Think it’s too late to remake yourself? Think again. A recent study of 2.7 million startups found that the best time to start a business is when you’re in your 40s. In fact, it turns out, the average startup founder was 45 years old when starting some of the most successful tech companies. Inspired yet? Just ask these women entrepreneurs, all of whom started successful businesses after the big 4-0.
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Vanessa Quigley - Getting Photos Off Your Phone and into Books
Who She Is: Co-Founder of Chatbooks
How anyone with seven kids has time to do anything beats us—but Vanessa Quigley managed to create a wildly successful business while also juggling the demands of motherhood (times seven!). Inspired by her desire to turn those endless phone photos of her kids into something real she could hold in her hands, she created Chatbooks, a website and app that turns social media feeds into printed photo books.
"It was a particularly heart-wrenching moment of mom guilt that catalyzed starting my company," Quigley wrote in this Thrive Global article. "I realized I had never printed a single photo of my youngest … and he had just turned five years old. (Horrifying, I know.) Our app was created when I realized there must be an easier way for parents to get their photos off their phones."
With Chatbooks, users can personally choose the photos they want to include, or let the app do it for them, sending a new book every time the user posts 60 photos on Instagram. With the help of hilarious viral videos like this one—the company has grown exponentially, now employing more than 100 people and having sold more than 10 million books to date.
"I continue to champion ways to resolve mom guilt in every part of our company," she continued in the article, referencing Chatbooks' "Toddler Guarantee," which says, that if your child rips, draws on, or eats your photo book, you can get a free replacement. "It is easy to get overwhelmed with all the mini failures of being a parent . . . When you take a minute to look at family photos, you remember that you’re doing a good job and feel like a better parent. I have photos everywhere now to remind myself that I’ve got this!"
Kate Torgersen - Helping Breastfeeding Moms Keep Working
Who She Is: Founder and CEO of Milk Stork
Kate Torgersen was 41 when she decided something had to be done to help working breastfeeding moms get breast milk to their babies—even if it meant shipping it during solo business trips. She was exclusively breastfeeding her twins in 2014 when she was called on a four-day work trip she couldn't turn down. To make sure her babies were fed and her milk supply didn't waiver, she pumped and stashed milk ahead of time—and pumped and stashed even more while she was away. The whole thing was physically and emotionally exhausting, she said.
"I got home from the trip and was determined to find a simple solution to this incredibly annoying problem that so many working moms face," she said. "The day after I got home, I started working on Milk Stork, and it was launched a year later."
Milk Stork, which is currently the only company of its kind for working moms, ships breastmilk nationwide and internationally to 54 countries using overnight delivery. While shipping can be expensive (upwards of $139), the company has grown so big that it's even covered by 749 companies as an employee benefit.
"As working moms, we are faced with enough tradeoffs and compromises," Torgersen said on her website. "Providing our babies with breast milk shouldn’t have to be one of them."
Online: Milk Stork
Cristy Clavijo-Kish - Helping teens and their parents navigate a bilingual world
Who She Is: Founder of Los Tweens & Teens
Cristy Clavijo-Kish was 47 and a mother of tween twin girls when she started Los Tweens & Teens, a site which she calls the only bilingual (English/Spanish) digital platform offering advice to teens, tweens and their parents. In addition to curated content from parenting experts, teachers and counselors, the site covers youth-centric topics like college prep, bullying and teen driving. It’s a niche, Clavijo-Kish said, that was direly needed online.
“I couldn't find any online support for older kids from a culturally relevant perspective,” said Clavijo-Kish, who was born in New Jersey to Cuban immigrants. “Blogs and online sites were mostly focused on toddlers and potty training, but content dropped off after Kindergarten it seemed. So I created a space to help parents facing similar issues of anxiety, testing, bullying, travel, wellness, etc.”
The company also produces local events and experiences for families called "Teens & Me” in Clavijo-Kish’s current home town of Miami (this may soon expand, she said).
“I have more belief in my own strengths now than ever before,” Clavijo-Kish said of her mid-life career change. “Funny that during your youth supposedly is the time for more risk taking, but experience allows you to be more thoughtful within your risk if that makes sense.”
Online: Los Tweens & Teens
Wendy Herman - Making Bras Especially for Teens
Who She Is: Founder of BRABAR
We grown-ups have all heard how important it is to wear the right bra—but do our daughters know this when they go out looking for their first one?
Wendy Herman didn’t think so. So she founded BRABAR, a brand aiming to help girls feel more comfortable and confident in their own skin—by helping them find the right bras. The brand’s “EZ-fit” method teaches young women to find the correct band measurement: essential to a proper fit.
“Finding and wearing a bra that is the perfect size is fundamental,” Herman said. “We service the Junior Intimate Apparel customers, who need smaller band sizes and a more inclusive fit.”
The 49-year-old came up with the idea not just after decades of working in the intimate apparel industry (including work for Yummy and Calvin Klein)—but after taking her daughter bra shopping for the first time. It was then that she realized there were limited product options for extended sizing to offer support, especially for teenage girls.
BRABAR recently opened its first flagship store at the Menlo Park Mall in Edison, New Jersey.
“Becoming an entrepreneur and launching BRABAR as a mother has been amazing,” Herman said. “Where I feel a huge sense of responsibility; it also afforded me the opportunity to be more flexible and available for my kids, and I hope that juggling work and life sets a positive example for them.”
Online: Shop Bra Bar
Julie Melnick - Making Air Travel With Kids Easier
Who She Is: Founder of SkySquad
For any parent who's ever flown with a brood of antsy little travelers, Julie Melnick feels your pain. To help with the daunting task of traveling with babies or kids (or just traveling, period), the 42-year-old founded SkySquad—an airport assistance company for moms, dads and seniors.
"The stress that goes along with traveling with kids was pretty major," said Melnick, who was working in public relations before starting SkySquad. "I knew there had to be a better way to travel."
Here's how it works: SkySquad assistants meet families (or seniors) at their car upon arrival and help carry bags, car seats, strollers, etc., to the ticketing counter. From there, they get the gang through security and to the gate—assisting with anything a traveling family might need (i.e. going on snack runs, sitting with the luggage during restroom breaks or chasing a toddler as he makes a mad run for the X-ray machine). All assistants are background checked and TSA cleared to help through security all the way to the gate.
Sounds amazing, right? The bad news: For now, the service is available at Dulles and Reagan International airports. Melnick hopes (and we do, too!) that it will grow to become a nationwide program.
Jackie Moss - Making Hospital Gowns Fun
Who She Is: Founder of Giftgowns
You could say it was a good thing Jackie Moss ended up in the hospital. After all, it was only after her sudden cardiac arrest and subsequent hospital stay that she was inspired to make Giftgowns, a company that has since earned her a spot on Canada's Top 100 Most Powerful Women and, maybe more importantly, given thousands of hospital patients inspiring inpatient garb.
"My life changed after my cardiac arrest," said Moss, a longtime business executive who was working as vice president at a Canadian bank when she landed in the hospital. "During my time in the hospital, I had plenty of time to think and I knew that, by the time I left, I wanted to start a business. I came up with the idea of Giftgowns while I was in the hospital, and once I was out and brainstorming different business ideas, this was the idea that I kept going back to the idea that resonated the most with me. I liked the thought of making people happier and more comfortable in the hospital."
Giftgowns aren't anything like the sterile blue gowns we all associate with hospitals. Rather, they look like big, comfy T-shirts—with fun phrases emblazoned on the front like: "My other gown is Chanel," "Keep Calm and Ow," and "I'd rather be golfing." The gowns have easy access snaps on the sleeves and in the back, as well as pockets for anything patients might want to carry on them during trips to the bathroom or up and down the halls.
Since the company's founding in 2016—when Moss had to deliver and pick up the fabric herself—Giftgowns has expanded to include kids, maternity gowns and custom gowns. In addition, her gowns are now sold at hospitals across North American (and online). "What's really interesting about being an entrepreneur now that my kids are all grown up is they're prouder of me in a different way than when I was an executive," she said. "They love that I have taken an idea borne out of an experience and turned it into something real."
Online: Gift Gowns
Alison Cayne - Chef Extraordinaire
Who She Is: Founder of Haven's Kitchen
Alison Cayne was a mother of five when she decided at age 38 to go back to school (!!) to get a master's degree in Food Studies from NYU. On a mission to change the way people feel about cooking (making people realize how easy and fun it can be), in 2012 she started Haven's Kitchen, a New York cooking school, cafe and event space in Manhattan.
But that's not all. In 2018, she branded her own line of refrigerated sauces—exotic blends with names like "Herby Chimichurri," "Nutty Lemongrass," "Zippy Chili Harissa"—which are sold online and at more than 300 locations across the country. In her own unique spin, she packages the sauces in squeeze pouches similar to your kids' favorite apple sauce container.
"I thought that maybe I could get people to want to cook by making it a more creative, fun experience," Cayne said in a 2019 Bon Appetit article. "I want people to tap into that freedom of kindergarten, of self-actualizing through cooking a meal."
She is also the host of Heritage Radio Network’s “In The Sauce” podcast, where she interviews entrepreneurs about building consumer brands. And (in case you didn't already realize her super-human powers of doing a zillion things while also parenting FIVE kids), she is also the author of The Haven's Kitchen Cookbook, an adjunct professor of Food Studies at NYU, and a guest lecturer at the Institute of Culinary Education.
"I feel like I did my life a little bit in reverse," she told Bon Appetit. "I got married and had kids at 25, and then started my career at 40. I was very fortunate that when I started all this my kids were a bit older and more self-sufficient."
Online: Havens Kitchen
Gretchen Witt - Helping Find a Cure for Kids Cancer
Who She Is: Founder of Cookies for Kids' Cancer
Gretchen Witt's success is bittersweet. She founded her nonprofit company, Cookies for Kids' Cancer, after her own son Liam was diagnosed with stage IV neuroblastoma at the age of two.
At the time, Liam had just gone into remission, and she wanted to do something to help other families who, at the time, weren't so fortunate.
“I was so grateful for his good health, he was going to live, he was in the clear, but I knew there were other kids and families still struggling … I could see their faces … and I knew pediatric cancer was underfunded,” Witt, 52, told People magazine in 2018.
In that first year, she reportedly raised more than $400,000 selling cookies with the help of more than 200 volunteers. But not long after that, her family learned that Liam's cancer had returned. Tragically, the sweet-faced little boy, whom Witt described on her blog as her "guitar-playing, cake-baking, science-loving, scooter-riding boy," died when he was only six.
“My world came crashing down again,” Witt said in the article. “We needed Cookies for Kids' Cancer now more than ever.”
Since its inception, the organization has granted almost $15 million to some of the nation’s top pediatric cancer research hospitals. In addition, thousands of Cookies for Kids' Cancer bake sales have been held across the country (Here's how you can have one, too!).
“To know there is something my husband and I put together that’s lasted and helped us feel like it’s made a difference is just amazing,” she told People.
Online: Cookies for Kids Cancer
Rena Nathanson - Making Fun Games for Families
Who She Is: Co-founder of BANANAGRAMS
Growing up, Rena and her dad, Abe, loved to play games together—and it was this family tradition that led Rena, her children and her dad to come up with the idea for BANAGRAMS
"It was three generations over a summer at our beach house in Narragansett RI," said Rena, who was 43 when she started making games with her family. "We wanted a game we could all play together, at the same time … no turn taking, and where kids could win just as easily against adults."
BANANAGRAMS is a simple word game that comes in a banana-shaped pouch (perfect for travel!). Similar to Scrabble, the game asks players to build words off of existing words; unlike Scrabble, however, BANANAGRAMS doesn't go on so long that you have to preserve the board for days on end. With this game, the first one to get rid of their tiles wins and is crowned "Top Banana."
Looking back, Rena said that juggling entrepreneurship and single motherhood was a challenge—but that it was totally worth it. "My children were 10 and 7 when Bananagrams started," she said. "They were still needing school drop offs and pick ups, and all that goes with being a single parent. Bananagrams was a make or break, as I needed an income to support myself and the kids. Working from home made things more manageable, but it was a pretty busy and challenging time. I was doing all the packing, mailing, invoicing, advertising, marketing, etc., so there wasn’t much free time. I kind of made it up as I went along. But, I am proud to say that I didn’t miss many (if any!) school assemblies, plays or sports days! Even if that meant working into the night, which I did—and still do—it was worth it!
Since its founding, the company has released twelve games, including several variations of the award-winning BANANAGRAMS (a younger kids edition, a party edition, etc.) as well as a few stand-alone games.
Amy Errett - Making Home Hair Color Better
Who She Is: CEO/Founder of Madison Reed Hair Color
You know when you want to get your hair done in a fancy salon ... but don't want to pay fancy salon prices? Amy Errett wants to solve that problem. A former venture capitalist, she founded the hair color company Madison Reed (named after her daughter, Madison Reed) in 2013 when she was in her early 50s. Her goal—besides cutting those exorbitant salon prices—was to create something a step above the boxed brands and somewhere below the pricey salons. Errett knew the business had a chance after learning that about 75% of women dye their hair, on average, every eight weeks (with 52% of those women doing it themselves at home). The hair dye industry was a 15 billion market, and Errett wanted a piece of it.
"Repetitive usage is why this business has a chance," Errett told Forbes in 2016.
It was a risk that paid off: The business now has more than 190 employees and pulls in more than $50 million in annual revenue, according to a 2019 Forbes article. In 2017, Madison Reed opened its first set of “Color Bar” salons, offering hair color services for lower prices.
As for the formulas, Errett wanted her products to be "clean," meaning nutrient-rich formulas without harsh ingredients like ammonia, parabens or phthalates.
Kathy Terry - Making "Gifts" More Meaningful
Who She Is: Founder of inLieu
What do you get the person who has everything? Certainly not a physical gift! At least, that's the idea behind inLieu, a company created by longtime entrepreneur Kathy Terry, that encourages people to give charitable gifts in lieu of actual physical items.
"The inspiration for inLieu came out of the frustration I felt when I had to purchase an obligatory gift for a friend or family member knowing that they really didn’t need or want anything," said Terry, a mother of two who was 46 when she started inLieu in 2017. "To top it off, all the things I was purchasing really didn’t represent the love, gratitude and appreciation I was trying to convey. You know the gifts I’m talking about: the hostess gifts, birthday gifts, thank you gifts, Mother Day gifts, Valentines, etc."
"I wanted a way to show my appreciation by donating to a cause that my friends and family were passionate about," she continued. "Hence, the idea of inLieu!"
Celebrities Sarah Paulson and Brooklyn Decker are fans of the app, which posts your donations on a social feed that can be shared with the gift recipients, making it a fun way to honor someone and promote a charity at the same time.
Terry, who with her husband also owns a chain of burger restaurants called P.Terry's in and around Austin, Tex., said that owning and operating a business is a learning experience for the whole family.
"I jokingly say we hold board meetings at our dinner table every night, but I wouldn’t change a thing," she said. "My girls have learned so much about our businesses, our employees, our customers, our values, our passions, our failures, our mistakes and our wins."
To anyone out there who may be thinking about starting a business, she says GO FOR IT! "The biggest regrets you’ll ever have are the risks you didn’t take," she said. "I know that if I fail, at least I tried and I learned so much along the way."
Kate Westad - Solving Your Makeup Travel Woes
Who She Is: Founder of Palette by Pak
About two years ago, attorney and single mother-of-four Kate Westad realized she was missing something. It was the middle of the night, she was leaving for a trip for Paris in the morning, and her luggage was laid out across her bedroom floor. Her favorite beauty and toiletry items were lined up beside her suitcases, and she realized that the sum of them was just too big to take along.
That was her lightbulb moment. She came up with the idea for Palette: The Original High Fiver right then and there. Her brainchild: A connected strip of five small plastic wells that people can use to take small samples of their favorite beauty products on the go.
"This has been quite the adventure," Westad said. "For the last few years I really haven’t watched TV or spent much time on hobbies, I really spent all my free time working on this project. I’m having the time of my life. Every time I see someone using our product or they write to tell us how it has revolutionized how they pack their beauty, hair or skincare routine—it literally makes my day."
Made of a squishy, leak-proof material that lets you "push up" to get every last drop of product, the Paks hold liquids, creams and powders and are perfect for travel use (they're allowed through TSA) as well as a simple trip to the gym.
Online: Palette by Pak
Denise Davies & Karri Bowen-Poole - Making Smart Playrooms
Who They Are: Co-Founders of SmartPlayrooms
Karri Bowen-Poole was a teacher for many years before coming up with the idea to design "smart playrooms." "I literally woke up in the middle of the night with an 'Aha!' moment," said the 54-year-old mother of three. "I had no idea if it was going to be a success. My motivation was always to shape and change the way kids learn and play."
With the help of interior designer Denise Davies, owner of D2 Interieurs, she started designing playrooms meant to entertain as well as educate. Their modern and sleek play havens are built based on "the belief that good design evokes creative and open-ended play," which means spacious, airy rooms with lots of room for creative and active play. By the looks of the SmartPlayrooms portfolio, these are the sorts of spaces that every kid (and parent) wishes she had—with whimsical but organized designs, built-in rock walls, from-the-ceiling monkey bars and customized reading nooks.
"Many of today’s playrooms are in out-of-the-way areas like the basement with floor-to-ceiling built-ins with way too many toys stored in huge bins. Both the children and the parents are overwhelmed," Bowen-Poole said in an article for Cottages & Gardens. "We work out designs for storage and division of the space that encourages hands-on manipulation, exploration and learning/
It was a labor of love for Bowen-Poole, who said starting a business while also raising three kids was, at times, a difficult task.
"The challenges to starting a business over 40 is that if you have a family and children, it can be a very hard balance, being a present mother and successful entrepreneur," Bowen-Poole told RT. "There were days when the balance was not always in check, but this made me prioritize my choices. I feel incredibly grateful that I have been able to be there for my children when they needed me (or when I wanted to be) and to be able to start my own company that I am passionate about. "
Shelley Goodstein - Giving Women The Hair of Their Dreams
Who She Is: Founder of Hidden Crown Extensions
Shelley Goodstein is no stranger to the spotlight. The longtime Ford model and Arizona morning show host was used to being a trendsetter—but she had never before started a business. That is, until she came up with the idea for Hidden Crown Extensions, a simple hair extension system that makes it easy for women to have the hair they've always wanted.
"On modeling jobs, they would often add clip in hair extensions and I loved the way it made my hair look fuller," said Goodstein, a mother of three who is also a blogger and author. "I had never dreamed of becoming an entrepreneur, but it just made sense. I was motivated because I had three teens to put through college in the next few years."
To develop her product, she came across an old extension method called flip in hair and improved it with a patent-pending design. Her extensions use one "invisible wire," require no clips to hide and can be put on in less than a minute.
"I knew I was not the only woman that would want these—talk about finding a product that meets a need," she said. "Everything I had done up to that point in my life put me in a perfect place to launch this product."
Goodstein started her business the year she turned 50, an accomplishment that she said should remind people that, "You're never too old, or too young to start something new."
Online: Hidden Crown Hair
Sherri Langurt - Connecting Brands to Influencers
Who She Is: Founder of BabbleBoxx
Sherri Langurt had been working in the social media space for years when she realized she knew a better way to connect brands with social media influencers: She came up with the idea for BabbleBoxx, a company that sends perfectly-packaged sample boxes to influencers who will tweet, blog and post about the products on social media channels.
"I had been working in the influencer marketing space and saw the need to create a solution that would allow brands to partner with influencers more consistently and cost effectively," said the New Jersey resident. "We approached several partners with the idea of creating an influencer co-promotion, and all five of them signed on within minutes."
Langurt said being over 40 was an asset when it came to starting her business. "There is a certain element of “not caring about what other people think” that comes with age, especially once you have a child," she said. "It’s less about you and more about protecting that tiny being you brought into the world which creates a certain kind of fearlessness."
Ellie Kanner - Making Board Games That Teach Life Skills
Who She Is: Inventor of The Game Plan game for kids
Ellie Kanner wanted a game she could play with her two kids that was both fun and educational. She couldn’t find the exact game she wanted in stores … so she did what any good entrepreneurial mom would do and invented one herself. The Game Plan is a game for kids 4+ that helps reinforce important life skills like manners, hygiene and personal safety—while also incorporating fun elements like exercise and movement.
“I wanted [my kids] to work on their reading and writing skills, and my friend (co-founder Lisa Solomon) suggested I add safety skills,” said Kanner, a longtime talent agent, producer and director who has worked on shows including Friends and Sex And the City. “Together, we added cards addressing emotional skills, good manners, health and any other life skills we could think of.”
The game asks kids questions including: “If a stranger tried to grab or hit you, what could you do?” (In the Health and Safety category); “Name at least 2 things you always MUST do after you go to the bathroom?” (in the Health and Hygiene category); “Act out a sport you play or would like to play someday. Let other players guess what it is!” (in the Move and Groove category), and “Say or spell ANY day of the week?” (in the Say And Spell category).
If players answer correctly, they get a token and move the number of spaces indicated on the question card. To win the Game Plan Game, a player needs to have collected four tokens (one from each category) and crossed the finish line.
“We assumed there would be a game like this on the market,” Kanner said, “but there wasn’t and still isn’t with the exception of ours.”
Online: Game Plan Game
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