Women Entrepreneurs

12 Female Entrepreneurs Reflect Upon What They Learned in 2015

12 Female Entrepreneurs Reflect Upon What They Learned in 2015
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As 2015 winds down, I wonder what other women entrepreneurs are thinking about. I’m interested to know if they reflect on the previous year and incorporate lessons learned into the strategies for the coming year. So I reached out and connected with women all over the world and across a diverse spectrum of industries to find out.

Several of them were kind enough to talk with me about their business failures, accomplishments and goals. In their own words, they shared great insights and stories. A common theme I discovered was their honesty about the realities of starting and running a business. They were vulnerable in expressing where they failed and humble about their successes. It was refreshing. 

Related: Career Tips from 5 Millennial Women CEOs Leading Innovation

I was especially thrilled to hear from Dame Stephanie Shirley, the inspiring subject of my last article. She started a computer programming business in 1962 and sold it 17 years ago when it employed 8,500 people. She’s currently on a book tour promoting her memoir, Let It Go.  

I enjoyed learning about these women entrepreneurs -- and I’m certain you will too. Let’s continue to foster an economy where more women become business leaders. It just makes the world feel better.

1. Dame Stephanie Shirley

Dame Stephanie Shirley

Image credit: Dame Stephanie Shirley

Q: If you could talk to the Stephanie Shirley who was starting her business, knowing what you know today, what would you tell her?

Exercise to keep your energy levels up -- building a business is for the long term. And if it were not stressful, we’d all be millionaires.

Q: What do you envision for future women entrepreneurs?

Recognition of the importance of culture. And that it could and should be gender-neutral.

Q: What is the one thing you want women entrepreneurs -- aspiring and established -- to know?

There’s enormous fun in doing new things and making new things happen. But you need to be strategic in your goals.

2. Amanda Brinkman 

Amanda Brinkman, Small Business Revolution

Small Business Revolution, championed by Deluxe, founded in 2015 
Image credit: Amanda Brinkman

Q: What is the Small Business Revolution?

The Small Business Revolution is a documentary series telling the stories of 100 small businesses. It is our love letter to small business owners across the country.

Q:What about this work makes you most proud?

Truly creating a movement. We wanted to do something that moved people to be engaged and share. The Small Business Revolution community was built on celebrating small businesses and the importance they have in our country. 

We proved that telling authentic stories drives real business value. As marketers, we don’t always have to have the cool factor or a sound-bite. We can hold ourselves accountable to doing work that matters, and I can prove it with the results of The Revolution.

3. Catherine Polacek

Catherine Polacek, Printerette Press

Printerette Press, founded in 2010printerettepress.com 

Image credit: Catherine Polacek


Q: What is Printerette Press?

Printerette Press is a boutique design and letterpress print shop. We specialize in hand-rendered and painted designs, and print them on 100-year-old equipment. 

Q: What have you learned as you experience growth in your business?

We received exceptional press this year that I’m very proud of, including features in Martha Stewart Weddings, Wit & Delight blog and a feature in a book, Weddings in Color, published by Chronicle Books. In my opinion, each of these are the gold-standard in their categories, and the buzz they have generated feels like a true feather in Printerette’s cap. 

Printerette is my baby, so many decisions feel very personal to me -- where they never will for my employees. I’ve had to learn how to take a step back and trust the talent I hired to do the right things.

4. Annie Deckert

Annie Deckert, The Decklan Group

The Decklan Group, founded in 2013  decklangroup.com

Image credit: Annie Deckert


Q: What does the Decklan Group do?

We are an economic development and consulting firm. 

Q: What did you accomplish in 2015 that makes you want to shout from the rooftops?

My biggest accomplishment was the successful completion of three economic development projects in the community I live, Elk River, Minn. We helped three businesses build new facilities resulting in over 160,000 new square feet of development, the retention of over 300 jobs, the creation of over 100 new jobs and a tax-base increase of over $410,000 per year. Prior to the completion of these projects, all three sites were tax exempt, because they were vacant and owned by the city of Elk River. 

5. Carol Fishman Cohen

Carol Fishman Cohen, iRelaunch
iRelaunch, founded in 2007 iRelaunch.com
Image credit:Carol Fishman Cohen

Q: What is iRelaunch? 

We produce career re-entry products and services for individuals, employers, professional associations and universities.

Q: What accomplishment from 2015 are you most proud of? 

We originated and now co-lead the Society of Women Engineers / iRelaunch STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathmatics) Reentry Task Force. We are working with seven engineering-based companies that form the founding membership of the Task Force, each committing to pilot a re-entry internship program over the next year for engineers returning to work after a career break. The founding members of the Task Force are Booz Allen Hamilton, Caterpillar, Cummins, General Motors, IBM, Intel and Johnson Controls. 

6. Jo-Anne Reynolds

JoAnne Reynolds, SpikeBee
SpikeBee, founded in 2015 SpikeBee.com
Image credit: Jo-Anne Reynolds

Q: What is SpikeBee? 

SpikeBee.com is a free online marketing platform to help company’s promote their summer camps, classes and activities and help fill spots. We provide an online platform to help parents find summer camps, classes and activities for their families based on age, location, cost, interest and date range.

Q: What will you focus on in the new year? 

I need to move forward and keep thinking big. If you can believe it, you can achieve it. In 2015, I grew SpikeBee from five camp listings to over 25,000 camp listings and helped camp providers and parents alike. 

After several failures last year, I learned the value in hiring the best technical team you can. In the coming year, I will keep working hard to make sure we are the number-one search engine for camps, classes and activities in North America and beyond!

Related: 50 Motivational Quotes From Disruptive, Trailblazing, Inspiring Women Leaders

7. Lana Siewert-Olson

Lana Siewert-Olson, Ideal Printers

Ideal Printers, Inc., founded in 1979
Image credit: Siewert-Olson

Q: What does Ideal Printers do? 

We sell commercial print, mailing and fulfillment services. While we have a large variety of equipment, we most efficiently serve the medium print run market, 2,500 to 300,000 brochures, flyers, catalogs, etc.

Q: What have you learned as you experience growth in your business? 

I’ve learned that our reputation for being nice can affect our decision-making about personnel. This reputation led to keeping employees who don’t truly fit into our culture for far too long. We had a few people who we knew were not ideal employees and let three people go at one time. I thought we would receive backlash from our other employees, but we didn’t hear any complaints. A few of them actually thanked us for doing what we did. 

It has been better for Ideal -- and hopefully better for those employees. I suspect they have gotten positions at other companies that are better suited for them.

8. Peggy Tanler

Peggy Tanler, Prairie Point Quilting

Prairie Point Quilting, founded in 2012
Image credit: Peggy Tanler

Q: What is Prairie Point Quilting? 

Prairie Point Quilting is a home-based business that offers quilt-finishing services. We use a long arm (12’) machine to stitch the quilt layers together. We like to work on all quilts, but modern designs are our specialty. 

Q: What is your biggest lesson from 2015? 

I’ve learned that my competitive advantage is my high-level of service and creativity. Too many times, I’ve been told that the work I do is “a real bargain.” While I want my clients to be happy, I also have to maintain a business model that ensures profitability. 

9. Laura Wood

Laura Wood, By the Woods


By The Woods, founded in 2001
Image credit: Laura Wood

Q: What does By The Woods do? 

We offer custom landscape design and installation services as well as a retail garden center, The Garden By The Woods, focused on naturally treated plant material and organic solutions for fertilization and pest problems. 

Q: What advice do you have for other entrepreneurs? 

Be confident in your pricing. Decline opportunities that do not build trust. Do not bring bitterness to your work environment -- it’s contagious. Investing in compassionate but honest / firm behavior is always worth it.

10. Valerie Carlson

Valerie Carlson, Spark Letterpress

Spark Letterpress, founded in 2004
Image credit: Valerie Carlson

Q: What does Spark Letterpress do? 

Stationery design and specialty printing (letterpress, foil stamping, hand finishing).

Q: What is your biggest lesson from 2015?

To be more cautious when adding to the team. We love all of the staff we’ve worked with, especially over the past two years, but we hired people we ultimately couldn’t afford. Fortunately, we didn’t stretch too far beyond our means, but we were too optimistic. Entrepreneurs are always encouraged to take risks, but they should always be calculated risks.

11. Kristi Hemmer

Kristi Hemmer

AWE (Academy for Women’s Empowerment), founded in 2013
Image credit: Kristi Hemmer


Q: What does AWE do? 

AWE is a social enterprise that unleashes women’s potential, power and possibility through innovative courses, international travel, individual / group coaching, camps and AWEsome events.

Q: What is your biggest lesson from 2015? 

The importance of diversification. Women’s empowerment is the first thing cut in corporations. I had a verbal agreement to expand the POWERcourse which would have exceeded my 2015 goal, and it was then postponed from Q3 2015 to Q1 / Q2 2016. It was crushing! Since then, I’ve invested more time in developing products and the youth component of AWE. Even when the economy tanks, women will invest in their daughters.

12. Nicole Heibrok

BRANDWERT Markenkommunikation, founded in 2005
Image credit: Nicole Heibrok

Q: What does BRANDWERT do? 

Brand development and brand management, business-to-business advertising solutions for companies in tech and engineering and consulting.

Q: What did you accomplish in 2015?

Having overcome a life-threatening illness the previous year, I had to rebuild my business from the ground up. I had not been able to work much in 2014, and subsequently found myself running a startup looking for new clients all over again. Prior to my illness, I had been running my business for 10 years. 

As 2015 is coming to a close, I am very happy that I found a way to professionally survive, regroup and to strengthen my own brand in the process.

Related: 4 Inspiring Stories of Women Entrepreneurs From Around the World