18 Women to Watch in 2018

Wasn’t 2017 magical for bringing leadership issues into focus? Headlines just hummed with different views of how great leaders should act. 2017’s list of Inspiring Women to Watch gave us some surprises, including the first unicorn truly worthy of the name–Gingko Bioworks–because co-founder Reshma Shetty could actually make...

Wasn’t 2017 magical for bringing leadership issues into focus? Headlines just hummed with different views of how great leaders should act.

2017’s list of Inspiring Women to Watch gave us some surprises, including the first unicorn truly worthy of the name–Gingko Bioworks–because co-founder Reshma Shetty could actually make unicorns happen. The list also included Atlanta-San Francisco dual citizen Alaina Percival, whose global phenomenon Women Who Code soared to more than 100,000 members in 2017. In Texas, Carolyn Rodz launched the first A.I. for female founders, Alice. In New York, Forerunner Ventures founder Kirsten Green re-headlined how sexy e-commerce and retail can be. Inspiring? Absolutely. But wait, there’s more.

Here are 18 inspiring women to watch in 2018

You’ll see patterns like financial fearlessness, global inspiration, local commitment, grassroots get-er-done-ness, and hints of big things to come in the year ahead. Clean up your old Google alerts and get some of these names in for 2018.

1.     Keisha Lance Bottoms, mayor, Atlanta

Keisha was just elected mayor of Atlanta in a hard-fought race with half a dozen candidates.


In her victory acceptance speech, she shared, “This campaign started around the kitchen table, with a group of women who didn’t have campaign experience but believed we could change the world.” Keisha is a public school educated leader who has made a reputation for herself as someone who isn’t afraid to speak up and speak out. For example, earlier in her career on the Atlanta city council, she spoke out against a police billboard campaign that urged people, “Don’t run.”

“One of the things I will always teach my children is that they have the right to run. It may be ill-advised, but the issue is not with them exercising their rights but the response to them exercising their rights,” as reported by the AJC.  The review board took the campaign down.

When she was 8, she came home from school “to find dozens of officers in our home, leading my father — a well-known entertainer — away in handcuffs. He went away to prison, and for many years, I watched my mother struggle to make ends meet. That life-changing experience propelled me to go to law school and to offer myself for public service.”

2.     Jennifer Tejada, CEO, PagerDuty

With 10,000 customers, including 50 of the Fortune 500, PagerDuty made Deloitte’s 500 fastest-growing companies in North America list for the second time this year — No. 142. The company has also won a Timmy for Best Tech Workplace for Diversity. PagerDuty helps companies like IBM and Panasonic respond to customers in digital real time.

3.     Jessica Matthews, founder, Uncharted Power 

Jessica grew up in Poughkeepsie, New York, and has dual U.S.-Nigerian citizenship. “I was always trying to be the perfect balance between Bill Nye the Science Guy and Beyoncé,” Jessica shared with Business Insider.

She created Soccket, a soccer ball that, just by playing with it, creates enough energy to provide electric light to a small home. See the video for more about her approach to innovation and inspiration. She recently raised a $7 million Series A — the largest first round ever raised by a woman of color.

4.     Lynne Laube, COO, president, and co-founder, Cardlytics

“Three households that look identical demographically … are going to get the exact same credit offer,” said Lynne at the recent DataDisrupt conference. “They look very different when you understand where and how they are spending money, versus their demographics.” That’s the kind of thinking and numbers-focus that compelled Lynne to leave the world of banking and co-found Cardlytics. Today, Cardlytics employs hundreds of people and has raised more than $200 million to build better data for banks. Her advice? “I have learned to embrace the things that make me who I am and use those in the workplace.”

5.     Stacy Brown-Philpot, CEO, TaskRabbit

Stacy just became CEO at TaskRabbit, which launched in 2008 as an early harbinger of the gig economy and was sold recently to Ikea, which has international expansion plans for the brand.

“When I talk about how TaskRabbit is revolutionizing the future of work, I’m thinking of how the platform is helping young people pay their student loan bills. I’m thinking of single mothers who task in order to provide for their small children. I’m not just saying this as a daughter of a single mom who did not have a lot growing up in Detroit. I also say it as a mother of two girls who happens to be the CEO of a firm that truly believes in economic empowerment. Helping to create jobs and income opportunities for everyone is my vision for TaskRabbit and what I want to be remembered for.”

6.     Robin Bienfait, founder, Atlanta Tech Park; partner, Valor Ventures

Robin grew up in a big family in Valdosta, Georgia. Her engineering drive and talent brought her to a global career in enterprise technology, including roles such as CIO at Blackberry, senior VP at AT&T, and chief enterprise innovation officer at Samsung. She returned home to Georgia in 2017 to focus on connecting enterprises with entrepreneurs. Robin just bought and remodeled a modern 43,000 square foot innovation center, Atlanta Tech Park, to make a space for enterprises and executives to mingle with growth-stage companies. (Disclosure: Robin and I work together at Valor Ventures.)

7.     Maia Heymann, co-founder and general partner, Converge 

Some 5 percent of all venture capital decision makers are women. Maia’s advice when times get tough is “I turn inward to get motivation and strength from thinking about how I’ve gotten through tough times before. A deep reservoir of resiliency has served me well, and I’ve had to draw on it many times!”

Before founding her venture capital firm, Converge, Maia learned the ropes by launching BancBoston Ventures, the corporate venture capital arm of Bank of Boston, where she chaired the investment committee. She shared with me, “Venture capital is about seeing promise and potential in founders and markets–early. When I see both of them together early, and I have done the work to have the conviction to invest, that’s what makes venture capital an amazing force!”

8.     Danielle Applestone, PhD, CEO, Bantam Tools

Danielle’s dad was in a wheelchair. She helped him modify a workshop so they could modify the house together to make it more accommodating for him. “I remember getting down and measuring things, and it was only my eyes that could see the numbers. I was very involved in the engineering process.”

To make it easier to custom build for any purpose, Danielle created the prototyping force for electronics and circuit boards, the Bantam Tools PCB Milling Machine. Accurate to 24 microns and small enough to fit on your desk, the app and kit caught the eye of Bre Pettis, founder of MakerBot, and he acquired the company. Danielle still runs it. Speaking at the 2017 Hackaday Superconference, she pointed out that for every dollar spent in manufacturing, $1.81 is added to the economy. “I had no idea how important manufacturing was to what we do in the United States.”

Her advice? “There’s no substitute for giving a sh**t.”

9. Lisa Curtis, co-founder, Kuli Kuli

Lisa just raised $4.2 million to make moringa a staple in the U.S. diet. She got the idea for Kuli Kuli working as a Peace Corps volunteer in Niger. Her project there was to grow more moringa to feed more people. “It prefers dry sandy soil, and grows without much water–it grows in the places in the world that have the most trouble growing crops.” But no one in Niger eats moringa. They were, however, willing to farm it as a cash crop.

Today, “Kuli Kuli provides a livelihood for 1,000 farmers in Ghana, Haiti, and Nicaragua, and has planted one million trees,” Lisa shared with Geri Stengel of Forbes. It’s moringa products are available in numerous stores, including Whole Foods, and Lisa’s team is creating more ways moringa can make its nutritious way into the Western diet.


10.     Fatima Dicko, founder, Jetpack

Fatima’s family emigrated from Mali when she was small. She and her parents both learned English as she did her homework. Today, Fatima attends Stanford and has founded Jetpack, a company that connects cool products with people who need them.

Last year, Fatima opened Jetpack’s distribution center in Baltimore, in a warehouse district burned in protests around the death of Freddie Gray. “Everyday, I’d look out of the warehouse windows and see businesses that were burned down during the unrest. It inspired me to take control of the infinitesimally small portion of the world that I represent.” Her advice? “It’s OK and actually a wonderful thing to not think like the rest of the world.”

11.   Anna Mason, partner, Revolution

You’ve probably heard of Steve Case and Rise of the Rest–the mega-tour that raises an eyebrow at old-school Silicon Valley-centric investing and instead looks to Main Street America. Anna was a major author of the Rise of the Rest platform for Revolution. She’s got a lot to be proud of. Just this month, Revolution announced a $150 million seed fund Anna co-leads that invests exclusively in starts outside of Silicon Valley, Boston, and New York.


12.   Meredith Kopit Levien, COO, The New York Times

If you ever read The New York Times on your phone, you’ve benefited from the work of Meredith. She’s a self-acclaimed Starbucks junkie, and her Twitter profile dares you that she’s the fastest person through an airport you’ve ever met. And speed is very much the essence of her role, as she captains a global news operation respected worldwide for quality and timeliness. The New York Times currently has the most paid subscriptions in its lifetime, about 3.3 million, and received three Pulitzers in 2017, two more than any other news organization.

When Meredith was promoted from CMO to COO, New York Times CEO Mark Thompson called her a “force of nature who has already transformed our advertising and marketing departments,” as quoted by Adweek.

13.   Sarah Robb O’Hagan, CEO, Flywheel

Sarah was fired twice — once from Virgin, and then from Atari — before she decided to pull herself together. At her next role, with Nike, she worked her way up to president of Gatorade and gained a reputation for turning around the brand.

Getting fired was one of the most formative experiences of her life, she says. “What I took from it is, you are so much better in any environment to just man up and say what you don’t know — get that elephant out on the table — than to pretend.” Her advice? “Make failure your fuel.” Get more from her book, published in 2017 — Extreme You.

14. Elizabeth Halkos, chief operating officer, Purchasing Power

Elizabeth was one of the first few employees at Purchasing Power. Now acquired by private equity, the company has almost half a billion in revenue. She credits thoughtful vulnerability as a key to her success as an executive and to the success of the teams she has built at Purchasing Power. “Leaders set the tone with vulnerable leadership in the workplace — and with it, others will have the courage to serve the business in the same manner,” she shared with me in an email. “I was just having a conversation with my direct reports today that sums up a part of my vision as a business leader: I believe that people are capable of having a positive impact on other people every day. We can create movements, and be a force for positive change if we understand the power and influence that we are capable of.”


15.   Lisa Pearson, president, Umbel 

When Lisa moved to Austin, she traded bagels for breakfast tacos and hasn’t looked back. She’s the first president of venture-backed marketing and data analytics company Umbel. She’s also an outspoken advocate for fairness and transparency across all endeavors. “From a professional standpoint, it’s time for women to rise,” she shared in a recent news segment. “Women have to prove themselves more, more buttoned up, less emotional than men to be taken seriously — and I see a lot of women nailing it.”

16.   Jocelyn Mangan, COO, Snagajob

Your org chart is holding back your business, believes Snagajob COO Jocelyn Mangan.

Jocelyn has been a major force in building tech-driven brands, including in previous roles at Ticketmaster and Open Table. One of the things she changed as she builds Snagajob, an online hiring site for hourly work, is how “we can be better at understanding why gender diversity is essential for success and what steps we can take to help women succeed in our company.”

She started a monthly event to discuss these kinds of topics and told Dig South, “These monthly events have been low effort, high return, and have blossomed into other groups forming around sexual diversity. What we’ve learned is that people truly appreciate having a forum for storytelling around their experiences and others, and that this in and of itself is a key piece that’s missing.”

17. Elizabeth Holmes, founder, Theranos

Elizabeth is in a fight for the life of not just her company, Theranos, but her dream of democratizing blood tests. Currently embroiled in legal concerns on several fronts, she’s kept the focus on keeping the company. Theranos has moved to New Jersey and pared down to a core team. Elizabeth has secured $100 million from Fortress in a loan secured against the company’s patent portfolios.

According to Business Insider, Elizabeth recently shared with investors, “Based on our present projections, we believe we will have sufficient liquidity through 2018, by which point we hope to have secured regulatory approval for MiniLab testing for the Zika virus and begun submissions for additional assays.”

18. Kirsten Gillibrand, U.S. senator, D-N.Y.

This senator jumped more into the national spotlight via Twitter recently. She publicly called for Al Franken’s resignation and the investigation of allegations of sexual harassment by President Donald Trump. With an interesting political year ahead, Gillibrand will likely have many more interesting, and inspiring, moments to watch. She’s outspoken, clear, and not afraid of controversy.  

The most likely person to inspire you in 2018?

With these examples of leaders speaking up, speaking out, and making the future better in their own ways, it’s still true that the person most likely to inspire you in 2018 is you. May you inspire yourself beyond your imagination in your new year. Be bold, be brave, and above all, be you.

First published in Lisa Calhoun’s column in Inc. Magazine.

In this article