By Matthew Rooke
More and more women are creating startups and getting involved in the entrepreneurial world every day. A report done in February of last year found that women made up 38% of entrepreneurs under 35 and that number has only continued to grow.
Despite that women still face obstacles unique to their situation, whether it’s the gender pay gap or a lack of financial investment compared to male entrepreneurs.
An article by Forbes for instance highlighted the difficulties that exist for women attempting to raise money in Silicon Valley. It revealed how women were viewed in the same archaic stereotypes seen in the past, one based around appearance and gender codes, “clothing was a tool to defuse gender, a strategy for gaining access to an almost exclusively male professional environment.”
We believe in breaking down barriers that stop anyone from realising their startup potential and in the spirit of International Women’s Day we wanted to focus on the success of two of our hard working members, Natasha Benjamin of Free Your Mind and Marie Drago of Gallinée.
The story of Natasha and Free Your Mind is an unconventional yet powerful one in the entrepreneurial world and represents the tenacity and strength all entrepreneurs need when building their startup.
Free Your Mind was born as a charity dedicated towards raising awareness and offering a support structure to abuse victims and those suffering from mental illness.
It was born out of Natasha’s own personal experience and her desire to reach out to others for what is often a very private affair, “I know how hard it can be to reach out to others, like many people with mental health issues, I didn’t let on to anyone what was going on with me for many years.”
It was actually due to that very reason that Free Your Mind began, not as a charity but instead as a blog, “I decided to write out my feelings in a blog, to convey to everyone what I was going through.”
Afterwards for Natasha everything just spiralled forth from there “In the space of just 12 months, I’d attracted over 30,000 followers and went from contemplating suicide to creating a supportive organisation that helps them rebuild their sense of self.”
Natasha joined us under our scholarship programme, a programme set up to provide those from disadvantaged background free access and support to all of our services. With that she was able to find the help she needed to transform Free Your Mind into a charity that has helped hundreds of children through their workshops and campaigns.
Natasha showed a determination and grit unique to her situation that all entrepreneurs need and with it could not only successfully overcome her issues but build her charity into a successful enterprise that has now won her several awards such as the inspirational woman of the year by the daily mail, along with a social entrepreneurship award by Unltd. “I felt really humbled and grateful to be considered an inspiring woman, a few years ago I would never have thought such a thing possible, let alone that I’d be an entrepreneur!”
Natasha has earned every minute of her success and is an inspiration for all entrepreneurs to never give in to pressure whether its external or internal but to continue on.
Marie Drago the founder of Gallinée has been with us for years. One of our longest standing members, Marie is an inspiration for all of us with her work ethic, arriving in the office at 8 am and working all days of the week until 8pm.
Beginning as a doctor in pharmacy and working for over 15 years for various skincare brands, Marie noted a gap in her industry between what she knew of cosmetic science and traditional skincare products. It was combining this knowledge and experience together that led her to creating Gallinée. It’s mission is a simple one, to produce a healthy product with the “modern, busy, urban woman in mind,” yet the science behind it is intricate and deep.
Marie has grown her company with us from the very start, building and building until her dreams were realised. “The first time I saw my product in a store I was so overwhelmed, I just wanted to hug the store manager.” She said recounting her first experience.
Yet under her watch Gallinée has grown into a truly international brand and sells now across not only the whole of the UK but Spain, Ireland and of course her native France!
Still Marie remains determined, still Marie comes in day after day, allowing herself only to leave at 6 pm on a Friday. “I have my rent to pay!” she joked when I asked her about her work ethic, well rent or no rent she embodies the entrepreneurial spirit in how devoted and determined she has been with Gallinée. I asked her for some advice that she had for other entrepreneurs starting out like she did with only a dream and an idea, “My usual advice for people who want to start their business is to talk about their idea as much as possible: no one is going to steal it, and the feedback and help they’ll get is the best thing ever.”
Both Natasha and Marie are representative of the type of entrepreneurs we have here at Launch22 and the type we love to support, those who have a real passion and drive for what they do. Both women have earned every inch of their success and we all look forward to seeing what they achieve in the future and how Free Your Mind and Gallinée will continue to grow.