5 minutes

9 Southern Female Founders to Know During Women’s History Month

Ellen Latham, Orangetheory Fitness

March is Women’s History Month, so we thought it’d be fitting to honor a few trailblazing female entrepreneurs who are forging new paths in medicine, technology, media, and finance right here in the South. It’s not an easy path to forge, either. Only 9 percent of high-growth tech startups have female founders, an estimated 94 percent of decision-makers at VC firms are male, and despite making up a majority of the workforce, women are only majority owners in 38 percent of US businesses. But Southern entrepreneurial hubs, coding programs, universities, and policy-makers are actively working to increase these numbers, and it’s paying off.

Last year, WalletHub ranked four Southern metros in their top 10 cities for female founders, and hubs like Dallas, Memphis, and Atlanta top the ranks in growth rate and average revenue for women-owned businesses. Get to know a few of the powerhouse women who are changing the stats and making it happen:


  1. Anisa Telwar is founder of Atlanta-based Anisa International, the beauty industry’s leading global cosmetic accessory and brush manufacturing company. The college dropout launched her company in 1992 when she was just 24-years-old. Now, Anisa International rakes in more than $47 million in annual sales, counts 650 employees, and works with clients like Sephora, Estee Lauder, and L’Oreal.
  2. Sara Blakely used her $5000 savings to launch her shapewear company Spanx in 2000. Now, the hugely successful Atlanta-based brand is opening its own retail shops across the US, can be found in more than 50 countries, and has earned an estimated $400 million in sales. In 2006, she founded the Sara Blakely Foundation, a non-profit “dedicated to helping women globally and locally through education and entrepreneurship.” In 2012, Forbes named Sara the world’s youngest, self-made female billionaire; she’s also one of TIME’s 100 Most Influential People.
  3. Cindy Whitehead is the Raleigh-based entrepreneur who developed Addyi. You may know it as the “female Viagra” — it’s the first FDA approved drug to treat female sexual dysfunction. In 2015, she sold Addyi and its parent company, Sprout Pharmaceuticals, to Valeant Pharmaceuticals for a cool $1 billion. Last year, Whitehead launched The Pink Ceiling, a female-led investment company that funds “mission-driven companies with novel solutions for challenges affecting women.” She also recently opened the Pinkubator, a workspace and mentorship provider for women led or women focused businesses.
  4. Pamela Evette is the President and CEO of South Carolina-based Quality Business Solutions, an outsourced solution for payroll, human resources and benefits. The company launched in 2000 and now handles payroll for clients in 48 states. In 2015, Evette ranked second on Inc.’s list of the Top 50 Women Entrepreneurs in America. This “Impact 50” list highlights the 50 fastest-growing women-run companies on the Inc. 5000. Last year, she was named Enterprising Woman of the Year by Enterprising Women Magazine.
  5. Diane Heavin co-founded the fitness chain Curves International in 1992 with just $10,000 in savings. The Waco, Texas-based company has since grown into one of the world’s largest fitness franchise, counting almost 6,000 locations in over 70 countries. In 2012, Heavin and her husband sold the company to North Castle Partners, and despite a recent slow in growth, Forbes still estimated Curves’ 2014 revenue at over $52 million.
  6. Sheila Crump Johnson co-founded BET, or Black Entertainment Television, in 1979. The Washington, D.C.-based media company sold to Viacom for a whopping $2.9 billion in 2001. She now owns Salamander Resort and Spa in Northern Virginia, as well as a private charter jet company and stakes in three D.C. professional sports teams. Johnson ranks at No. 21 on Forbes latest list of America’s Richest Self-Made Women, and is using part of that fortune to fund documentaries and films featuring African American voices.
  7. Ellen Latham founded Orangetheory Fitness in Fort Lauderdale in 2010. The “plateau-busting” workout chain now has 600 studios nationwide, as well as locations in Australia, Japan, and Canada. Last year, Orangetheory earned $450 million in revenue and was ranked as the third-fastest women-owned business in the US by Women Presidents’ Organization. Latham says her company is on track to open another 300 locations in 2017
  8. Shaza L. Andersen is the founder and CEO of WashingtonFirst Bank. Andersen opened the bank’s first branch in 2004; since then the institution has grown to 19 branches in Virginia, Maryland, and DC, with over $2 billion in assets. Andersen also founded the WashingtonFirst Youth Foundation (WFYF), a non-profit dedicated to enriching the physical, social, and mental well-being of children in D.C. metro area. She’s been named one of the Top 25 Women to Watch by American Banker and ranked on the Washington Business Journal’s Power 100, 50 Fastest Growing Companies (twice), and Women Who Mean Business.
  9. Kathy-Lee Sepsick is founder and CEO of Femasys, an Atlanta-based biotech company that develops innovative medical devices for the women’s healthcare market. Since launching 13 years agao, Sepsick has been included on 60 patents and patent applications. Her current efforts include development of a non-surgical procedure for female sterilization; in late 2016 she earned FDA approval…and a $40 million Series C to continue research and testing.

Are you feeling as inspired as we are? Join us at DIG ICON this April to learn from powerhouse women just like these. Our lineup includes Southern female founders like Cokie Berenyi, Founder of Alphavest, Rosario Chozas, co-founder of Bammies, and Michelle Van Jura, Founder of Intersect Communications.

Click here to learn more and register before rates increase on March 31!