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Women who inspire: Entrepreneurs who are resetting amid COVID-19

Know Your Value spotlights six inspirational entrepreneurs who are adapting and finding success, despite the difficult economic climate.
From left to right: Lisa Sun, CEO and founder of Gravitas, and Jane Park, CEO and founder of Tokki.
From left to right: Lisa Sun, CEO and founder of Gravitas, and Jane Park, CEO and founder of Tokki.Courtesy of Lisa Sun and Jane Park.

While we have yet to see the full impact of the coronavirus pandemic, we have begun to witness its severe impact on our global economy.

RELATED: A 'full-blown she-cession': How COVID-19 is economically hurting women, minorities the most

Businesswomen, specifically businesswomen of color, have been disproportionately affected. Consequently, they’ve been forced to adapt to the continuously changing tides. Here are six entrepreneurs’ inspirational stories of how they are doing just that.

Karen Cahn, founder & CEO of IFundWomen

Courtesy of Karen Cahn.

Karen Cahn is a pioneer in tech and media, having spent much of her career at leading corporations, including Google, YouTube and AOL. After leaving AOL in 2014, Cahn and her team at VProud Labs — a women-focused video company she founded— wanted to raise money for a passion project they were working on. Initially they launched a Kickstarter campaign but, when fundraising wasn’t taking off, Cahn began reaching out to friends and acquaintances to meet the campaign’s goal.

That experience led Cahn to realize the majority of crowdfunding platforms were unapproachable for women and people of color. This light bulb moment inspired Cahn and her co-founders to launch their own crowdfunding platform, IFundWomen, with the goal to drive funding towards female entrepreneurs and close the gender funding gap in venture capital.

When COVID-19 shut down brick-and-mortar businesses nationwide, IFundWomen began a relief fund, providing microgrants to women-owned businesses impacted by this crisis. As small businesses and start-ups struggle to find their footing during the pandemic, iFundWomen’s mission statement is especially relevant: to equip women with the confidence, knowledge, and funding they need to bring their visions to life.

We started IFundWomen because there was no access to immediate capital, expert coaching, and critical connections to help women entrepreneurs launch and grow profitable businesses. During the pandemic, IFundWomen has been the lifeline that has allowed our members to not only to survive, but, more importantly, to grow. – Karen Cahn

Mollie Eliasof, CEO of Mollie Eliasof Therapy

Courtesy of Mollie Eliasof

As the chief therapist and CEO of Mollie Eliasof Therapy, an organization that provides in-person and teletherapy opportunities nationally, Mollie Eliasof has seen first-hand the demand for mental health support increase amid COVID-19. Despite the desperate need for Eliasof’s services during this time, her clients had trouble affording treatment and finding space for confidential conversations.

In response, Eliasof regularly goes on Instagram Live (@mollieeliasof) to offer free information. The saying that’s gotten Mollie through this rough season is: “Virtue cannot live in isolation: Neighbors are sure to grow around it” by Confucius.

We may not all be at our ultimate goal (and hopefully none of us are because the goal keeps going and expanding)... But we can step back to notice where we are. Right now. –Mollie Eliasof

Mari Kuraishi, president of the Jessie Ball duPont Fund

Stephanie Acar/Jessie Ball DuPont Fund

Mari Kuraishi heads a nonprofit that serves communities by fostering inclusive growth and reducing structural and systemic barriers to resources and opportunity. Although the crowdfunding industry has been moving away from in-person donations for years, coronavirus forced many nonprofits to pivot and either enhance their digital infrastructures or create a robust and accessible online presence.

Kuraishi and her team collected and analyzed data that not only helped the Jessie Ball duPont Fund understand the future of their organization more, but also informed other nonprofits how evolving to an online space can be beneficial: the rise of online giving, teleservices, expanding virtually to reach more donors and volunteers, and the ability to collaborate and share information and resources with other nonprofits and organizations to fill the needs of their communities.

The lingering stigma around ‘working from home’ was removed overnight when non-essential employees were mandated to stay home to prevent the spread of COVID-19. In the future, no one should be asked to weigh the implications of a work-from-home request with the future success of their career. – Mari Kuraishi

Midgi Moore, owner Juneau Food Tours

Courtesy of Juneau Food Tours

Juneau Food Tours owner Midgi Moore has spent the past six years writing and blogging about Juneau, Alaska and the delicious food scene there. She started a food tour company as a way to share her passion for food and her love of the picturesque city.

But when the pandemic hit, cruise lines canceled all trips and stopped bringing tourists to the city. Though tours were stopped indefinitely, Midgi switched gears with her business by launching Taste Alaska!, a subscription box featuring Alaskan shelf-stable food products, artwork and cultural items from the region, in addition to visitor guides and tips. Not only has she has been able to keep her small business afloat, but she has also helped numerous local businesses that were similarly affected by the pandemic.

Our motto is, If you can't come to us, we'll come to you. Our goal is to keep Alaska in the forefront of travelers' minds. This is also an opportunity for me to work with small businesses throughout the state, and to share all of Alaska. – Midgi Moore

Lisa Sun, CEO and founder of Gravitas, and Jane Park, CEO and founder of Tokki

CEO and founder of Tokki Jane Park on a video call with CEO and founder of Gravitas Lisa Sun.
CEO and founder of Tokki Jane Park on a video call with CEO and founder of Gravitas Lisa Sun.Courtesy of Jane Park and Lisa Sun

Lisa Sun is the CEO & Founder of Gravitas, a company that makes confidence-catalyzing, inclusive fashion. Jane Park is the CEO & Founder of Tokki, a new social and sustainable gifting company.

These friends and entrepreneurs quickly learned the importance of leaning on each other when navigating their separate companies through the coronavirus crisis. Just a few months after the launch of Tokki, Park was forced to pivot due to the pandemic’s economic impact.

When Park and Sun learned from friends on the frontlines that they were having a hard time finding masks, the CEOs jumped into action, redirecting their companies’ efforts into a mask-making collaboration: Tokki x Gravitas. For every mask sold, they donate one mask to a frontline worker. Lisa and Jane didn’t stop there, going on to collaborate with their summer interns to create a purposeful and relevant mask line that celebrates 100 years of women's right to vote and women leaders who paved the way.

For every mask from the VOTE collection purchased, they donate 10 percent of profits to the National Black Women’s Justice Institute (NBWJI), an organization that works to reduce racial and gender disparities across the justice continuum affecting Black women, girls, and their families. With more mask collaborations dedicated to helping others on the way, these CEOs are redefining the saying “pivoting with purpose.”

Gravitas is all about self-confidence, equality, and representation. All of these aspects are encompassed in the idea of a women’s right to vote, so I wanted to do something special to celebrate this milestone of 100 years suffrage… when you wear these pieces, not only are you fulfilling your humane duty to care for others, you are honoring the fight these women dedicated their lives to. – Lisa Sun