Business

The Women Behind the Top 11 Women Owned and Operated Businesses in Austin

There are more women-owned businesses in Texas than anywhere in the country, according to American Express, with Austin coming in fifth overall. Seek Capital ranks Austin second in the nation for women-owned startups. Thirty-seven percent of startups in Austin are owned by women (that’s a whopping 1,433 startups!) The prevalence of women-owned ventures in Austin is apparent on Downtown’s Second Street District, where there is a cluster of businesses owned by women, including Milk + Honey Spa and Eliza Page. While Austin is one of the hotspots for tech, the women-owned businesses in Austin are diverse. From interior design to PR and marketing to dating apps, ventures owned by women cover just about every corner of life. Women in the city are so powerful that there’s even a magazine devoted to them: Austin Woman.

Lizzie Aguirre, Soulfull

Lizzie Aguirre, a founder of a woman-owned business.
Image courtesy Lizzie Aguirre Yoga

More than just a yoga instructor, Lizzie Aguirre has put her own stamp on the ancient practice of yoga. She’s branched out from teaching classes to holding retreats, a yoga music festival and her deeply moving yoga events, Soulfull, which aim to build a connection between partners (either friends or romantic partners).  She writes: “I started to work within the depths of trauma, the power that lies in partner yoga and with highly introspective meditations that can heal these barriers and walls we place on ourselves from the inside out.” Her original twist has garnered her notice and accolades, and a cover on Austin Woman.

Kathy Campbell, Puredi

Puredi was named on Austin’s top women-owned businesses for 2018. To make the list, the business must be 51 percent women-owned, with Austin headquarters. Puredi “is a software and services company dedicated to ensuring the financial success of medical practices,” founded by Kathy Campbell, who is president and CEO. Campbell launched the business in 1997, calling it AMPM (and later renamed it). The software aims to streamline the billing process and reduce costs.

Katie Fang, SchooLinks

Featured in Forbes Magazine’s 30 Under 30, Fang is the CEO and founder of SchooLinks, an innovative “edtech” platform, which uses AI to help students find information about colleges around the world. (There are even virtual reality tours of campuses). Originally from China, Fang first came here as a 12-year-old for an aerospace camp. She attended college at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, where she studied finance, but also learned to code. After graduation, she says, she realized she wanted to “build the Yelp for schools.” And so, with some seed money, she has.

Whitney Wolfe Herd, Bumble

Whitney Wolfe Herde, the founder and CEO of Bumble, got her start at the mobile dating site, Tinder, which she helped launch with an ingenious strategy (going to college campuses and getting the sorority girls to sign up, so that the boys would follow suit.). She left after filing a sexual harassment suit against the company and started Bumble, a female-empowered dating app, where women have to make the proverbial first move. Bumble has expanded—there’s BumbleBFF for finding friends, and Bumble Bizz for job hunting. Her success has landed her on the young entrepreneur and must-watch lists of Forbes and Elle and Business Insider. (And not without cause: She’s only 30 years old, and her company is worth a billion dollars).

Thai Lee, SHI International

Thai Lee, a Korean woman born in Thailand who attended high school and college in America, spent her 20s learning about business and getting a Harvard MBA. She now runs the country’s largest woman-owned business. Though the company’s headquarters are in New Jersey, Lee is based in Austin, where there’s a corporate call center and a sales division for smaller and midsize businesses. She and her then-husband started SHI with just five employees and a handful of customers, offering IT services. She grew the business to be a worldwide conglomerate, worth $6 billion in sales. Lee, who owns 60 percent of the company, has a net worth estimated at $3 billion, but she keeps a low profile and eschews the trappings of most CEOs: no private corner office, no assistant, no special parking lot.

Cindy Y. Lo, Red Velvet Events

Founded by Cindy Y. Lo in 2002, Red Velvet Events is one of the premier event production companies in Austin. Lo began as a coder in tech but shifted careers after taking a year-long sabbatical. She drafted a business plan and started Red Velvet Events, which handles conferences, grand openings and product launches for a diverse clientele of both local and global companies. Now, she has published a book and is a sought-after public speaker, giving talks around the world about running a business.

Sharon Mays, Baby Greens

Sharon Mays of Baby Greens, a woman-owned business in Austin
Image courtesy Baby Greens

Fast food doesn’t always have to be greasy and fried. That’s the concept behind Baby Greens, “a drive-thru salad” spot in Austin, created by Sharon Mays. She lit on the idea when she went vegetarian, realizing the dearth of options for people who don’t eat meat. After closing two stores, she relaunched the restaurant in 2016 with vegetarian, vegan and carnivorous options. There is also a full-time catering business.

Aileen Passariello-McAleer and Christia Madacsi Hoffman, MamaLingua

An idea so simple and smart, you can’t believe it took this long to be invented, Mama Lingua is a Spanish learning app for kids and parents to learn together to become a truly bilingual family. The app focuses on phrases that the kids learn every day. You can supplement the learning process with books and flashcards. The company was started by Aileen Passariello-McAleer and Christia Madacsi Hoffman after meeting at a MeetUp group called ““Learn Spanish with Your Babies.” Raised bilingual, Passariello-McAleer wanted to pass that tradition to her kids; in Hoffman, she met a like-minded soul who had taken one of her Spanish language classes and told her to put it online. The app has quickly become a hit.

Monica Peraza, Alegreea.com

Monica Peraza, a female business owner in Austin.
image via Alegreea.com

A self-described serial entrepreneur, Monica Peraza has always had an eye for business. At 7, in her native Mexico City, she started making and selling bracelets. She’s since founded four companies and two nonprofits. Her latest business is Alegreea.com, a company that matches smaller makers of jewelry and clothing and home decor in Mexico with retailers. (Her other company, Dalma Imports, handles mostly larger clientele). Alegreea divvies up 50 percent of the profits of goods sold between the retailer and creator — a much higher cut than is typical in the industry.

Jan Ryan, Women@Austin, 3 Hills Group

A tech exec and serial entrepreneur, Jan Ryan has had so much success, it must be hard to keep track of her history with its numerous businesses and projects, which include four acquisitions and one IPO. She has launched software startup, Rome Corporation; Social Dynamx, a customer service platform; and partnered at Austin incubator Capital Factory, where Women@ Austin, a nonprofit she founded that is aimed at women entrepreneurs, often meets. Her current main squeeze is 3Hills Group, a strategic consulting practice which works with C-level executives.

Kendra Scott, Kendra Scott

Kendra Scott, owner of one of the country's most successful women-owned businesses.
Image via Kendra Scott.com

The Austin jewelry designer first got her start in 2002. Her love of natural gemstones led her to start creating her own jewelry with a $500 investment. Almost two decades later, she has created a mini-empire, with more than 100 stores nationwide, and become one of the country’s most recognized female entrepreneurs. She has been named to Forbes’s list of the country’s richest self-made women, with an estimated worth of $500 million. Ranked 40, she’s ahead of Celine Dion and Donna Karan, making Kendra Scott one of the most successful women-owned businesses in the country.

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.