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The Female Factor

You’ve probably heard enough intriguing founders’ stories to know that an entrepreneur’s personal experiences and identity – whether it’s culture, ethnicity, religion, class or education – often leave distinctive imprints on their company. But how influential is gender when the founder is a woman navigating a space traditionally dominated by men?

We sat down with three Hawai‘i-based female founders to get their take on how being a woman has influenced their paths to entrepreneurship and their growing businesses:

Liza Rodewald, CEO and co-founder of Instant Teams

Cortney Gusick, founder of Pāhiki Eco-Caskets

Kim Hehir, president and co-founder of Brutus Bone Broth

Though operating in different industries, each woman recognized a business opportunity born from their family circumstances. Women have traditionally been more family-focused and done the lion’s share of caregiving, so they may be more likely to find business inspiration in their family lives.

Family Origins, Female Perspectives

When Rodewald – a software engineer and software entrepreneur three times over – became a military spouse and mother, she combined her experience in building teams of remote workers with an abundant talent pool of other military spouses who had made career sacrifices to accommodate an itinerant military lifestyle. She says she discovered the predominantly female population of military spouses in her new neighborhood were interested in flexible jobs, just as she was.

“I kept meeting all these spouses that would ask, ‘How are you working? What are you doing? You’re doing this all from home? How can I get something like that?’ ”

Rodewald started Instant Teams in 2016 and has provided hundreds of companies across the U.S. with remote teams of workers, while creating jobs for unemployed and underemployed women.

Gusick and her family’s approach to her father’s death inspired her to help other families navigate what she calls “the Deathspace” with eco-conscious values. After an exhaustive search for an environmentally friendly alternative to the nonbiodegradable caskets that dominate the funeral industry, Gusick’s family purchased a custom-made all-wood casket to honor her father’s wish for a green burial.

Gusick then left her Silicon Valley tech career to start Pāhiki Eco-Caskets, which she calls Hawai‘i’s first and only eco-friendly wooden casket manufacturer. She says she finds the greatest fulfillment in relating to people with humanity during an often complex and intense time.

“I enjoy making things that are beautiful and dignified, but that’s a smaller part of it to me than connecting and engaging with the families in this space. That sort of warmth and emotional connection is not specific only to women, though I would say it’s more pronounced and more natural in some ways.”

She launched the company two years ago and dedicated herself full time about 10 months ago. “This is a truly perfect blend of some of my material skills and my more emotional skills,” says Gusick.

For Hehir, a family recipe provided unexpected entrepreneurial inspiration after a 15-year career that included stints in private equity, investment banking and hospitality branding.

“My mom always made this bone broth anytime we were sick. It was grandma’s chicken soup everyone knows,” says Hehir. When her sister, Sue Delegan, adopted a sickly rescue dog named Brutus, they began feeding him the homemade bone broth and were soon amazed by his transformation. The dog, Hehir says, improved both in health and appearance.

“He turned into this beautiful dog and people would comment, ‘Oh, you’ve got a new dog. What happened to that other dog?’ And my sister would say, ‘No, this is Brutus. This is the same dog.’ ”

Brutus Bone Broth for dogs was born, and the family-owned company now sells its products on Amazon, at natural food market chain Wegmans and at specialty pet shops in many states, including Calvin & Susie in Hawai‘i.

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