3 Women Taking on Competitive, Male-Dominated Industries—and Killing It

by Madeleine Somerville

6 min read

It turns out that the future really is female—for small-business owners, at least.

The percentage of female-owned small businesses grew 27% from 2007 to 2012, and last year Forbes boldly announced that we’d entered a “golden age” for women entrepreneurs. The article went on to quote one report that explained how female entrepreneurs are able to nimbly outmaneuver the more traditional approaches of their male counterparts, saying “Women entrepreneurs are more adept than their male counterparts at seeing gaps in the market and seizing the opportunity.”

It’s precisely this eye for innovation which allows women to play to their strengths and approach age-old business models with fresh eyes. Across the country, women are boldly taking on steep learning curves, male-dominated industries, and competitive markets. And they’re absolutely killing it.

Here’s how three women are getting it done.

Rebuilding New Orleans—with Hot Pink Excavators

After Hurricane Katrina decimated large swaths of New Orleans in 2005, Simone Bruni got to work turning destruction into opportunity.

“I really wanted to be part of bringing back the city, helping my neighbors.” she explains, “I realized demolition was going to be the first step to bringing people home.”

So, in the wake of one of deadliest hurricanes in almost a century, business savvy Bruni immediately began to make some waves of her own. With an initial layout of just $250, she started Demo Divas. After printing business cards and signs for her vehicle she spent the rest of her cash printing bright pink company signs and placing them in front of freshly demoed lots. “I didn’t own any equipment.” she laughs, “Someone else had done the demolition, but within one week it looked like Demo Diva had done 100 demolitions. That really catapulted us into the business and we were out the gate.”

Bruni had no experience in demolition, she’d worked in event planning before losing her job (and her house) to the hurricane, but she didn’t let this inexperience stop her. Instead, she focused on using the skills she’d acquired in her previous career to find success in this new field.

“I get asked all the time how could I have gone from event planning to demolition,” she says “Life is all about logistics. It’s people and logistics and if you got the two mastered, you can pretty much do anything and then I threw in a little marketing and it got me going.”

Likewise, Bruni was undeterred by the lack of other women in the demolition game, turning it into a major selling point for her business.“I knew that I wanted to be set apart. I wanted to be different…I figured that that one niche would give me a hand up.”

Bicycles for Women, by Women

Leah Benson also discovered the benefit of taking a women-centric approach to a traditionally male business model, figuring out how to leverage that underrepresentation to her favor. In the fall of 2013, Benson opened Gladys Bikes, a cycle shop catering specifically to women.

“We tend to have products that make sense for women’s bodies and personalities, sense of style, so on and so forth.” she explains, “I love bikes. I think they’re all awesome but usually, they’re set up for men. It means that sometimes, it can be hard to find things that fit for women. We just turned it on its head.”

Benson went a step further, however, searching for other ways to innovate the bike buying experience beyond catering to women’s unique needs. “Saying we’re a women’s-focused bike shop is unique and it’s honest to who we are, [but] it’s not enough.” she says, “If you’re going to succeed at having a business in this type of saturated market, you have to be really different.”

Benson began by positioning Gladys Bikes as more than just a place to buy a product, she turned it into a community. She started writing a shop blog and hosting regular events like Saddle Speed Dating, where women sign up in advance to come into the shop and try out a number of different bike saddles on short group bike rides to find the one that works best for them.

Benson says that her entry into the world of small-business ownership was made easier by her parents, whose own experiences underscored not only how rewarding entrepreneurship could be, but also how much hard work it required.

“I definitely learned from my parents and saw how constantly difficult it was.” Benson says, but watching her parents also allowed her to understand why entrepreneurship would prove so well-suited to her. “I’ve had so many different mini careers in my short life because I just get really bored,” she admits “ I like to create things. I like to constantly be doing something different and I like to take ownership over what I’m doing.”

Princes Need to Be Rescued, Too

2600 miles away in Atlanta, Georgia, Molly Proffitt found herself motivated by the same desire to create a different version of the world around her.

Proffitt founded KerChunk Games, and quickly set out to do things differently. When Proffitt and fellow developers Leah Knighton and Annick Huber discussed what kind of game they wanted to create, they came to a unanimous conclusion. “Within five minutes, we all said ‘We want to rescue a prince’.” And for Proffitt and her peers, the goal wasn’t purely about turning a tired gaming narrative on its head, it was about breaking free of rigid gender roles, too.

“It’s not that it hadn’t been done,” she explains, “It’s taking our experience of already building games and saying ‘Let’s put the level of polish on it that we feel it needs, and take this theme that we feel needs to be conveyed, that all people can be heroes and princes can be rescued too.’”

By creating Princenapped, a unique digital puzzle game where players work to rescue a prince, Proffitt tacitly challenges the typical game structure and the assumptions about those who make them, too. It’s important for her to do so because despite playing video games her whole life, Proffitt admits it took a while before she realized that she could be one of the people making them, too.

“This is actually really common for women in the industry,” she shares, “Even though I loved them and had been making my own websites when I was sixteen…I never thought that I could make games.”

With only 11% of game designers being female and 3-5% of programmers, Proffitt’s games are a vital tool to showcase a world different from the male-centric one most games reflect. She also views entrepreneurship as a key way to encourage female participation in a historically male field.

“There aren’t a lot of women in game development and we’re working to change that,“ she says, “The only way we can change that is to see more companies that have women in leadership positions, that can then hire more women.”

If the future of small-business truly is female, it’s because women like this are working doggedly to make it happen. They’re revolutionizing customer experiences, tailoring their products to previously-ignored female audiences, and using their positions to empower other women to follow in their footsteps. You go, girls.

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