Honoring Women Innovators and Entrepreneurs: Then and Now

"Necessity is the mother of invention" is a centuries old English proverb, though similar sayings date back to Greek philosopher Plato. One thing is certain: women have long been recognized for coming up with creative solutions to solve all sorts of problems.

There is no better time than Women’s History Month to celebrate the accomplishments of women innovators and entrepreneurs. During March, WomenVenture is honoring four women business owners—Hannah Barnstable, Laura Ooley and sisters Jen Swendseid and Lara Severson—along with three historical innovators whose work paved the way for our modern day visionaries.

For the Love of Food

Ruth Wakefield was a dietician and food lecturer who ran the Toll House Inn with her husband. In 1930 she stumbled upon a better way to make chocolate cookies for guests of their California tourist lodge. Instead of mixing bakers chocolate into the dough, she added broken pieces of Nestlé semi-sweet chocolate. She went on to form a lucrative partnership with Andrew Nestlé that included a lifetime supply of chocolate in exchange for printing her popular cookie recipe on packaging for Nestlé Toll House Semi-Sweet Chocolate Morsels.

Entrepreneur Hannah Barnstable knows a thing or two about putting her own spin on a food product in order to make it better. She discovered muesli while honeymooning in New Zealand and left her job as an investment banker to perfect her own version of the breakfast staple. Seven Sundays Mueslis are a blend of grains, nuts, seeds and fruits that do not contain GMOs, refined sugars or preservatives. Launched in 2011 with funding from WomenVenture, Hannah’s products were originally sold at farmers markets where consumers could not get enough of them. Today, her five varieties of Seven Sundays Muesli are produced in Minnesota and available online and nationwide at retailers like Target and Whole Foods. Hannah’s goal: make everyone fall in love with breakfast again. More information

Getting Technical

During World War II, Dr. Grace Hopper joined the Navy where a Ph.D. in mathematics and her intellectual curiosity were put to good use as she programmed one of the nation’s first computers. The technological innovator went on to program the first large-scale computer and later led the team that invented Common Business-Oriented Language (COBOL), a high-level programming language used primarily for business applications. Currently more than 70% of all business, finance and administration systems utilize COBOL.

Dr. Hopper's work set the stage for entrepreneurs like Laura Ooley. Her company Appmosphere develops software applications for use on handheld wireless computing devices like smartphones and tablets. Her technology-based business was launched just before the birth of the iPhone in 2007, and expanded in 2011 with funding from WomenVenture. Today, Appmosphere has created hundreds of applications for clients nationwide. The company recently launched its newest app—Global Storm—an intuitive point-of-sale tool for retailers and restaurants that has received rave reviews. As CEO of the company, Laura's vision is to improve people’s lives through useful, relevant and efficient software tools; a goal perfectly aligned with the work of her high tech predecessor more than 70 years ago. More information

The Mother of Invention

Tired of corsets stiffened with whalebone, Manhattan debutante Mary Phelps Jacobs designed a brassiere from two silk handkerchiefs and ribbon. When pulled tight, Mary’s invention provided support that was far more comfortable than typical undergarments of that era. She showed off her design in the dressing rooms of society balls and her friends placed orders. When strangers offered Mary money for her invention, she patented the design and started a small manufacturing company. She marketed her bras under the name "Caresse Crosby" and eventually sold her patent to the Warner Brothers Corset Company.

Nearly a century later, sisters Jen Swendseid and Lara Severson were faced with a similar challenge. Their mother was recovering from breast cancer surgery and in need of a bra that provided substantial support without wires. After extensive research, the sisters developed a bra with a patented cup/band support system. They came to WomenVenture for small business coaching and a loan, and launched Heart & Core in 2009. Shortly after, the business was awarded a government contract to manufacture bras for the military—more than 200,000 bras have been produced for women in the armed forces to date. More recently, the sisters partnered with inventor Mary Prody and have developed a line of bras with a built-in drainage bulb holder for women recovering from breast, lung and heart surgery. Jen and Lara continue their work in loving memory of their mother. More information

You can ensure women continue to make history as entrepreneurs and innovators. Here's how:

  • Support:  Advocate for women business owners by purchasing their products, utilizing their services and spreading the word about their businesses. More information
  • Volunteer:  Make a lasting impact with women business owners by volunteering your time and expertise. More information
  • Donate: Make a personal contribution to provide tools and resources to help entrepreneurs launch or expand businesses and strengthen our community. More information