- Also included are Indo-Canadian Noura Sakkijha, co-founder and CEO, Mejuri; and British entrepreneur Ruzwana Bashir, founder and CEO of Peek.
Several South Asian women from the U.S., Canada and the U.K. are among Inc. magazine’s “Female Founders 100,” a list of the most inspiring women entrepreneurs of the year. Inc. says the women in the list “led, raised the bar and fought like hell to come out of the past year better than they went into it.”
The list is divided into several categories: Raised the Bar; Built a Better Project; Lifted Other Women; Tackled the Pandemic; Triumphed Over Adversary; and Made the World Better.
Indian Americans on the list include Reshma Saujani, Founder, Girls Who Code; Devaki Raj, founder and CEO, CrowdAI; Avani Modi Sarkar, co-founder of multicultural toy company Modi Toys; Aishwarya Iyer, founder and CEO, Brightland; Sashee Chandran, founder and CEO, Tea Drops. Also listed are Indo-Canadian Noura Sakkijha, co-founder and CEO, Mejuri; and British entrepreneur Ruzwana Bashir, founder and CEO of Peek.
Reshma Saujani has long worked to close the gender gap in technology. But when the pandemic hit, she began seeing the exhaustion of many of the moms on her team. This inspired her to address the broader challenges women in the workforce face. On Dec. 7, 2020, Saujani wrote an op-ed for The Hill “asking for paid family leave, affordable child care, and pay-equity policies.” Saujani told Diana Ransom that the reactions she got after the op-ed was published, led her to believe that “there was an opportunity to build something with a unifying force.” So the Marshall Plan for Moms was born. This April, the Indian American mother of two stepped down as CEO of Girls Who Code, and launched the plan. A month after The Hill op-ed, she took out a full-page ad in The New York Times, addressed to Joe Biden from 50 prominent women, urging him to adopt the plan. The Marshall Plan for Moms was named after America’s 1948 initiative to help rebuild Europe after World War II. “It is a movement asking lawmakers — and Americans, really — to step up for mothers in a way we’ve never done before,” Saujani told Ransom of her plan. She says she wants to “build a world that acknowledges and values the unpaid labor that mothers do at home. If we’re ever going to have gender equality, this is the fight.”
Devika Raj is no stranger to Inc. magazine’s coveted lists. In 2017, CrowdAI, then a geospatial imaging company, made it Inc.’s 30 Under 30 list. “But last year, demand for CrowdAI’s product, which by then had evolved into a no-code platform to help clients better understand visual data like imagery and streaming videos, had surged,” the magazine says. To keep up, the company “managed to raise a Series A within days of the pandemic’s hitting the U.S.,” Inc. says. Raj also doubled her team, which entirely worked remotely. “This is just the beginning,” Raj told Inc.. “The fact that we’ve been able to morph and expand our reach beyond starting in geospatial to now working with the largest beer manufacturer in the world and the largest roof tile manufacturer in the world, it’s really just a testament to the flexibility of the team and the tech that we’ve built.”
When Avani Modi Sarkar and her brother Viral Modi, both first-time parents, couldn’t find any toys on the market that connected to their specific cultural experience, they started Modi Toys, which Forbes describes as “a children’s brand of plush toys and books rooted in the Hindu faith.” Since launching in 2018, Forbes estimates that the company has sold “nearly 40,000 products across 49 states and 27 countries, including to celebrities Mindy Kaling and Jay Sean.”When Sarkar Modi was laid off from her corporate job in September 2020, she decided to give Modi all her focus. “I had my ear to the ground and understood what was driving our customers during the pandemic: As homeschooling became the norm, families began seeking ways to diversify their toy bins and bookshelves,” she told Inc. “Our toys and books helped make their playrooms more culturally diverse and representative of their family’s faith and background.”
Aishwarya Iyer founded Brightland, a direct-to-consumer seller of organic olive oil sourced from small U.S. farms. Inc. says the company “faced unexpected challenges last year,” to meet the heavy demand from people staying at home and opting to cook more. and since then, Inc. notes that “Brightland has gained a cult following for its products.” The company’s “eight-person team went into full gear,” Inc. says, and “applied its ethos of carefully sourced, unadulterated ingredients to a slew of new products.” Last month, Brightland launched a line of raw, unfiltered honey produced by two fourth-generation beekeeping families. And the company is planning its first pop-up retail space this holiday season in New York City. “Our north star is working directly with organic farmers and producers who prioritize sustainability and want to be a part of the world we’re creating,” Iyer told Inc. “We’re uncompromising with our traceability.”
Sashee Chandran founded Tea Drops to fasten the process of brewing tea. The daughter of immigrants from China and Sri Lanka, Chandran grew up with the ritual of making tea. But after moving to Silicon Valley for her job as a digital marketer at eBay, she found the process of making tea slow and cumbersome. “After tinkering in her kitchen, she finely ground and compressed the leaves into a product that simply dissolves in water—no tea bags or strainers required,” Inc. notes. Tea Drops became a hit at farmer’s markets, so Chandran quit her job in 2015 to pursue the project full time. This July, she obtained a patent for her invention. “Fast-forward five years, the company, has raised $8.4 million to date and is on track to pull in eight figures in revenue in 202q,” Inc. says. “While about 75 percent of Tea Drops’ sales come via e-commerce, the product is on shelves in 2,000 retailers nationwide, including Whole Foods and Costco.”
Noura Sakkijha is redesigning the jewelry business with women in mind, with the tagline, “Buy yourself the damn diamond.” Inc. says that “this message of women empowerment, which is built into the very structure of the company,” is the main reason why 70 percent of Mejuri’s clients buy jewelry for themselves. The company’s “empowered message has also struck a chord with investors,” Inc. says, adding that “Sakkijha raised $23 million in funding when she was seven months pregnant with twin girls.” Today, the six-year-old company operates physical stores in select cities across the U.S., Canada, and the U.K.
At the beginning of 2020, Ruzwana Bashir was celebrating a major milestone. Her company, Peek, “which offers a platform to connect travelers with businesses offering local experiences. had reached a billion dollars in bookings.” But then the pandemic hit, and bookings skidded to a halt overnight. SoPeek helped its business customers access Paycheck Protection Program loans, and provided contactless technology so they could reopen safely, and held workshops to help them pivot to targeting locals rather than tourists. Peek even helped some businesses start offering online experiences.” The company took advantage of the shift to remote work by offering virtual team-building activities for distributed workforces at companies like Spotify, Google, and Nike,” Inc. says. “After closing its own San Francisco headquarters and going fully remote, Peek has flourished, doubling its pre-Covid bookings,” Bashir told Inc.