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Sehreen Noor Ali: Power Mom Turns Chaos into Tech Company

Sehreen_Sleuth_Advocate like a Mother
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The Power Mom

Life almost hardly ever goes the way we think it will, and sometimes, throws unexpected challenges out of the blue. It’s what we make of these challenges (and of ourselves in the process) that defines us! One such extraordinary story is that of Sehreen Noor Ali. She’s many things – entrepreneur, CEO, board advisor, market-maker, visionary, business executive, volunteer, ex-consultant, ex-diplomat, and perhaps the most challenging of all, mother.   

Sehreen is a graduate of Brown and the Harvard Graduate School of Education. She began her career at the US Department of State, acting as a liaison to the White House for diplomatic response to execute President Obama’s initiatives in the Middle East and South Asia. Her career subsequently took her to consulting and business development in the education and EdTech sectors. It was after this that her life suddenly changed. A call from a doctor brought to Sehreen the news that her child was struggling due to an underlying condition that had gone unnoticed. With that experience, Sehreen’s entrepreneurial journey was born.

As we continue our series of portraits of inspiring women entrepreneurs, is this feature, we walk you through the ups and downs of Sehreen’s life. We’ll learn from the challenges faced head-on, the biases fought, the accomplishments earned, and the power of the entrepreneurial spirit.

Let’s dive in!

Founder of Sleuth Sehreen Noor Ali
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Spotting Opportunity in Chaos

Sehreen struggled as a special-needs mom. She had to juggle her responsibilities as Vice President and Head of Business Development at Noodle and then Kaplan, while also doing her best to raise her two girls. She would feel guilty for taking time off work for her child and would spend hours digging around for answers on Facebook groups for a symptom she was showing. Sehreen’s struggle to find useful, dependable and timely information, alongside the rising use of tech for family health acted as the motivation for her to envision a ‘GPS’ system for child health.

Opportunities are usually abundant. They require a visionary to spot them, commit to doing justice to them and building something worthwhile.

Sehreen co-founded Sleuth as a health-tech startup. She designed it to marry the ‘wisdom of the crowd’ from parents on the platform with other parents seeking advice for medical care and treatment for their toddlers. She calls Sleuth the ‘Waze for Early Childhood Health’. Sehreen was able to prove that there was a demand for a crowdsourced, tech-enabled solution for childhood health

She was able to spot signals to make an entire market where none existed, and her advice to other entrepreneurs is to do the same!

Rise and Rise

Sehreen has worn her multiple hats with a panache and proficiency that will astound many. Equipped with a strong educational background, she has risen through roles of public service, accumulated successes in the corporate world, and founded EdTechWomen and Sleuth. That’s not all – she advises on the boards of SXSWedu and other startups, guiding them in developing and executing their ideas.

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Composure, Confidence and Conviction

Many of us are familiar with the well-known quote by Dorothy Neddermeyer: “Life is ten percent what you experience and ninety percent how you respond to it.” Sehreen has not only faced and resolved differences of opinion, but also overcome biases (whether overt or subtle), at every step of her journey.

In dealing with expectations at executive positions in the corporate world, it’s unfortunately not unheard of to feel guilt while taking time off for personal reasons. Sehreen eventually took a year off to care for her daughter, and confidently went on to build a tech ecosystem for other struggling parents like her.

While in Sehreen’s case, being a mother helped her as she represented a consumer to potential investors, she admits that the tech funding world is predominantly male. What are her suggestions for other minority entrepreneurs? She recommends building and trusting supportive social networks. She recommends being forthcoming and outspoken, because in many cases, people are welcome to change for the better. She leads the way by being bold enough to point out bias. And if it isn’t well received, she suggests accepting that some people just aren’t the right investors / collaborators. Sehreen exemplifies perfectly well how one can select one’s responses to negative triggers.

To perfectly encapsulate Sehreen’s story and to find inspiration from it, we must remember the words:

“Every time you are tempted to react in the same old way, ask if you want to be a prisoner of the past or a pioneer of the future.” – Deepak Chopra

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Celebrating Inspiring Women Entrepreneurs | Jan Risi

Jan Risi at IPC franchisee convention

The Trend-Setting Visionary

“Some people want it to happen, some people wish it would happen, others make it happen.” – Michael Jordan

Have you ever looked at a food item in a grocery store and pondered upon the supply chain systems and processes that helped bring it there? If you have, you have something in common with another such observant and curious woman, Jan Risi. Recently named to the restaurant industry’s power list, Jan’s been called “the strongest link in the (foodservice) supply chain” by the Miami Herald.

She’s highly endorsed as a leader, team builder and strategic planner by her colleagues. She’s currently juggling roles as a member on several boards. She’s the founder and CEO of a food cooperative powerhouse that manages billions of dollars and tens of thousands of franchises globally. She’s set trends, reconfigured business models and made a lasting mark on the F&B and hospitality industry.

In this feature, we’re delighted to dive into Jan’s inspiring story, and to present to you invaluable entrepreneurial and leadership lessons from this fascinating visionary.

A Strong Foundation

Aristotle once said, “well begun is half done.” Jan graduated from DePauw university with a double major in English and economics. The best entrepreneurs and leaders believe in getting their hands dirty and working from the ground up, and it was the same with Jan.

She began her career with Ralston Purina (now a part of Nestle), working in a plant where animal feed was manufactured. Tasked with procuring ingredients, Jan worked with and learnt from the cowboys and farmers of Texas. She’s cited this to be “the best training in the world” as it allowed her to understand the supply chain. It’s often easy to overlook the importance of a robust career foundation; Jan invested in one and went on to cement her experience at other restaurants including Burger King, Chef America and Jack in the Box.

Today, she’s rightfully an acclaimed alum and has won notable awards from her university for Excellence in Entrepreneurship and Alumni Achievement.

Lessons in Leadership from Top Women Entrepreneurs

About 24 years ago, Jan founded the Subway ‘Independent Purchasing Cooperative’ (IPC), a Miami-based cooperative along with Subway founder Fred DeLuca. IPC helps more than 30,000 Subway franchise owners and operators globally by managing almost $5 billion in food, packaging and supplies, negotiation costs and helping them improve quality.

What does the leader at the helm of this enterprise cite as the reason of her success? Echoing the words of Steve Jobs, Jan says she’s so successful today because she makes it a point to hire people smarter than her. Ask her senior executives and they’ll say she truly encourages and empowers them to do their best work.

There’s a lot to learn about leadership from Jan, the most inspiring takeaway being the care with which she gets to know her employees’ families, spends time with new recruits and hosts holiday parties to celebrate with her team. An advocate of a well-rounded life, Jan personally gifts her employees’ children, to make them feel like a part of the company’s growth.

We sometimes forget that the reason so many of our employees and colleagues shine at work the way they do is because their children, spouses and parents are supporting them. Jan never forgets!

Visionary, Advisor, Hustler

Executive, entrepreneur, President, CEO… and Jan’s doing much more! She’s advising four boards, empowering them with her vision and experience in foodservice, hospitality and supply chain management.

The first board is Florida House on Capitol Hill, a state embassy that promotes Florida to the world.

The second is Coral Gables Trust Company, a wealth management and financial planning firm, which is the largest privately held trust company in South Florida.

The third is the James Beard Foundation, an organization that celebrates chefs shaping the future of America’s food culture.

Besides these organizations, Jan advises the restaurant chain DogHaus, which has a cult following across America for its signature all-beef ‘Haus Dogs,’ handmade ‘Haus Sausages’ and burgers.

And lastly, Jan sits on Subway’s strategic planning council and has advised the food behemoth in its 5X growth over the past two decades.

So how do we sum up Jan’s enthralling story? Four words. She hustled. She conquered!

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Celebrating Inspiring Women Entrepreneurs – Laura Chimaras

Author Laura Chimara
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The Multitalented Diva

If you’re familiar with American Spanish drama, the name Laura Chimaras is likely to ring a bell. This Venezuelan diva started acting when she was only eight years old and has grown ever since, not only as an actress, but also as an influencer, speaker, and writer. She embodies the essence of our series on inspiring women entrepreneurs

Actress Laura Chimara
Photo by Juan Hernandez

Laura’s purpose, creativity and authentic expression resonate powerfully through all her work and inspire hundreds of thousands of people.In this feature, we continue unravelling the journeys of self-discovery and business expansion of fascinating women entrepreneurs around the world. We’re proud to cover Miss Chimaras as we explore the many facets of her diverse business ventures.

Of death and re-birth

The daughter of actor Yanis Chimaras, Laura rose as to stardom as a teenager as the protagonist of the RCTV produced drama Libres como el Viento. As the years went by, she acted in multiple novelas, movies, stage works and the television series Telemundo. During this journey, however, Laura went through a heart-breaking and life-altering event; she experienced her father’s murder in Venezuela at the tender age of 15.

As you can imagine, this transformed Laura’s life at a fundamental level; she became deeply curious, disheartened, and insecure. In an attempt to find purpose and meaning, she emigrated to the United States, like so many others, to build a new life. Laura’s adventures have taken her through studies of Philosophy, Christianity and Religious Literature at Harvard. Her voice and expression in all her work over the past five years reverberate with a depth and personality that is rarely paralleled. This is captured perfectly in her motto: 

"My protest bears knowledge as its insignia, firing words of wisdom at close range."

Not for the faint hearted

Deeply imbued with her search for purpose and the depths of human thought and emotion, Laura’s writing explores the various meanings of life, nuances of opportunity, and the interplay between order and chaos. As can be inferred, her creations are not for everyone, but precisely what set her apart as a person and as an entrepreneur. Those that do resonate with her work become ardent fans for life.

Laura has authored five fiction books (originally in Spanish). These include her most popular book – Narcotic Passions, the Story of an Addict, Lost Words (My First Years in Letters), Never Lose Faith, and Setback: Memories, Time, Sequences.

In her popular blog, Laura shares her musings on Liberty, Responsibility, Forgiveness and Love.

Inspiring Women Entrepreneurs

There are many who want to grow from all that life brings them, and to embody their lessons, journeys, and personalities in their creations and businesses. However, few are able to do so successfully. In Laura’s story, we see the spirit of an incredible entrepreneur. Today, in addition to being a television star and nuanced writer, Laura is a highly sought-after motivational speaker.

Her upcoming conferences in Madrid and Tampa called ‘Hack your reality’ offer a powerful and widely popular two-hour immersion into one’s soul. She teaches attendees how to nourish their minds and how to discover the true essence of their being. You need to hear only a couple of testimonials to be left in no doubt about the life-transforming impact she has on people. Her clients have called her “inspiring, revitalizing and magical,” and a “source of truth, knowledge, and energy with a desire to help the world.”

 Laura also conducts corporate talks. She teaches teams to work in synergy and shows corporations exactly how to motivate employees to exceed even their most ambitious goals.

With a 1.1 Million+ Instagram following, this diva opines: “We want freedom, but we do not know the responsibility that this brings.”

If these aren’t the words of a real entrepreneur at heart, we don’t know what are!

“We want freedom, but we do not know the responsibility that this brings.”

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Celebrating Inspiring Women Entrepreneurs – Elizabeth Lugo

Makeup Artist to stars ElizabethMua

They say that beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but we’ve met someone who has forced us to reconsider this notion!

Known affectionately by her friends as ‘the witch,’ makeup artist Elizabeth Mua is able to magically transform her client’s appearances. 

A quick look at her Instagram page and you’ll need no more proof of her artistic gift. Combining this with her imagination and business acumen, this Miami-based professional has carved out a name for herself. We’re delighted to feature Elizabeth as we continue our series of articles on women entrepreneurs that captivate and inspire us.

The Ingredients of Success

As several veteran businesspeople like to point out, it is essential for entrepreneurs to know what drives them and what their purpose is. Without this clarity, many give up as their journey begins to go uphill. In Elizabeth we find not only infectious motivation, but also a great deal of bravery, self-reflection, and ambition.

Elizabeth was driven to become a makeup artist by the possibility to create art on a canvas that is different each time. She even switched careers to set up her own venture. She tells us how scary it was, but also that not doing what she truly wanted to do was scarier – and we couldn’t agree more! Along her journey, she has constantly refined her skills, working with a variety of clients (Vanessa Oliveira De Sousa, Laura Chimaras) bringing to life the beautiful divas within them.

ElizabethMua with Verónica Alonso
Laura Chimara Loyal Client of ElizabethMua

She’s always pushing herself – ideating upon how to create different transformations, how to grow more, how to be different, and how to express herself in her authentic voice.   

Another key ingredient for success that’s often overlooked is a healthy support system. Elizabeth’s blessed to have her mother, sister, and friends as her go-to cheerleaders and confidantes.

The Turning Point

As with several entrepreneurs and artists on their journeys, there’s often one pivotal project or client. This would be their ‘big break,’ if you will. For Elizabeth, this was a phone call for a makeup appointment for Willy Martin, and it changed the trajectory of her business forever.

There’s been no turning back, and Elizabeth’s client roster today includes the likes of Camila Canabal, Laura Chimaras, Fefi, and La Chechi among many others.

This inspiring artist has built her business with passion and persistence over six years. She’s diversified into other avenues with no small degree of success. Elizabeth conducts not only private makeup appointments, but also virtual and in-person makeup classes that are widely popular.

A Quick Peek Behind the Scenes

When we probed into her own daily routine, Elizabeth indulged us with some quick tips. She begins the day cleansing her face with a La Roche gel and a dab of Verima pain relief (she says she loves what it does to her face!). She follows this up with her essential sunscreen application. At night, Elizabeth uses a makeup eraser and micellar water, and repeats the same routine. She attributes her round-the-clock young and fresh look to products that are effective and are skin-, pet- and eco- friendly.

She won’t tell us everything though – her future goals for her business are a complete secret!

On this note, we’d like to leave you with one of Elizabeth’s favorite quotes. We hope it encourages you on your own journey of creative exploration and entrepreneurial success.

“Success is not final; failure is not fatal. It is the courage to continue that counts.”

– Winston Churchill

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4 Tips Using a Lean Methodology to Maximize the Chances of Success for Your Start-up

Startup teams rapid iteration

To maximize the chances of success for your start-up, go ‘lean’

Different sources ranging from Harvard Business School professors to various Forbes articles cite the failure rate of start-ups at an astounding 75% – 90%. Why does this happen? Why do ventures led by brilliant strategists and highly experienced professionals fail?

While inadequate or improperly managed funding is known to be a common reason for the failure of new businesses, as per a study by Fortune, 42% of failed startups also cite a ‘lack of a market need’ as the single biggest factor for the failing of their venture. From a bird’s eye view, doesn’t it seem strange for founders to take their eyes off the cashflow they need to manage? What could be causing entrepreneurs to get caught up in other business activities when it isn’t clear if their product works in the market? For several decades, new businesses have been following the same rigid path of first developing a detailed business plan, complete with financial forecasts, pitching to investors, recruiting extensively, and then starting to sell. While this certainly works in some cases, the probability that something goes wrong is much higher.

Fortunately, with widespread literature on entrepreneurship, innovation and strategy now available, and an increasingly transparent work culture, founders seem to be learning from their own as well as others’ mistakes. Founders and investors alike have begun to re-think the set-in-stone path in favor of more adaptive and responsive ways to build businesses.

Here’s where the lean start-up methodology comes in. It promotes observation and innovation, quick market testing, formation and discarding of hypotheses, and continuous iteration – all without losing focus. 

As a founder, here’s how you can implement four key ‘lean start-up’ practices to maximize your chances for business success.

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1 – TESTING before you launch

In several cases, entrepreneurs build elaborate models, teams, and sales plans all without first checking for customer feedback on their offering. You may have heard of the terms ‘minimum viable product (MVP)’ or ‘proof of concept’. These are built around the same idea – have you confirmed whether or not your product or service is needed or wanted by consumers and matches demand? Have you attempted a pilot? Do you have proof of viability?

2 – Using MONEY conservatively and creatively

As a founder, you need to be mindful that you’re still searching for a viable business model; at this early stage of your venture, you’ve got to test your hypothesis in the market, confirm that your offering works, and that you will be able to successfully repeat and scale the process in a manner that makes you a profit. You might not hit the nail on the head the very first time. The essence of the lean methodology is continuous iteration, so you want to conserve your funds and use them creatively and wisely!

Lean start-ups focus on speed and agility. You want to get your product or service out there, to real customers, and get real inputs. Ask all stakeholders involved in your journey for honest feedback. You want to refine not only your offering and its benefits vis-à-vis its pricing but also its positioning, distribution channels, customer acquisition and customer loyalty. Move quick and inculcate a culture of responsiveness and agility but remember to keep your eyes on your strategy and don’t lose your focus.

4 – EXPERIMENTING and ITERATING till you get it right

Entrepreneurs that want to make the most of the opportunity at hand often embrace an experimental approach. They ask for and apply feedback to update their assumptions, redesign their product or service, test it again, and keep making further iterations till they have something that absolutely delights their customers. Embrace this approach of constant improvement and innovation, and before long you’ll have an irresistible offering. 

Companies around the world ranging from one-person run start-ups to incubators within multinational corporations are adapting to the lean methodology! So, go on and incorporate whichever practices you feel will help take your business to the next level, you have no time to lose! 

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7 Tips to Help Launch Your Entrepreneurial Journey as a Female Founder

What do JK Rowling, Vera Wang, Martha Stewart, Kylie Jenner and Lady Gaga have in common? They’re some of the most successful female entrepreneurs on the planet. Oprah Winfrey, a female founder that needs no introduction, is one of the world’s biggest household brand names and runs a media empire that continues to grow. Whitney Herd, the founder and CEO of Bumble, recently became the world’s youngest female self-made billionaire when her company went public.

Why Aren't Their More Female Founders?

With women shattering glass ceilings around the world and across industries, why aren’t there more women going down an entrepreneurial route? What limits growth prospects for those who do? As an aspiring female founder, what can you do to build a successful brand and take your business to the next level?

Women-Led Startups Received Just 2.3% of VC Funding in 2020

An analysis of multiple female-founded businesses that don’t make it big shows that one of the most common problems faced includes a shortage of funding. The startup company aggregator platform ‘Crunchbase’ reports that while 40% of all entrepreneurs in the US are women, female-founded and mixed co-founded companies received only 9% of the total venture capital investment deployed last year! Other problems face by women entrepreneurs typically include fighting more biases or sexism at work as compared to their male counterparts, struggling with burnout due to multiple responsibilities including childcare, and having a lack of confidence in themselves.

No matter your gender, age, geography or background, launching your own business is always a risky proposition, but it’s also one with the highest rewards. So, remember to keep these common pitfalls in mind and develop solutions for them from a short-term and a long-term perspective as you craft your growth strategies!

As you take the plunge into launching your own business or expanding it to a new market, here are a few suggestions to help you on your journey. While some of these are useful pointers for anyone looking to build their business venture, some additional tips include guidance on specifically what to do as a female entrepreneur.

1 – Test your business idea quickly for viability

In getting out to the market, speed is everything. You can spend months or even years refining your concept on paper, but the only way to truly know what works is by getting out there, testing your idea on-ground and receiving feedback from actual customers. A minimum viable product, or MVP, is a product with enough features to attract early-adopter customers and validate a product idea early in the product development cycle. Be confident, believe in what you’ve created, and go for it!

2 – Keep an eye on the numbers and plan your funding well  

Raising funds isn’t easy for any entrepreneur, but it is even more important as a woman to fundraise with determination. Whether you’re quitting your job to launch your own venture, or you’ve taken a break in your career and are getting back to work with your own firm, believe in your idea and do whatever it takes to get it off the ground, and manage your funds well.

3 – Be yourself

If you know and believe in what you stand for, there is no reason not to back it with all you’ve got. This holds true even while you present yourself and your idea to the world – to potential investors, customers, business partners, vendors and even to employees. Own your identity and be yourself.

4 – Have a unique or clearly superior offering

The best way to stand out in the marketplace is to by offering something no one else is, or by offering something that is so good that no one else can match it. Do your homework, position your product or service well, and you’re on the right track. This accelerate the time it takes to a product market fit for new venture. 

5 – Iterate quickly and experiment often, with as little money as possible

No business succeeds without continuous improvement in their offerings. While it’s important to keep the speed to launch in mind, its equally important to inculcate in your team a mindset of repeated iterations for continuous growth.

6 – You don’t have to go it alone - build a great team

Many women choose to be the ‘lone shero’. However, the best businesses require the best teams. Invest in building a fantastic team – you never know who will help you elevate your business to the next level or where your next big idea will come from!

7 – Be smart enough to ask for help

It is said that if you’re the smartest person in the room, you’re in the wrong room. So hire the smartest people, and truly listen to what they have to say. Reach out to the best mentors and ask them for advice. You’ll soon see the impact of this on yourself, and on your company.

With these quick pointers, you’re ready to begin your journey!

“With every experience, you are painting your own canvas, thought by thought, choice by choice.”

To quote Oprah, “With every experience, you are painting your own canvas, thought by thought, choice by choice.”

As you empower yourselves on your respective journeys, don’t forget to show your support and solidarity for women everywhere! Raise your hand high to show you’re in, and that you commit to choose to challenge and call out inequality. How will you help forge a gender equal world? Celebrate women’s achievement. Raise awareness against bias. Take action for equality.

shantall lacayo #choosetochallenge gender bias