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Inspiring Women: Conversations with Female Founders

In celebration of International Women's Day, we're spotlighting the journeys, challenges, and triumphs of some of the trailblazing female founders of brands at John Bell & Croyden.

We are joined by seven dynamic women who are paving the way for future generations in the beauty and wellness industries. We learn a a bit about their brands, dive deep into their experiences, uncovering the lessons they've learned the journeys taken to get to where they are today, and get invaluable insights into the resilience required to succeed. Hoping to inspire women of all ages out there, join us in honouring their successes, as we commemorate a day that champions women's accomplishments across the globe!

If you're not already, make sure to also follow us on Instagram for more content and stories from these inspiring women throughout this week.

Meet the Founders

Awatif Mandour, Founder of Dermanda

As a female founder, what does this mean to you?

Being a Female Founder means breaking barriers, challenging norms and proving that gender doesn't limit entrepreneurial prowess. As the Founder of Dermanda Skincare, I am proud to be a woman and create a range that is loved by women. Being a Female Founder is not just about running a business; it's a commitment to empowering the next generation of women in entrepreneurship. It's a journey of self-discovery, leadership and impacting the beauty industry in a positive way. It’s about setting an example to other women, I strive to be a role model, fostering inclusivity and diversity in business.

What inspired you to start your own business, and how did the idea for your brand come about?

The inspiration to start Dermanda Skincare stemmed from a personal journey. As a pharmacist, I have always been obsessed with formulations and absorption and as an aesthetic practitioner, I was frustrated with a lack of effective skincare solutions for my patients to continue their routine at home. I was seeing patients using too many products, having too many steps in their skincare regime and using harsh products not suited to their skin type which was damaging the skin. I sought to create evidence-based products for everyone, minimising the number of steps in the skincare regime. I wanted to create a range that fused the very best of science and nature, using the finest ingredients and of course, the range had to have excellent formulation and absorption!

The brand emerged from a passion for empowering individuals to embrace their unique beauty. Dermanda is not just about skincare; it's a holistic approach to self-love and care enhancing skin health and confidence within. The Dermanda Skincare concept is “your forever skincare” – everything you need, every day.

Can you share a highlight or milestone that you're particularly proud of in your journey as an entrepreneur?

The most significant moment for me is when individuals express their love for Dermanda Skincare products. Customers from around the globe generously share their feedback, and this recognition is the ultimate compliment, making it all incredibly rewarding. There is no better feeling than hearing the positive impact Dermanda Skincare has made to a person. This feedback also helps to shape new product development and we are delighted to be expanding the range to include SPF in the summer.

Of course industry awards are a huge accomplishment and something to be proud of, especially in a fiercely competitive market. Dermanda Skincare won the Attracta Beauty Award in 2022 where judges highly recommended the brand for the Dermanda Clinic's Bespoke Facial (The Dermanda Skincare Facial). We also won the Luxury Network Awards 2022 which was a great achievement we're proud of!

Being listed in John Bell & Croyden also marks a significant milestone. The proximity of the Dermanda Clinic on Harley Street makes it especially gratifying and I am so proud to be growing the brand from our doorstep.

Isabel Greiner, Founder of Intuisse

As a female founder, what does this mean to you?

In an industry that predominantly caters to female customers but is often still dominated by male colleagues at the C-suite level, being a female founder of a beauty start-up has meant the opportunity to create:

  1. A product with superlative transparency in terms of the scientific proof and quality of ingredients
  2. A stellar team of female marketers, operators, and formulators that are either at the forefront of the industry or represent its future.

What inspired you to start your own business, and how did the idea for your brand come about?

In 2019, when I was introduced to Hanns and Giovanni (the scientists behind the breakthrough liposomal formulation for Intuisse), which has the ability to permeate the skin barrier. In our discussions, we quickly saw the opportunity to leverage my experience in skincare to make the benefits of NAD+ accessible to consumers, not just via IV drips, as historically had been the case, but topically.

What role has mentorship played in your journey to starting a business, and do you have any advice for aspiring female entrepreneurs?

Launching your own business has its ups and downs. Having access to experienced mentors provides invaluable insights, guidance, and support at every stage of the process. Don’t try to do everything on your own and reach out to people in your network—you will be surprised at how many people are willing to help.

Janine Summers, Founder of Olivanna

As a female founder, what does this mean to you?

Being a Female Founder means embodying resilience, innovation, and empowerment. It means breaking barriers in a traditionally male-dominated industry, while leveraging my unique perspective to create products that resonate with diverse audiences.

Moreover, leading by example, fostering inclusivity, and inspiring other women to pursue their entrepreneurial dreams. It’s being part of a supportive community and celebrating collective success. Above all, being a female founder means staying true to my vision and leaving a legacy of empowerment for future generations of female entrepreneurs.

What inspired you to start your own business, and how did the idea for your brand come about?

The inspiration behind creating Olivanna’s skincare line was deeply rooted in my upbringing within the British countryside and a profound belief in the potency of British botanicals. This connection to nature's offerings motivated me to harness these ingredients alongside science led actives, creating products that are both effective and gentle. I in turn, envisioned creating a luxury British Biotech brand that transcends generations, allowing both myself and my daughters to enjoy the incredible benefits to our skin.

Are there any resources, networks, or communities that have been instrumental in your growth as a female founder?

Absolutely, there have been several resources, networks and communities that have played pivotal roles in my growth as a female founder. One of the most valuable resources for me has been the Female Founders Fund (FFF). They have not only provided me with invaluable mentorship, guidance and resources but also connected me with a supportive community of fellow female founders facing similar challenges and opportunities. Additionally, I have found support and inspiration from networking groups specifically geared towards female entrepreneurs. These communities foster an environment of collaboration, knowledge and sharing.

READ ALSO: Meet Janine Summers, Founder of Olivanna, British Botanical Skincare

Helena McMahon, Founder of Seabody

As a female founder, what does this mean to you?

There are two key things here for me - gratitude and responsibility.

Even though it is immensely hard work I do feel a sense of gratitude that I have been able to pursue my passions for human health, innovation and sustainability. 

In a way being a founder is the ultimate form of self expression as you are following your true passion, which is quite similar to that path that a scientist or researcher takes, you follow your interest and curiosity, which gives you that feeling of ultimate flow and fulfillment.  

Whilst immensely rewarding there are challenges, Women in business and women in STEM face similar dynamics, with huge drop off rates in women in senior roles in Universities and companies, e.g. <5% of senior leaders are female STEM graduates and < 15% x of STEM Professors are female. This carry’s through to funding with less than 3% of VC funding goes to female founders.

On the flip side - according to Forbes, female led companies have higher levels of success, delivering higher revenues, profits and equity per dollar invested, company culture also benefits with higher levels of employee work life balance and equity.  So with this comes a sense of responsibility, to have a positive impact on both the trajectory of the company and those that you work and collaborate with on a daily basis. 

What inspired you to start your own business, and how did the idea for your brand come about?

I have always been hugely interested in technology commercialisation (that is taking product from the lab to the market) and after a number of years working with companies on their NPD challenges I was approached to set up a marine biotechnology company, to develop novel ingredients from algae using green chemistry and zero waste processing we were really focused on developing marine bioactive ingredients with scientifically validated health benefits to other companies (B2B) for use in skin care, functional foods and nutraceuticals, not on developing a brand. 

Once the data came in and we realized that we had what had the potential to make a real difference to people's skin and confidence. It became clear that we needed to own the product and brand development  to make the amazing bioactives discovered in the lab  and company ethos brought to life authentically and with the right scientific credibility and standards. could not just be a gimmick, had to maximize the science (efficacy) and sustainability practices and standards to make a real difference.

Do you feel a responsibility to pave the way for other women in your industry? If so, how do you approach this responsibility?

Absolutely, We all have a responsibility to lift up those around and that come after us. 

The role of mentors and peer support networks cannot be underestimated. Personally I have benefited hugely from female mentorship and peer learning participating in programs such as Going4Growth in Ireland and the CEW PUIG Mentorship program in the UK. 

Seabody is a biotechnology led company and I very much consider myself to be a Women in STEM and business.  At Seabody we have an amazing team of women in Seabody who are provided with on the job mentorship and given the space to acquire new knowledge and cultivate their leadership skills. We recruit graduates and have flexible working as we are fully aware of caring and home responsibilities. 

Through my University portfolio I am involved in initiatives such as STEM passport which supports girls from socioeconomic disadvantage to develop STEM skills with offsite training days, mentorship and a pathway to university programs. The Biobodies program focuses on the STEM and innovation skills required for sustainable personal development and the ideas that the teams came up with were just amazing.  

Fleur Sladen, Founder of Blooming Blends

As a female founder, what does this mean to you?

Being a female founder feels very natural to me as a person, and it is very important for me to create a herbal tincture that appeals equally to both women and men.

What inspired you to start your own business, and how did the idea for your brand come about?

During a visit to LA, I discovered the wonderful world of herbal tinctures. I totally fell in love with this traditional, ancient way of taking herbs without having to swallow a massive pill, I just simply drop the liquid under my tongue. The beauty of tinctures is that the body quickly absorbs the herbal properties and their benefits go straight into our system bypassing our gut.

As I started to dive deeper into tinctures in around 2015, I found that they were limited in their use in the UK with little information provided.

I wanted to bring this unsung, forgotten herbal therapy back into 21st century life and to make tinctures easier to understand and more readily available for everyone to use.

Blooming Blends was started at my kitchen table, and I am joyful and proud to say we have grown into a genuine tincture brand, providing support for everyone in the chaos of modern life.

How do you stay resilient and motivated during challenging times in your business?

It's hard! But I often will take myself outside and gain solace through being in nature walking my dogs or riding my horse. I also find structured exercise makes me feel stronger and more resilient. Reformer strengthens me from the inside out!

Louise Macnab, Founder of JERMS

As a female founder, what does this mean to you?

Being a Female Founder is very empowering. I get to help create something that women can benefit from and it’s truly fulfilling.

In business, I love leaning into my female side as I think women are naturally more intuitive which can actually be a big advantage in the start-up world.

What inspired you to start your own business, and how did the idea for your brand come about?

JERMS comes from a very personal place for me. I used to work as a corporate lawyer and suffered for years with chronic stress induced gut issues (SIBO, leaky gut, acne, chronic fatigue and anxiety)

My research into finding appropriate treatments and meeting various practitioners uncovered the vital and integral role gut health has on our overall health and mental wellbeing. It floored me that the bacteria in our guts could have such a significant impact on our bodies and daily wellbeing.

I was advised to take 4 different kinds of supplements to heal and help maintain my gut - this was inconvenient, costly and thoroughly unenjoyable. So, along with a team of experts, I created our hero product ‘Daily Gut’: a high quality 4-in-1 gut supplement in a convenient powder form!

Are there particular women who have influenced or inspired you in your entrepreneurial journey?

Serena Williams is a huge inspiration. For me, she is the embodiment of resilience and determination but she’s also a great example that as a woman you can be multifaceted. Also, the female founder community here in the UK is amazing. It’s so supportive and empowering - I’ve met so many great friends who have incredible businesses and they are an inspiration to me everyday!

READ ALSO: Meet Louise Macnab, Founder of JERMS

Debbie Sleeman, Founder of Polished London

As a female founder, what does this mean to you?

I truly believe that we rise by lifting each other and supporting each other along the way, I'm very lucky to be surrounded by incredibly driven female entrepreneurs who are so inspiring to me.

It takes an enormous amount of courage, self discipline and self belief to even start a business and so it should be celebrated because it's a wonderful thing. Every entrepreneurial journey is totally unique to each individual, no two business journey's will ever be exactly the same so really embrace and enjoy every step along the way.

What inspired you to start your own business, and how did the idea for your brand come about?

I was working in Harley Street as a teeth whitening therapist and my clients would regularly ask me to recommend a product that they could use at home to prolong their freshly whitened teeth, I really struggled to find a product that I liked that was peroxide free using clean ingredients that aligned beauty and oral care together whilst providing zero risk of any sensitivity. I decided to go on a mission and seize the opportunity to shake up the oral care industry for the better. I partnered with a team of UK dentists to create Polished London, with the aim to create effective solutions that compliment your beauty routine to provide healthy long lasting results that our customers feel smile confident about.

What is the biggest lesson you've learned through your career that has had an impact on you professionally or personally?

Burn out is so easy to happen especially when running a business, in the past I haven't always prioritized my health and wellbeing which has meant my happiness has been affected. Now I'm a strong believer in "it always starts with you" because running a business is challenging and it comes with many ups and downs along the way, it requires you to show up on a daily basis to make important decisions, therefore you need to look after yourself and make your health a top priority, nourishing yourself with vital nutrients, getting enough sleep, drinking your water following a healthy lifestyle is so important so you can be your best self to be able to deal with running a business to the very best of your ability.

In this recognition of International Women's Day, it's clear that the path to success is paved with perseverance, innovation, and a supportive community. Let's carry forward the spirit of empowerment, encouraging women everywhere to dream big, break barriers, and create their own legacies.

Thank you to all our female founders and women for inspiring us with your stories & Happy International Women's Day!