If you think Los Angeles is just about fun in the sun, think again. As one of the biggest cities in the world, its economy ranks seventh globally. An economic powerhouse that attracts top talent, Los Angeles has no shortage of female founders and CEOs. The City of Angels has a wide range of savvy female founders and CEOs in just about every industry. Though some of them are in the entertainment industry, many are in tech and finance, and use their ideas to innovate in other industries, from pet toys to postnatal care. Several of the women on our list are top execs and founders in “Silicon Beach,” raising capital for female-fronted businesses. The diversity of the top female founders and CEOs in Los Angeles is as rich and varied as womankind.
Jessica Alba, Founder, The Honest Company
The Hollywood actress Jessica Alba joined the ranks of top female founders in Los Angeles when started her own company six years ago, after having a baby. She was looking for conscientious, chemically safe and ecologically sound baby products, and was frustrated. “I founded The Honest Company because I wanted safe, effective products that perform. After all, you shouldn’t have to choose between what works and what’s good for you,” she notes. The Honest Company focuses on developing and producing products that make the cut on their materials and ingredients list (there are more than 3,000 nopes), and delivering them in eco-friendly packaging.
Ellen Marie Bennett, Founder, Hedley & Bennett
Ellen Marie Bennett wanted better quality chef and restaurant worker’s clothes, but couldn’t find what she wanted on the market, and decided to design them herself when she was still a line cook at Bäco Mercat and Providence. Starting with a $300 investment, Hedley & Bennett is now a mini-empire. Her line has evolved from chef wear to a fully fledged “culinary lifestyle brand,” with MISE knife bags and stylish and fitted workshirts and chef coats on offer, landing Bennett in our list of top female founders in Los Angeles.
Jen Cao, Co-Founder and Designer, ZippyPaws
Can a pet toy company be innovative? It can, if you’re the one in charge. Jen Cao co-founded ZippyPaws.com with her dad, who himself came out of the industry, where he worked as the president of Huaren International, which imports pet goods. Cao was a business major in college (but liked to doodle designs — art was a passion for her), when she had an idea. She could draw and design the toys, and they could be made into real toys — really cute ones. Her patented designs include better squeak toys, adorable plush toys (see chipmunks on a log) and Z-Stitch Snakes, which feature thicker inner layers (no stuffing) and a special stitch to keep the toy intact from roughhousing.
Mahisha Dellinger, Founder and CEO, Curls
A native northern Californian, the founder and CEO of Curls, a multi-million-dollar hair company, started as a marketing manager for Intel. Like other women on our list, Dellinger was frustrated by the marketplace and so she decided to create what she wanted: her own line of organic hair care products, with an eye toward naturally curly and kinky hair. The brand is now carried in stores around the country, including Target, and Dellinger expanded her presence to TV with a show on OWN Network, called “Mind Your Business with Mahisha.”
Jesse Draper, Founder, Halogen Ventures
Investing is in her bones: Draper is a fourth-generation venture capitalist, who has chosen to focus on early stage investments, in particular female-focused consumer technology, via Halogen Ventures. A creator and host of the Emmy-nominated TV show “The Valley Girl Show,” Draper has a lifelong Hollywood background (she was a Nickelodeon star), which helps her bring visibility to start up culture. She has interviewed everyone from Sheryl Sandberg to Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor and lists The Skimm as one of her successful ventures.
Arlan Hamilton, Founder and Managing Partner, Backstage Capital
As the website for venture capital firm Backstage Capital states, “less than 10 percent of all venture capital deals go to women, people of color, and LGBT founders.” A former music touring manager, Arlan Hamilton was homeless when she built her first firm, with no college degree or tech or venture capitalist network into which she could tap. After scoring a meeting with Y Combinator president Sam Altman, she bought a one-way ticket to San Francisco and eventually got her first angel investor. Backstage started in 2015 and has invested $5 million in 100 startups. Since then it has launched a $36 million fund aimed at black women founders. Hamilton calls it, “The it’s about damn time fund.” Hamilton has been lauded as a top female founder by Fortune and Fast Company.
Melissa Hanna, Co-Founder and CEO, Mahmee
A family affair, Mahmee was founded by Melissa Hanna and her mother, Linda Hanna in 2014. Mahmee is an app that aims to bridge the gap between the medical profession and maternity care specialists and new mothers. The platform connects maternity experts (think nutritionists or doulas) with healthcare providers and new moms, with a focus on the six weeks after giving birth and before the first check up. Mahmee recently received $3 million in funding from Serena Williams and Mark Cuban, as well as funding from Arlan Hamilton’s Backstage Capital.
Eva Ho, Co-Founder, Fika Ventures
A self-described “serial entrepreneur and founder,” Chinese-born Eva Ho holds an MBA from Cornell and a BA from Harvard, which set her up for her illustrious career — she was a senior product marketing manager at Google and YouTube for five years. Since then, she’s founded or co-founded: Factual; Navigating Cancer, a health startup; All Raise; and Susa Ventures, for which she raised $25 million in seed money. Fika Ventures, described as a “boutique seed fund,” has been equally as successful, investing in WeeCare home daycare; Pathspot, a foodborne illness protection system; and Atticus, an online legal advice portal. No wonder she was chosen as the entrepreneur-in-residence for Los Angeles under Mayor Eric Garcetti.
Jaclyn Johnson, Founder and CEO, Create & Cultivate
We like the motto for Create & Cultivate: “Behind every great woman, are great women.” Johnson sold her first business when she was 28 and launched Create & Cultivate, a media platform and nationwide conference which has had panelists and speakers such as Kim Kardashian West, Gloria Steinem, Jessica Alba and Issa Rae at its conferences, held in cities like Chicago and Atlanta. The author of a book, WorkParty, and an accompanying podcast, Johnson continues to branch out and garner recognition—she was named in Forbes 30 Under 30 and featured in Fast Company as a top female founder and CEO.
Moj Mahdara, CEO, Beautycon Media
Mahdara may never have finished college, but who needs a degree when you’ve already been the CEO of two different companies and founded another, Made With Elastic, a Los Angeles-based ad agency. Mahdara came to Beautycon in 2014. The networking conference aimed at connecting leaders in the beauty industry has exploded under her watch, now pulling in 50,000 annual attendees, and expanding to Singapore and Mexico City.
Morgan Mercer, Founder and CEO, Vantage Point
Most people think virtual reality is just for playing video games. But Morgan Mercer saw a truly innovative use for the technology: sexual harassment training. Twice the victim of sexual violence, Mercer and her company Vantage Point created a training program that puts the viewer in a virtual world, to create empathy and understanding of what harassment feels like in the workplace, and how to handle the situation when they witness it happening. Vantage claims the full immersion training “has a 90 percent retention rate.” Last year, she raised $1.3 million in one seed round.
Gregg Renfrew, Founder and CEO, Beautycounter
Inspired after watching Al Gore’s documentary on climate change, An Inconvenient Truth, Gregg Renfrew, who’d started an e-commerce biz called The Wedding List (later sold to Martha Stewart), had an a-ha moment. She wanted to create a cosmetics brand that didn’t have the toxic chemicals so often found in many beauty products. She launched Beautycounter in 2011, culling more than 1,500 chemicals from her product line. The female founder modeled her business after the Esteé Lauder/Mary Kay peer-to-peer sales model, rather than selling in department stores, It’s raised over $86 million from some big names, including Bono (yes, that Bono). She lobbies hard for stricter regulations in her own industry — which is an unusual but righteous twist.
Shivani Siroya, Founder and CEO, Tala
The former financial consultant for Health Net, Shivani Siroya started Tala to solve a problem: to provide loans to the 30 percent of the world with limited or no financial records. Tala uses predictive analytics culled from cell phone use to mock up a credit score system similar to FICO. The company targets global regions that are underserved, reaching the three billion people with no credit history in places like India, Kenya, the Philippines and Mexico. The top female founder and CEO has already raised $105 million in funding and has already granted more than $225 milion in microloans.
Terese Tucker, Founder and CEO, BlackLine
With her pink hair, Terese Tucker doesn’t look like a stereotypical tech founder, but underneath the pastel shade, Tucker has a strong tech background that would enable her to build BlackLine. Starting her career as a programmer in the 80s, she decided to start her own programming business after leaving her gig at SunGard, where she was CTO of the treasury systems department. After getting divorced, she decided to strike out on her own, using her own retirement accounts and a second mortgage as seed money. BlackLine, originally called Osaba, was focused on a different financial application before shifting focus to automating the reconciliation process for major corporations (think of it as a more robust version of Mint.com). She now calls big companies like Costco and eBay customers. The IPO raised $152 million in December 2016.
Alli Webb, Co-Founder, Drybar
During the 2008 recession, Webb, a professional hairstylist who trained at the revered salon Toni & Guy, began a side hustle, “Straight-at-Home,” alongside New York stylist John Sahag. Her in-home blowouts (by referral only) became so popular that she soon had to expand to meet the demand. She started Drybar, which filled a niche — no haircuts, no color, just blowouts — that became so popular it soon had salons around the country. Today there are more than 90 locations, and thanks to this top female founder, thousands of women with great blowouts.
Reese Witherspoon, Co-Founder, Hello Sunshine
Everyone knows Reese Witherspoon is an A-List, Academy Award-nominated actress. But not everyone knows that she is a powerful producer and top female founder in her own right. Her production company, Pacific Standard, is a subsidiary of the larger company Hello Sunshine, which has brought to the screen the adaptation of the bestselling murder mystery Gone Girl; Cheryl Strayed’s memoir, Wild; and Big Little Lies. (Witherspoon starred in the latter two). Hello Sunshine focuses on women’s stories: “We tell stories big and small, funny stories, complex stories, those that shine a light on where women are at right now and those that help chart a new path forward.” Forthcoming projects include Legally Blonde 3 and a documentary on tennis legend Martina Navratilova.
Writer and editor Tricia Romano is the former editor-in-chief of the Stranger. She has been a staff writer at the Seattle Times and columnist for the Village Voice. She is currently working an oral history about the Village Voice for Public Affairs. You can also find her at Patreon.