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Michigan’s Female Founders To Know

Michigan’s Female Founders To Know

Happy International Women’s Day! In the startup and tech industry, female founders are still underrepresented and under invested in. 

Less than 2% of VC dollars go to women, and many face difficult journeys in raising funds, getting connected, and getting support. 

Yet companies led by women statistically see above-average profits. Not to mention that women experience the world differently than and offer a unique perspective to innovate and create technology that specifically serves women’s needs. 

In Michigan, there are many incredible female founders breaking down barriers and creating innovative technology. From data platforms to investment funds, social media apps to purpose-driven marketplaces, these companies are led by founders that should be on your radar. 

Today we’re celebrating 26 female founders in Michigan that you should know about. Who are you celebrating this IWD?


26 Female Founders in Michigan To Know

female founders in michigan (1)

Melissa Butler

Melissa ButlerDetroit native Melissa Butler is the Founder and CEO of The Lip Bar (TLB), a beauty brand started in her kitchen while working on Wall Street. TLB has become a pioneer on beauty and inclusion and the company is the largest black-owned makeup brand sold in Target. She’s been recognized by INC Magazine as a top entrepreneur, and her take on business and beauty has been praised in Forbes, Women’s Wear Daily, Entrepreneur, Allure and more. Melissa’s passion for beauty and business led her to give a Ted Talk on the intersection of beauty and culture in 2018. Recently TLB announced a new grant program, “Bawse Ventures” to help support the next generation of BIPOC and women entrepreneurs.


Alexa Turnage

alexa turnageDetroiter Alexa Turnage is the Co-Founder of EvenScore and Black Tech Saturdays. EvenScore is an impact-focused donation platform that provides a safe and trusted space for small-dollar donors to support the causes and candidates most important to them and the communities they call home. Black Tech Saturdays is an organization that aims to promote diversity and inclusion in the technology industry, with a particular focus on empowering and supporting Black professionals and entrepreneurs. Their regular events in Detroit have grown astronomically over the past months, garnering attention from national media and White House officials


Nia Batts

nia batts-1Nia Batts is widely known in Detroit for co-founding Detroit Blows. Now she serves as Managing Director & COO of Union Heritage. She’s a versatile corporate executive, entrepreneur, and investor driven by purpose and creating a positive social impact. Nia also has taken on philanthropic leadership with the Boys and Girls Club, her strategic advisory role at First Women’s Bank, and her board of directors position with Detroit's first community birthing center, Birth Detroit. All of these reflect her commitment to inclusive growth and women’s economic empowerment. 


Carla Walker-Miller

carla walker-millerCarla Walker-Miller is the Founder and CEO of Walker-Miller Energy Services (Walker-Miller), a 23-year-old values driven, B Corp certified company that changes lives through energy. She is a visionary who leads with empathy, and her high performing firm’s efforts in energy efficiency and clean energy help decrease the energy burdens on local families and businesses, create sustainable jobs, diversify local energy workforces, and position small business owners to become sustainable suppliers in the clean energy economy. Walker-Miller is the first Black owned company in Michigan to obtain a B Corporation Certification, making us part of a fairly exclusive global network of about 6000 Certified B Corporations in more than 70 countries – leaders in the global movement for an inclusive, equitable and regenerative economy.


Cindy Warner

Cindy WarnerCindy Warner is the founder and CEO of 360ofme, an ethical data exchange platform that transforms the paradigm of personal data ownership by rebuilding trust between ethical enterprises and individuals. At the core, 360ofme empowers a scalable and profitable ecosystem anchored in assured identities and user consent. This Traverse City-based founder is highly driven by purpose, a part of organizations that give back to the community, like Michigan Founders Fund. Prior to joining MFF and taking their 1% pledge, Cindy had already put 500,000 shares of the company into a foundation. 360ofme was recently featured on Viewpoint Project with Dennis Quaid, Fox Business, and was on the cover of the CIO Times as part of "The Most Admired Business Leader in 2023". Cindy has also advised founders of 8 startups and currently sits on the board of the Michigan Strategic Fund of the MEDC.


Terra Osman

Terra OsmanTerra Osman is the Founder and CEO of Farmish, a marketplace app connecting consumers and wholesale buyers with local food and farms to promote sustainable, community-driven agriculture. She's also a web developer and built and launched Farmish on her own in 2022, with an organic social media strategy that led to over 100,000 downloads within the first 8 weeks of launch. Terra is based in Grand Rapids and is actively involved in Michigan Founders Fund and Start Garden.


Alison Accavitti

alison accavittiAlison Accavitti is a co-founder, CMO and board director at RIVET Work, a Detroit-based software company scaling better workforce management solutions for construction contractors. As an early stage operator, she paved foundations for product design, sales, customer success and marketing.



Deirdre Roberson

deirdre roberson (1)Deirdre Roberson, MS, is the Co-founder and CEO of The Lab Drawer, an Ed-Tech company specializing in STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, the Arts, and Mathematics) education. To date, The Lab Drawer has successfully delivered over 30,000 STEAM kits to underserved youth in seven countries. Emphasizing the "A" in STEAM, Deirdre founded the luxury fashion brand EUMELANIN, creatively merging science with design, showcasing the significance of both STEM and the Arts in her work and world. To ensure students in Detroit had access to STEAM-related educational programs and opportunities, she co-founded the Motor City STEAM Foundation, a nonprofit organization. A Detroit native and Cass Technical High School graduate, Deirdre earned her Bachelor of Science in Chemistry from Xavier University in New Orleans, Louisiana, and later pursued a Master of Science in Chemistry at the University of Detroit Mercy.


Dr. Alecia Gabriel

Dr.+Alecia+Gabriel,+Ph.D.Alecia Gabriel, PhD, is the co-founder of The Lab Drawer as well as the Motor City STEAM Foundation. With a PhD in Chemistry (Bio-Organic), Alecia is passionate about teaching and encouraging young people to go into STEM careers. She also knows the importance of the arts and works to combine science and art (she herself has a background in classical vocal training, ballet, tap, jazz/modern dance, musical theater) to propel innovative thinking in technical studies. In 2018, Alecia was recognized in Crain’s Detroit Business Magazine as a “Notable Woman in Manufacturing.” 


Jan Garfinkle

Jan GarfinkleAnn Arbor’s Jan Garfinkle is the Founder and Managing Partner of Arboretum Ventures, a venture capital firm specializing in the healthcare sector. Inspired by her 20 years of experience in the medical device industry, Jan founded the firm on the principle that innovation is key to delivering value in healthcare. Arboretum Ventures invests in companies that improve patient outcomes and reduce healthcare system costs in the areas of medical devices, life science tools & diagnostics, pharma adjacencies and tech-enabled care delivery. They are currently investing from their sixth fund, with a billion dollars in assets under management. Jan has led and held board roles in more than 20 investments across six funds including notable exits with HandyLab (acquired by BD), Esperion (Nasdaq: ESPR), NxThera (acquired by Boston Scientific), CardioMEMS (acquired by St. Jude Medical), and NeuMoDx (acquired by QIAGEN). Jan was recently awarded the Venture Vanguard Award by the NVCA (2023).  Previous awards include: USA Top Women Dealmakers Award (2021), MichBusiness Women Leaders Hall of Fame (2020), Crain’s 100 Most Influential Women (2021, 2016), and as Crain’s Newsmaker of the Year (2015).


Vanessa Lane

vanessa laneVanessa Lane is the co-founder of Ann Arbor startup BetterPlay, where she leads the administrative operations, project management, and plays a key role in investor relations. Before entering the gaming industry, Vanessa worked as a teacher, digital content marketer, and product manager, all roles that made her think about engagement and user experience constantly. Vanessa is a purpose-driven founder and passionate about the overlooked power of video games to improve mental health.


Jasmit Kaur

jasmit kaurJasmit Kaur is the founder and CEO of Ann Arbor startup Culturebie, a people analytics platform that allows organizations to collect and analyze employee feedback in real-time through surveys. A Microsoft alum, Jasmit spent over a decade using people analytics to advise leaders on their HR and business strategy. In her experience and research, she found that usability, technology, and data science are underutilized in solving people and culture problems. She has worked in leadership development and talent analytics for over 15 years and is an expert in the industry. You can read some her work about remote culture and work-life balance on our blog.


Sarah Beatty

sarah beattySarah Beatty is a certified medical laboratory scientist, experienced healthcare manager, professional microbiologist, and startup founder. Her company, Culturewell, analyzes the microbiome of the places where we live, work, eat, and heal. Sarah is a mission-driven founder who is trying to leverage data to help turn reactive infection control practices into truly preventive programs.


Dawn Verbrigghe

Dawn Verbrigghe Jottful headshot 2019 - square (1) (1)Dawn Verbrigghe is an Ann Arbor startup founder, builder, mentor and speaker. After serving as COO of Nutshell, in 2017 Dawn founded Jottful, a software company that co-builds and manages professional, affordable, and hassle-free websites for small businesses. Dawn is no stranger to startups and small businesses. The inspiration behind Jottful came after managing the website for her mother’s bridal shop and struggling to find options for her mother to do this herself. So Dawn set out to design a content management system (CMS) that could deliver a professional website that small businesses could afford. Dawn is an active speaker about startups and small businesses.


Kathleen Craig

KCraig 2022 Headshot 1000square (1)Kathleen Craig is the founder and CEO of Plinqit, which offers two ways to help banks and credit unions attract deposits. Prior to launching Plinqit, Craig served as vice president for digital banking at a well-regarded community financial institution. Craig’s experience in banking and technology and her passion for financial wellness education led her to the development of Plinqit. She has successfully raised over $10 million in venture funding for Plinqit and has partnered with several of the largest financial technology companies in the world.


Harriet Chen-Pyle

harriet chen-pyleBased in Ann Arbor, Harriet Chen-Pyle is the co-founder and Chief Ecosystem Officer of LiveRoad Analytics, an IoT data analytics and meteorological technology company. With over 25 years of experience in Telematics, Vehicle Navigation Systems, Connected Vehicle and Smart Cities within the private and public sectors, Harriet is an expert in the Intelligent Transportation Systems (ITS) industry. LiveRoad Analytics Analytics is an innovative weather technology company using advanced analytics and data fusion (“MetTech”) to deliver real-time, high-resolution, microclimate weather forecasting for improved safety, efficiency, and sustainability.


Cat Kaiyoorawongs

cat kaiyoorawongaCatalina Kaiyoorawongs is an executive who spent a decade working in financial inclusion, economic development, and consulting. She is the founder and CEO of Ypsilanti-based startup LoanSense, a lending technology platform that increases home affordability by ~$100,000 for ready-to-buy consumers with student loan debt within 21 days. As a purpose-driven founder, Cat has helped modernize the mortgage industry and address the largest barrier to closing on a house: the consumer debt burden Americans have. 


Brenda Jones

Brenda JonesBrenda Jones is a serial entrepreneur currently serving as CEO of Ulendo, a company creating software tools that improve the productivity and quality of manufacturing machines. Prior to Ulendo, Brenda served as the CEO of Kinetica Labs, Inc. which was acquired by VelocityEHS in July 2021. She has also held key executive leadership positions in organizations focused on software, SaaS industry and technology commercialization: VP of Global Services at Arbortext (acquired by PTC), VP of Services MyBuys (acquired by Magnetic), NSF International’s first Chief Information Officer and the inaugural Managing Director of the University of Michigan Medical Innovation Center.


Christina Fair

christina fairChristina Fair is a purpose-driven entrepreneur, executive leader, mentor, and coach. After 7 years as a Partner and Executive Leader at Rocket Fiber, Christina now is the Co-founder and COO of Hum, the operating system for multi family internet. She also runs her own advising business for cohorts and individuals, focusing on life and wellness coaching for self-identified females as well as strategic advising for startups. Christina also serves on the Board of Directors for the Detroit Executives Association, the Advisory Board for the Michigan Founders Fund, and is a mentor for the Rise Leadership Program. 


Katie Hall

katie hallKatie is Founder and CEO of Claira Technologies, a workforce optimization platform for industrial companies. She spent 10 years helping organizations prepare for the AI impact on the future of work. Katie has a background in business, public policy and government. She regularly speaks and writes on a variety of topics including diversity hiring, AI ethics, and automation impact on the workforce.


Dr. Lonna Hardin

lonna hardinDr. Lonna Hardin is a three-time founder, self published author, internationally recognized recording artist, and purpose-driven leader. She has combined her musical talent and passion for student success to teach K-8th grade children and transform classrooms. Currently, she’s serving as Founder and CEO of VoiceBlocks, an AI SaaS solution that helps K-12th grade parents and guardians of special needs students navigate the IEP process. 


Jessica Willis

Jessica WillisJessica Willis is the founder and CEO of Pocketnest, a Detroit fintech startup. With a 20-year career in the investment and finance industries, she is a Certified Financial Planner (CFPⓇ) and a Certified Private Wealth Advisor (CPWAⓇ), having co-managed portfolios ranging from $50K to $250MM+. Pocketnest has raised nearly $5 million and continues to steadily grow.


Karissma Yve

karissma yveKarissma Yve, the founder of Gildform, demonstrates purpose-driven leadership through her mission to empower creators with on-demand jewelry design and manufacturing. Her innovation and unique approach to the jewelry industry, coupled with recognition as a Forbes 30 Under 30 recipient, highlight her remarkable achievements. A real innovator in the space, Karissma’s company was selected for the Techstars JP Morgan accelerator program and has caught the attention of innovators and entrepreneurs like Richard Branson and Pharrell.


Kim Hanke

kim hankeKim Hanke is the founder of Elm Park Labs, a Metro Detroit startup that develops enterprise-grade Extended Reality (XR) Solutions across Virtual, Augmented, and Mixed Reality. Driven by a lifelong commitment to education and innovation, as well as a passion for design and engineering, Kim is a serial entrepreneur with over four decades of leadership experience across education, training, design, engineering, business, process, quality, production, and manufacturing. Kim has also actively been involved in the Healthcare Policy Committee, XRA Association, Michigan Manufacturing Technology Center, and Women’s Automotive Association. 


Andrea Wallace

SuperDre-fullsize-hires (1)Andrea (Dre) Wallace is a Grand Rapids-based founder. Her company, Opnr, is a tool to help concert organizers use relevant data and analytics to book and promote performances. As a music producer and DJ for over 15 years, touring and playing in venues all around the world, Andrea knows firsthand how tough the music industry can be. She’s on a mission to help the entire live music ecosystem operate better. Andrea was a part of the Techstars 2022 cohort, and is Start Garden’s Entrepreneur-in-Residence in Grand Rapids. 


Nadine Lee

Nadine LeeNadine Lee is the founder and CEO of Throdle, an app community of car and motorsports fans who connect through their shared passion of cars, groups and experiences. Nadine's immense passion for traveling, unique cars, and Formula 1 racing inspired her to create Throdle. A firm believer that cars are something to be shared and experienced, she spends her time exploring the globe to capture the best content for app members. 



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