Role models are key: examples of successful women entrepreneurs

All entrepreneurs face challenges, however, women face barriers that are closely associated with their gender. Some of them are based on a social construct that conceptualises entrepreneurship as something masculine which delegitimizes women in the field.

The lack of female entrepreneurs who act as role models is a key point of why women are discouraged from considering it a career (OECD, 2016). Nevertheless, there are many women who have shown excellence in very different business areas. We would like to introduce you to five of them who are experts in various fields.

María Benjumea (Spain) – Spain Startup

María Benjumea. Source: Flickr – Casa America

At the age of 25 years old María Benjumea opened an antique shop that had an art gallery and offered restoration services. At the end of the 1980s, she founded “Círculo de Progreso” a company which published guides about university courses. With the arrival of internet it became “Infoempleo”, which became one of the most important job search websites in Spain. This led to the founding of “Spain Startup”, the company which organises the South Summit, an initiative to connect stakeholders and start-up founders of the South of Europe and America.

Klara O’Leary (Ireland) – Care Box Collection

Klara O’Leary. Source: WicklowNews

Klara O’Leary founded her company, Care Box Collection in 2020 from her home. She was working in the events department of a large firm when she noticed that she was having difficulties finding in the wellness market an appropriate and affordable present for a friend. That is why, she decided to open a website with three wellness-focused gift box options, and after a few months, she resigned from her job and decided to focus on her own business. Currently, her company is flourishing and she is planning to expand her team by hiring at least five employees and to develop it across Ireland, the UK, and the EU.

Nadine Salembier (Belgium) – Beauty products

Nadine Salembier. Source:

Nadine Salembier opened her first beauty salon in 1962. In the following years, she opened several beauty salons and developed her own line of natural cosmetics products. She was known for the quality of her services and for bringing new aesthetic techniques from her travels around the world. She presided for several years at the International Federation of Aesthetics (INFA), which made her a reference for beauty salons around the world. She created her own beauty business.

Dominique Senequier (France) – Ardian  

Dominique Senequier. Source: Flickr

Dominique Senequier founded AXA Private Equity in 1996 when she joined the AXA group. In 2013 the firm split from the AXA group, and it became Ardian. They manage $120 billion in assets from clients ranging from governments to high-net-worth investors, and it is an employee-controlled company where 70% of employees are shareholders owning more than half of the company. Senequier is considered one of the most powerful women in the world by Forbes.

Jenni Vartiainen (Finland) – Kide Science

Source: University of Helsinki

Dr. Jenni Vartiainen is a professor and researcher in the Faculty of Educational Science of the University of Helsinki. She founded Kide Science based on the research she did for her PhD on how to teach the STEAM education model in a way that is engaging for children. They use imagination and games so kids can become active learners and explore and experiment with these topics.

Nowadays, we are lucky to find a wide variety of examples of women entrepreneurs who can inspire and encourage the new generations. However, we cannot forget that having female role models in business must be the norm and not the exception. Projects like Athena are key to this normalization thanks to their MOOC that provides tools, guidelines and methodologies together with an accompaniment of young women’s projects, which will help them to cross the barriers that society imposes on us.

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Dominique Senequier. (s. f.). Recuperado 16 de octubre de 2023, de

María Benjumea (ES). (s. f.). Recuperado 16 de octubre de 2023, de

Nadine Salembier, fondatrice | Nadine Salembier. (s. f.). Nadine Salembier Diffusion SA. Recuperado 16 de octubre de 2023, de

OECD. (2016). Policy brief on women’s entrepreneurship. Publications Office.

ThinkBusiness. (2022, septembre 20). Care Box Collection has the perfect wellness gift wrapped up | ThinkBusiness. Think Business.

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Casa de América. (2015). María Benjumea, Founder & Chairman de Spain Startup [Photo]. Flickr.

François Van Zon. (2010). IMG_5544 MedefUE10 Dominique Senequier [Photo]. Flickr.

WickloNews (2022)

Nadine Salembier (2023)

University of Helsinki (2018)


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