These Young Female Founders Overcame Rejection To Build High-Growth Businesses From Scratch

On stage with Matthews was Jean Brownhill, also one of the 11 black female entrepreneurs to raise more than a million dollars in venture capital. Her startup, Sweeten, matches homeowners with certified architects, designers and general contractors. Brownhill, a trained architect, founded Sweeten seven years ago after a frustrating experience in hiring contractors while renovating her own townhouse in Brooklyn. 

Jean BrownhillBEN ESAKOF

She was used to working in the male-dominated fields of architecture, technology and construction but noticed new obstacles when she had to delve into the world of venture capital.

“It’s mostly men in these fields, but the venture partners tend to be mostly older white men,” says Brownhill. “So when they’d meet someone like me, they didn’t have a lot of pattern recognition. I heard so many nos.” 

She says she’s since learned to turn rejection into a source of motivation: “I internalize it so differently now. Now when I hear ‘no’ I think, ‘I am one no closer to my yes.’ ”

With close to $10 million in funding to date, Sweeten has posted more than $1 billion in residential and commercial construction projects.

Now when I hear ‘no’ I think ‘I am one no closer to my yes’.”

Jean Brownhill

Not all startups are meant for venture capital. Karissa Bodnar formerly worked for beauty startup Clarisonic until L’Oréal acquired it in 2011. After the exit, she used $100,000 in savings to launch Thrive Causemetics, a mission-driven makeup company.  

 “I had no idea what VC was, so I funded it myself,” she says. “Piece by piece I created formulations that were different out of my one-bedroom apartment.”

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