professionals strive and women business owners scale their businesses. In July 2018, she joined GingerBread Capital (GBC) as a partner, where she focuses on funding women-owned businesses. GBC has funded over 30 women-owned businesses since its founding in 2016 by Wall Street veteran Linnea Roberts.

What are the unique challenges of being a female leader in your field?

The well-documented challenges of the dearth of capital flowing to female founders and in the hands of female investors can also be seen as our industry’s biggest opportunity areas at what feels an inflection point. It’s an exciting time to be in the venture space and to be in a position to invest in female founders and women-led funds that will change the future landscape.

Sarah Zapp Sarah Zapp, Founder and CEO, Beyond Board

Last year, Zapp founded Beyond Board, a community of today’s best board members and board eligible executives. Beyond Board was created to open the doors for more diversity on boards including women, minorities and underrepresented communities. In 2019, Beyond Board will go from a social network to a substantive business forum (without losing the social element as well).

What inspired or motivated you to take a professional risk?

“Leap and the net will appear” is a scary, yet exhilarating, mindset when it comes to evolving and reinventing yourself professionally. I hit the point in my career where I wanted to bet on myself, first and foremost. I wanted to put my experiences, resources and relationship capital toward a vision that’s now become Beyond Board. I knew that if I could create this company and community, I could really help move the needle for today’s best companies and causes.

Rana el Kaliouby Rana el Kaliouby, Ph.D., Co-Founder and CEO, Affectiva

A pioneer in the field of artificial emotional intelligence (Emotion AI), Dr. el Kaliouby invented Affectiva’s emotion recognition technology that grew out of MIT’s Media Lab. Her work is transforming industries such as automotive, advertising and more. Beyond helping businesses, her innovation is making social impacts, such as helping to eliminate AI biases, improve diversity and ensure ethical development and deployment of AI.

What advice would you give your younger self?

If I could go back, I’d trust myself more. When I was younger, I felt like I needed to check off every box, or be perfectly qualified, before raising my hand. This was the case a few years ago when I had the opportunity to step into the CEO role at Affectiva. I was my harshest critic, but once I started to trust myself, it became easier to convince others that I was up for the challenge.

It’s well-documented that women are more likely to have extremely high expectations for themselves, but I’d encourage them to take risks and believe in themselves.

Shara Ticku Shara Ticku, Co-Founder and CEO, C16 Biosciences

After identifying that a seemingly unknown but omnipresent agricultural product, palm oil, was damaging the environment, Ticku co-founded C16 Biosciences to help fight the issue. The technology at C16 Biosciences provides the world with an alternative, environmentally friendly bio-based oil.

What are the unique challenges of being a female leader in your field?

My first job was on Wall Street, and I worked with mostly men. They were wonderful colleagues, and I loved working with them. As I have launched my own company, however, I’ve realized the importance of having a strong female support system surrounding me from all sides – it’s important to have women investing in our business, to have them joining the leadership ranks of our company and to have a network of fellow female founders who can empathize on this wild ride of trying to build an impactful business. Leading a consumer biotechnology company, it’s been most challenging to find female investors who are excited about the space.

Lori Cashman and Suzanne Norris Lori Cashman and Suzanne Norris, Partners, Victress Capital

Inspired by a call to action to help female founders access capital, Cashman and Norris took the professional risk of founding Victress Capital. The company combines capital, mentorship and networking to invest in tenacious, scrappy and passionate female founders and gender-diverse teams.

What advice would you give your younger self?

The advice we would give our younger selves is to invest in and build your network. Earlier in our careers, we both felt that getting our work done and being in the office was mission critical and would often decline opportunities for networking lunches, coffees or cocktail hours. What we didn’t realize is that those relationships and connections drive value and offer opportunities to bring insights back to your own work, recruit talent or find your next job or investment opportunity. It is also fun and energizing to help friends and colleagues with connections in your network.

Cathleen Caron Cathleen Caron, Founder and Executive Director, Justice in Motion

With over 20 years of experience, Caron has been involved in several initiatives and organizations defending human rights. She founded Justice in Motion to protect migrant rights by ensuring justice across borders. In 2019, Justice in Motion strives to achieve justice for the 400-plus parents who were deported after their children were illegally taken away from them at the U.S.-Mexico border.

What advice would you give your younger self?

What lies beneath the polished presentation is the more interesting and genuine story. In the end, the unexpected twists and turns are what shape us. I could have never imagined that suffering and disappointment would lead to tremendous growth. I would tell myself not to feel like the world is ending when things go wrong and that life is long. When you are young, there seems to be a rush to figure it out, but life only gets better as we grow into ourselves and allow the experiences to teach us and set us in unexpected directions.

Christina Bai Christina Bai, Founder, CollegeFindMe

Bai has always been interested in the field of education, from founding a consulting company for international students to being on the board of prestigious educational institutions. She founded CollegeFindMe to provide a platform to reduce the communication gap between students looking for higher education and colleges. Alongside CollegeFindMe, Bai has founded and invested in numerous education solutions companies.

What inspired or motivated you to take a professional risk?

If I win, the experience will bring me more self-confidence for the future when I face similar issues; if I fail, it’s such an important lesson! I’ll rethink the reasons why I didn’t make it and learn how to change strategy.

Genevieve Jurvetson Genevieve Jurvetson, Co-Founder and Chief Marketing Officer, Fetcher

Fetcher combines AI with human expertise to reimagine recruiting. The company’s AI-powered, outbound recruiting platform enables companies to recruit top talent at a fraction of the time and cost of traditional hiring methods. In 2019, Fetcher will be adding features to its platform to address certain forms of unconscious bias in a meaningful way, helping its customers build more diverse, inclusive organizations.

What advice would you give your younger self?

Oftentimes, when you are younger, there’s a tendency to do what you think is best rather than to simply do what you do best. That’s a hard distinction to not only understand, but to act upon. I spent the first eight years of my career focused on investment banking and investment management because I thought that was the kind of career choice successful people made, yet I knew intuitively that it wasn’t right for me. It was a clear case of me doing what I thought would look good, as opposed to embracing my true passions and talents. I would tell my younger self: Have the confidence to acknowledge your unique skills and interests, and do what you do best. The rest will fall in place.

Ellie Frey Zagel Ellie Frey Zagel, Founder and President, Successful Generations

Having experienced the constant pressure and obligations to honor the family legacy herself, Zagel believed she knew exactly what to do to help others in the same situation. As a certified Family Business and Family Wealth Advisor, Zagel founded Successful Generations to provide a community and advice for people who are part of the next and rising generation of family business, family philanthropy and family wealth.

What are the unique challenges of being a female leader in your field?

My family’s business was run by all men for decades. My father and uncles were highly visible in their communities and did incredible work in their own right. Coming into the business at 15 was incredibly intimidating. I studied their leadership style intensely but didn’t see “me” in any of them, and something always felt a little disconnected. In my late teens and early 20s, I began to realize that I had never had a female role model in my life – especially one who had a dream of making a difference. Once I had that realization, I found my first female role model at 26. It was then that I realized I was trying to be my uncles instead of finding my own confidence and leadership style. The good news is that in my field, there are now many incredibly talented female coaches and consultants who understand family enterprise.

Bonnie Englebardt Lautenberg Bonnie Englebardt Lautenberg, Photographer, Writer, Philanthropist and Businesswoman

With more than 25 years of experience, Lautenberg has photographed historical moments of political individuals as well as celebrities making an impact. Her photographs are on exhibit in both private and museum collections. Alongside being a brilliant photographer, Lautenberg is an active investor and philanthropist.

What inspired or motivated you to take a professional risk?

I was inspired to do the creating out of an organic need to take photographs, and when different galleries saw my work and wanted to exhibit my art, I was flattered and didn’t think about the risk when I said yes. It is very exciting to show your work and have people love what you are doing and buy it. It doesn’t always appeal to everyone, so you need to have a strong constitution and continue to believe in yourself. Feel good that people are appreciating the work, even if they don’t buy it.

Ariane Goldman Ariane Goldman, Founder and CEO, HATCH Collection and twobirds Bridesmaid

Goldman founded twobirds and, later, HATCH out of her own experience in attempting to find timeless, stylish pieces during the wedding process and pregnancy. twobirds features bridesmaid and special occasion dresses and jumpsuits that offer 15 styling options per silhouette, working to fit and flatter every shape and size. HATCH provides wardrobe essentials and nontoxic beauty care that cater to a woman’s beautifully changing body, taking her from before to during to after pregnancy. Goldman’s labels offer solution-based dressing for the most special events in a woman’s life, enabling women to invest in themselves during various stages and wear the pieces again.

What inspired or motivated you to take a professional risk?

Having worked in corporate America, I found myself climbing a ladder where I wasn’t creating anything. When I thought about what I wanted my career to look like, in retrospect, I knew I wanted it to be more meaningful. In addition, when I became pregnant with my first daughter, Charlie, I noticed this obvious void in the maternity market for timeless essentials that could make a pregnant woman feel confident, stylish and still very much like herself. So what pushed me was not only experiencing that void, but that I could actually take a risk, create something and be the commander of my own ship.

Hillary Murray Hillary Murray, Founder and CEO, Lumi Juice

Murray turned her passion to help people lead healthier lives into a 12,000-square-foot manufacturing facility that combines the cold-press and high-pressure juicing processes in the same location to produce USDA certified organic vegetable and fruit juices. In 2019, Murray will focus on expanding distribution of her Lumi – which stands for “Love U, Mean It” – juices with professional and collegiate athletes.

What advice would you give your younger self?

In my youth, I always told myself, “No regrets,” and to keep taking chances and having fun. I have made many awful decisions – some that have almost cost me my business. However, mistakes, awful decisions and successes are all experiences that add up to make us who we are today.

Sara Lyon Sara Lyon, Founder and CEO, Glow© Birth & Body

Lyon, a childbirth educator, founded Glow Birth & Body in 2010. Through this company, she leverages her expertise as a massage therapist to offer services that empower women to feel good about their bodies before, during and after pregnancy. Lyon is also the creator of the Birth Deck, a deck of cards that helps women in labor. In 2019, she will continue to expand nationwide to offer the service to all moms.

What inspired or motivated you to take a professional risk?

After experiencing a variety of company cultures as an employee, I was motivated to create a healthy workplace dynamic while filling the need in the consumer market for positive prenatal experiences. As I looked around at the options in the industry, it became clear that I would need to build a company from scratch in order to achieve both. It’s taken endless creative thinking (and risk taking) to avoid making common financial and reputational mistakes of a service business, but it’s working!

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