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Three inspirational female entrepreneurs – and what they teach us

Enterprise Nation founder Emma Jones shares timeless wisdom from three of her favourite female entrepreneurs…

The number of women starting their own business is on the rise. Tomorrow – International Women’s Day – is the perfect time to celebrate this and recognise female achievement across the globe.

Every one of the female entrepreneurs I’ve selected is an inspiration to others due to what they’ve achieved. Each has taken an idea, turned it into a successful business and created a livelihood based on a passion, hobby or skill. In championing home start-ups and challenging the norm, they’ve led the way and inspired those around them.

Martha Stewart

You may think this is an odd choice as this particular entrepreneur was imprisoned for a short spell! But she was also the first female entrepreneur to float a billion dollar company on NASDAQ. In doing so, Stewart proved it was possible to build a business around a lifestyle, as her media empire is based on advising (mainly) women on how to cook and keep beautiful homes.

Having followed her career and heard her speak, Martha Stewart taught me the value of a founder who knows every detail of their profession, while also having a strategy and vision for the future. Be the expert in your field with another eye on understanding what’s around the corner. This will ensure you’re well placed to make the most of opportunities.

Dame Stephanie Shirley

Described as ‘the most successful tech entrepreneur you never heard of’, Dame Stephanie Shirley started FI Group Plc in the 1960s as one of the UK’s first tech startups. At the time she went by the name of Steve, feeling it would open more doors if people thought she was a man! She sold her company in 1993 and has since turned philanthropist, giving away at least £65 million of her £150 million fortune and founding the Oxford Internet Institute.

She has taught me the art of recruiting and retaining a top team of talent. For example, after giving members of her team shares in the business, Shirley made 70 of them millionaires. She’s therefore a huge advocate of co-ownership, as it changes your team members’ relationship to work. Originally starting her company solely comprised of women, she has also shown me that you’ve got to be brave both when it comes to new ways of working and embracing new tech. This was a time that women couldn’t open a bank account without their husband’s permission – and the idea of buying software separately to hardware was laughable – so refusing to be put off by conventions is essential.

Lara Morgan

With her no nonsense style and simple message of ‘just get selling’, Lara Morgan built an industry-disrupting company in the form of toiletries supplier Pacific Direct. Starting off supplying hotels, she expanded from there into a global success story before selling the business, of which she was a 99% shareholder, for £20 million. She now runs Company Shortcuts, an online platform helping the next generation of entrepreneurs focus on the priorities in business – namely, making sales.

Looking over Lara’s successes, it’s the value of establishing that there is a need and a market for your idea that I learn from most. For example, before making sales pitches, she used the Yellow Pages to call hotels and find out what kind of service they needed first. Not being afraid to ask questions and not being afraid to learn more goes a long way.

I’ll be raising a glass to these and all female entrepreneurs on International Women’s Day at an event in Birmingham which features entrepreneurs and female role models doing what they do best – telling their story and offering advice so others can follow in their footsteps.

Emma Jones is founder of online support network Enterprise Nation.

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