Over the past 20 years, female entrepreneurship has grown by 114% worldwide with plenty of famous female entrepreneurs emerging.

Despite this progress, we have barely scratched the surface of equal opportunities for all genders in the business world. Making a distinction between “entrepreneurs” and “female entrepreneurs” in this article makes this issue obvious.

Despite being “the fastest growing category of entrepreneurship worldwide,”  female entrepreneurs still have to overcome patriarchal systems within the business world. So, how did the most successful businesswomen overcome these obstacles?

In this article, we want to highlight four famous female entrepreneurs and what their stories can teach us.

Oprah Winfrey

With a net worth of Є2.49 billion, Oprah Winfrey is one of the richest and most successful female entrepreneurs on the planet. She embodies our modern image of a successful businesswoman. Americans view her as an iconic manifestation of the American Dream.

But how did she create the media empire we know her for today?

Oprah didn’t enjoy a stable childhood or the benefits of nepotism. She grew up in rural Mississippi and Tennessee in the 1950s and ‘60s under complicated circumstances. She had to navigate financial struggles, a complicated family structure, and the loss of a baby after suffering sexual abuse.

Oprah’s career in media kicked off when she moved from working for her high school radio station to co-anchoring a local news station at the young age of 19. She turned her early broadcasting career into hosting morning shows and launched the iconic The Oprah Winfrey Show in 1986.

Oprah didn’t just ride the waves of success of The Oprah Winfrey Show. She took advantage of her popularity to found her own production company, Harpo Productions. Haro Productions then took over producing her talk show from ABC, back when it was rebranded and picked up nationally as the talk show we know today.

To this day, Oprah remains the CEO of Harpo Productions, oversees the Oprah Winfrey Network (OWN), and produces television series. Additionally, Oprah has released books, radio shows, acts, voice acts, and uses her wealth for philanthropic causes.

“Challenges are gifts that force us to search for a new centre of gravity. Don’t fight them. Just find a new way to stand.” – Oprah

It is remarkable how Oprah achieved this level of success despite personal challenges, sexism and racism.

Coco Chanel

Even if you know nothing about fashion or fragrances, you will have heard of the famous luxury fashion brand Coco Chanel. It is named after its founder, French fashion designer Coco Chanel.

Like Oprah, Chanel did not have the best start in life. After her mother’s death, her father sent her to an orphanage at the age of 12. But the tragedy of her early life was key to Chanel’s success, as she learned how to sew during that time.

After an uneventful singing career and working as a seamstress, Coco Chanel crossed paths with two wealthy young men. They would later make her fashion career possible. These aristocrats and their lifestyle of abundance also greatly influenced Chanel’s designs and vision for her work.

“My life didn’t please me, so I created my life.” – Coco Chanel

Chanel opened her first fashion stores and revolutionised the fashion industry. Her feminist rebel spirit challenged the status quo for women’s clothing in the early 20th century. She never stopped pushing the boundaries and continued to open more boutiques, designed perfumes and steadily grew her empire over the next few decades.

Coco Chanel was a trailblazer for female entrepreneurship. She showcased how far women can go with determination and confidence.

Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw

A more contemporary famous female entrepreneur is Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw. She is the founder and chairperson of Biocon, an Indian biopharmaceutical company.

Born in the 1950s to a brew master and his wife, Mazumdar-Shaw pursued an education in Biology and Zoology. Encouraged by her father, she studied brewing in Australia before returning to India to continue the family business. This career choice alone was challenging gender stereotypes at the time, as brewing was an uncommon profession for women.

Despite her degree and her father’s work, Mazumdar-Shaw met a number of closed doors and was unable to find a job in her home country. Meeting the founder of Irish company Biocon Biochemicals, Leslie Auchincloss, shaped the rest of her career. With Mazumdar-Shaw owning the majority of the company, the two founded a new venture together: the biotech giant Biocon India.

Given her gender and experience level, Mazumdar-Shaw faced many struggles in the early stages of the company. People were questioning her skill and credibility. Over the years, she established herself and Biocon as a beacon for innovation and affordability concerning active pharmaceutical ingredients (APIs).

“I really believe that entrepreneurship is about being able to face failure, manage failure and succeed after failing.” – Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw

With her passion for pushing biotechnology to help people around the globe, Mazumdar-Shaw is one of the most successful and famous female entrepreneurs today. Her net worth is estimated to be €3.07 billion . She continues to push the boundaries of possibility when it comes to health and health education.


Rihanna recently became the richest female musician in the world, with an estimated net worth of €1.63 billion.

Maybe you’re surprised to see her on this list of famous female entrepreneurs. Many people are only familiar with her music or acting career. Despite her Hollywood success, Rihanna actually made most of her fortune with her beauty and makeup company, Fenty Beauty.

Born in the late ‘80s in Barbados, Rihanna showed an interest in music and explored singing opportunities in high school. After being discovered by an American record producer, Rihanna scored a record deal and launched her music career in the early 2000s.

Over the next decade, Rihanna established herself as one of the most successful singers worldwide. Her popularity opened more and more doors for her, including acting in big blockbuster movies such as Ocean’s 8 (2018).

Her already successful career drastically changed in 2017 when Rihanna launched Fenty Beauty. To this day, she remains CEO who owns 50% of one of the most successful beauty brands in the world.

Fenty Beauty sets out to make makeup and other beauty products accessible for people of all skin tones and types. This emphasis on inclusivity is arguably a huge aspect of Fenty’s success.

Despite its success, Rihanna continues to push her business and entered the fashion industry through high-end collaborations in 2019. She made decisions to always strive for more and better opportunities while remaining true to her passions. It’s the combination of those two qualities that show why Rihanna has succeeded in so many different careers.

“You want people who are better than you at their job. If I can do your job better than you, I can’t hire you; that’s a waste of my time and money.” – Rihanna

Despite humble beginnings, Rihanna has turned all her interests into viable careers that continue to thrive. Her knack for smart business decisions and choosing a good team have made her one of the most successful and famous female entrepreneurs in the world.

Zhou Qunfei

With a net worth of €4.99 billion, Zhou Quenfei is by far the wealthiest person on our list. How did she earn her fortune and become one of the most famous female entrepreneurs in the world?

Zhou was born in 1970 in Xiangxiang in China to a family that was struggling financially. Her father suffered a serious work injury before she was born. Following that tragedy, her mother died when Zhou was only five years old.

Zhou’s childhood and adolescence was tainted by those hardships until she dropped out of school to earn money in a watch lens factory as a teenager. Despite this, Zhou still took university classes in accounting and computer operations to further her education. She was still working to support her family at the same time.

In the 1990s, Zhou used her savings to launch her first company. Initially, she and her family ran a successful watch lens business. Zhou oversaw every aspect of production, until she joined the mobile phone market. Her company Lens Technology would earn her most of her fortune over the following two decades.

Today, most of the world’s most famous mobile phone producers – from Apple to Samsung to Huawei – receive their touch screens from Lens Technology.

“I have encountered many difficulties and setbacks as an entrepreneur. If I gave up then, there wouldn’t have been Zhou Qunfei or Lens Technology.” – Zhou Qunfei

Zhou Qunfei became the richest self-made female entrepreneur in the world thanks to her drive and hands-on approach.

Be sure to read our blog post “Successful Business Woman Quotes Every Entrepreneur Should Read” to learn about even more female entrepreneurs and how their perspectives can inspire us.


As much as each of these five women’s stories differ, they all have courage and perseverance at their centre. All five of them are self-made billionaires who never gave up despite a plethora of obstacles. These famous female entrepreneurs’ stories teach us what it takes to be successful leaders.

About the author

EWOR is a school conceived by Europe’s top professors, entrepreneurs, and industry leaders. We educate and mentor young innovators to launch successful businesses.

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