By Hailey Eisen
Being a solopreneur can be a lonely endeavor. Without a leadership team or co-workers to bounce ideas off of, many women founders end up doing most of the heavy lifting on their own.
“Essentially, you become your own tech support, accountant, marketer, and HR,” explains Kirsten Ramos. Prior to starting her own training and development consultancy, Kirsten worked for a large digital media company — so she knew what was missing when she entered the solopreneur space. For the past five years, she’s owned and operated Chicago-based Elevate Performance Solutions. In May, she also became Co-CEO of femmebought, a role that came to her thanks to her own search for community and support.
At an event in February 2020, Kirsten met Sophia Ruffolo, the founder of femmebought, a strategic hub and virtual space for experienced women business owners. femmebought allows founders to connect with like-minded women for skill-building, mentorship, education funding, strategic planning, expert advice, and networking for business growth.
“Sophia’s passion for helping women business owners attracted me to the organization,” Kirsten explains. “When I joined femmebought as a member, it gave me an avenue to connect with other entrepreneurial women, share advice and skillsets, and create the sense of community I had been lacking.”
What Kirsten didn’t anticipate when she joined femmebought was that 16 months later, she’d be stepping into the role of Co-CEO of the organization — and President of femmebought’s Impact Accelerator program.
“I was a very active member when I first joined and quickly realized that I could help Sophia with the backend of Zoom events — since I’d been working virtually long before COVID — and could step in as a facilitator of mastermind sessions when she was unavailable,” Kirsten explains.
One thing led to another, and the opportunity for a leadership position was soon presented to Kirsten. “Sophia had built this amazing organization very quickly, and she was looking for some fresh eyes to move it forward,” Kirsten recalls.
“As we saw reported in the fall of 2020, more than 800,000 women have left the traditional business world because they were faced with challenges resulting from the pandemic, be it childcare or eldercare, or both.”
Along with her now co-CEO, Kristine Givens, Kirsten realized that it would take two women to do the work that Sophia had been doing on her own. “We were excited to team up to take femmebought into the future,” she says. “Both of us had our own businesses that we planned to continue running, so it was great to know we’d be able to work together in this role.”
Along with femmebought’s board of directors, which includes Sophia, the co-CEO’s plan to embark on many new opportunities and programs going forward. They’ve been polling their current members and evaluating the existing programs to determine the future of the organization. With members across Canada and the US — mostly in Toronto and Chicago — the opportunities for collaboration and expansion seem to be endless.
And in the current climate, an organization like this is needed more than ever. “As we saw reported in the fall of 2020, more than 800,000 women have left the traditional business world because they were faced with challenges resulting from the pandemic, be it childcare or eldercare, or both. Many women are still making less than their male counterparts, so they were the ones who stepped away from jobs and opted to stay home,” Kirsten says.
What’s come from all these women exiting the workforce, however, has been a surge of women-owned startups. “When women go out on their own, they need support. And we know they’re typically less likely than men to ask for help and to gain access to mentorship and funding.”
That’s where femmebought comes in. What sets it apart is its multifaceted approach to supporting women entrepreneurs. Membership within femmebought includes workshops, meetups, and a listing in the femmebought directory.
Members include product and service-based companies, primarily solopreneurs, who are looking to access education, share expertise, and collaborate. There’s a social media strategist, a photographer, a purveyor of delicious toffee, and a practitioner who’s set to launch a line of products. There are financial experts, coaches, and jewelry makers. There are women who have been in business for years and some who are newer to the entrepreneurship journey.
“People are certainly more conscious now in their buying and hiring habits, and many are looking to support local businesses and shop women-owned when possible.”
Through femmebought’s global directory, business owners and consumers can access an extensive list of these women-owned companies and service providers. “People are certainly more conscious now in their buying and hiring habits, and many are looking to support local businesses and shop women-owned when possible,” Kirsten says. “For me personally, I’ve used the femmebought directory a number of times, most recently to connect with a Canadian website developer who helped me redesign my website.”
Taking the support of women entrepreneurs one step further, earlier in 2021 femmebought launched and successfully ran its first Impact Accelerator, a 6-month program that allowed 15 self-identifying women entrepreneurs to grow and scale their businesses with the help of expert advisors, peer group accountability, and strategic resources.
As part of this program, seven members of typically underrepresented and minority communities were able to access scholarships provided by BMO. “Thanks to this extremely generous scholarship program, these women, who were both Canadian and American, were able to participate in the Accelerator program and gain invaluable support as they worked to scale up their businesses,” explains Kirsten.
“As we know, women are typically underrepresented in the entrepreneur space, and the intersectionality of women of colour, LGBTQ+ women, and those with disabilities further delineates that inequality,” Kirsten says. “That’s why the program had such a tangible impact on the participants.”
In fact, many of the women who participated in the Accelerator have already come back to femmebought looking to be mentors going forward. “The participants have this great attitude of paying it forward, and many have stayed on as part of our community since their experience was so valuable,” Kirsten says.
In a time when community and connection have never been more important, femmebought is poised to continue giving many solopreneurs what they wouldn’t have access to otherwise — a network focused on learning, growth, problem solving, and support.
“We are excited to continue elevating women-owned businesses in new ways while helping to ensure it’s not so lonely for those on the solopreneur journey.”