5 Famous Women Entrepreneurs Who Went from Rags to Riches (January 2019 Edition)


As 2019 approaches, so do our goals and resolutions.  And if you are like any of the inspiring and motivating female leaders we write about at Strong Female Leaders, you are actively seeking examples to look up to.

Today, we have assembled five rags-to-riches stories of famous women entrepreneurs who faced hardship, took a chance at their dreams, and succeeded.  We hope their stories inspire YOU to be brave, stand up for what you believe in, and turn your dream into reality.

Happy New Year to you!


1. Zhou Qunfei - CEO Lens Technology 

A Chinese entrepreneur named Zhou Qunfei is the founder of Lens Technology. Her business became a major hit and produces millions of lenses for different companies up to this day. Her net worth reached 10 billion USD back in 2015, making her one of the richest women in China.
Qunfei was born in Xiangxiang, Hunan province in China of a family with inadequate and limited means. At the age of five years, her mother died and as her father lost his sight, she decided to quit school and worked in a factory in Shenzhen where she learned the trade of making watch lenses. Despite working for more than 12 hours, she still managed to study accounting and completed some courses from Shenzhen University. 
Qunfei saved each and every hard-earned penny at the age of 22. After years of hard work, she set up a silk-screen printing unit with the help of some relatives in 1993 with an investment of approximately 20,000 Yuan.
Winning her contract from TCL Corporation was her first breakthrough. Motorola reached out to Qunfei back in 2003 and asked her to design a scratch-proof glass for the Razr V3 phone. Afterward, mobile companies such as HTC, Nokia, Apple, and Samsung called her to produce phone lens at the Hunan-headquartered Lens Technology. Apple and Samsung brought around seventy percent of her company’s revenue.
Lens Technologies employs more than 75,000 people. She is from a very few self-made richest women the world has ever seen and is one of the top female entrepreneurs. As of 2018, her net worth is 3.5 billion USD.


2. Olivia Lum - CEO Hyflux 

A woman of talent and determination, Olivia Lum was raised in poverty with an adopted family, yet managed to work while attending school. 
After birth, Lum never knew her biological parents. She spent her childhood living in a shack selling several fruits on the streets and this became her source of income. Lum moved to Singapore and started to earn by tutoring children while pursuing her studies. She started her first job at Glaxo Pharmaceuticals after graduating with honors in Chemistry. 
Lum's ambition became her key to success. Eventually, she has decided to start her own business by selling her possessions to gather money. With $20,000, she started a water treatment company called Hyflux. With enough support from her lecturers at the National University of Singapore, Lum has built a membrane-based pilot water plant back in 1992.
Singapore’s first water desalination plant in 2005 was because of Lum's company. Hyflux was awarded the "Water Company of the Year" at the UK Global Water Awards last 2006, and as of 2007, Hyflux was worth $1 billion SGD.
Lum has been awarded as the Ernst & Young World Entrepreneur Of The Year 2011, Financial Times ArcelorMittal Boldness in Business Award 2011 for Entrepreneurship, and Nikkei Asia Prize for Regional Growth 2006. Lum earned her place on Forbes' Southeast Asia Rich List and had a net worth of over $240 million US as of 2015. 
Considered as one of the successful women entrepreneurs, Lum is one of the richest people in Singapore with a net worth of over $325 million dollars. The revenue of Hyflux is more than S$445 million and increases every single day.

3. Gabrielle "Coco" Chanel - Founder of Chanel

Born in 1883, Chanel was raised at an orphanage in France. At the age of 12, her mother died and her father abandoned her by sending her to the Aubazine convent in central France. The nuns from the orphanage taught her how to sew, and she was able to use her skills as a seamstress which eventually changed her life.
Chanel moved out of the convent at the age of 18 and worked as a seamstress and a singer at a bar for income. She dreamed of becoming a professional singer. It was during this time that she met the wealthy man named Etienne Balsan at the bar. At the age of 23, she began living with him and this helped her learn how to speak and act like a woman in high society. However, they did not end up together and she met an English man named Arthur "Boy" Capel. 
Boy Capel helped her finance her first boutique in 1910. Chanel opened her first shop at 21 Rue Cambon in Paris creating simple and elegant styles that were intimidated by all of Paris. Chanel was able to reimburse Capel's initial investment within the first year.
Women wore corsets and heavy fabrics back in the 1900s. Chanel began creating hats that were favored by famous French actresses. On the other hand, Chanel was the first woman to introduce casual wear to women’s fashion.
By using men’s fabric, Chanel popularized comfortable sportswear, woman's pants, and simple dresses that became a total hit. She opened more boutiques using her own money after establishing a firm reputation. Her designs in Paris greatly influenced the fashion industry for Chanel is a woman who changed the face of women’s fashion.
Today, the current owners of Chanel are worth $19 billion and Chanel continues to be a symbol of total luxury.
One of the famous women entrepreneurs and French fashion designer like Coco Chanel had a net worth of $100 million.

4. Sara Blakely - CEO Spanx



The founder of Spanx was born in 1971 and raised in Florida.
Blakely graduated with a degree in communication studies at the Florida State University back in 1993. She wanted to become a lawyer, however, she failed the LSAT twice. After scoring poorly on the LSAT, she ended up becoming a fax machine salesperson for 7 years and auditioned for jobs at Walt Disney World.
While working in sales back in 1998, Blakely came up with a new business idea. 
She came up with the idea while wearing a pair of white trousers, however, she was not satisfied with any undergarment that she would wear under them. Blakely then created her own solution. With only $5,000 in her life savings, she took the risk of starting up her own business.
Successful women entrepreneurs like Blakely had no background in creating a product yet she was able to create a design concept, packaging, and other materials using her vision and goals.
Before selling the product, Blakely asked help from owners of different garment mills, but they all turned her away. Until one of the mill owners agreed to help her for they thought the concept of Blakely was outstanding. In order to get her product in stores, she contacted Neiman Marcus. Shapewear brand known as Spanx started on the sales floor at various Neiman Marcus stores.
After spending two years working on her new business venture, Spanx is now a multi-million dollar undergarment company. She built Spanx entirely on her own through the use of her savings. 
As of today, her net worth is $1 Billion USD. Sara Blakely is considered as the World's Youngest Self-Made Female Billionaire.

5. Indra Nooyi - CEO PepsiCo

Nooyi was born in Madras, India back in 1955. 
In 1976, she graduated from Madras Christian College with a degree in Chemistry. She also earned her master's degree in business administration from the Indian Institute of Management. She was able to pay her college tuition by working in night shifts.
Nooyi also received an additional master’s degree in public and private management from the Yale School of Management in 1980 after moving to the United States. Nooyi worked at Johnson and Johnson after graduating, she also worked as a consultant for the Boston Consulting Group for six years and held an executive position at Motorola. In 1994, she joined PepsiCo.
It is very inspiring that she was held among many top companies. Because of her dedication to her work, she finally became the CEO of PepsiCo, one of the largest food and drink company worldwide.
Top female entrepreneurs like Indra Nooyi has a net worth of $80 million dollars. 
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By Steph W.

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