Diversity in business ownership is integral to innovation. We’re lucky in Portland to have a vibrant, passionate business community, however, that community still is predominantly male. We want to highlight the women pioneers who are changing the business scene in Portland, as well as bring attention to how much there still is to do. Learn more about some amazing businesses, led by women, in Portland. 


Mara Zepeda started Switchboard with the intention of connecting communities while solving problems with technology. Her and Sean Lerner, her co-founder, help higher education institutions engage with their alumni. Through the platform, organizations are able to connect their networks. It functions as an alumni engagement platform, helping to achieve funding goals and engage with communities. However, Switchboard is just one of Mara’s projects.
Zebras Unite and DazzleCon, a support network and resource focused for-profit companies with a purpose. These companies are traditionally ignored by funders, as they are not explicitly for social good, and also can’t promise the returns of a traditional startup. The conference and movement connect the idea of responsible growth. Their manifesto states, “We believe that developing alternative business models to the startup status quo has become a central moral challenge of our time. These alternative models will balance profit and purpose, champion democracy, and put a premium on sharing power and resources. Companies that create a more just and responsible society will hear, help, and heal the customers and communities they serve.” As if that wasn’t enough, she’s also one of the women behind the XXcelerate Fund, a fund and support system created by women entrepreneurs for women entrepreneurs. 


CEO Emma Mcilroy, COO Julia Parsley, and Creative Director Taralyn Thuot quit their day jobs to start WildFang in 2010. They didn’t always know it would be a hit. It was founded on a mission: to create a home for badass women everywhere… and to let them have menswear. Tegan and Sara, Janelle Monae and Evan Rachel Wood have all worn and partnered with them. Of their mission, McIlroy says it wasn’t about politics, “We wanted to create a brand that made women feel braver, and bolder and didn’t put them in a box.”
They’ve built a brand on inclusivity, and are relentless about doing the right thing–even if it means they hear daily from people who don’t agree with their mission and values. In 2018, they’ve donated over $400K and launched viral social justice campaigns. Remember that infamous “I really don’t care, do u?” jacket? They’re the one’s who came up with a counter message.
McIlroy didn’t start totally confident, and she has advice for those who are just getting started. “Find the thing that really gets you excited, that you really believe in, that you really are motivated by and set your mission firmly against that,” McIlroy told Forbes. Finding the right people, who believe in the same mission, gives you a support network to help grow. Instead of focusing on “killing it”, let’s focus on growing what’s next and supporting the movements that matter.

Living Room Realty

Jenelle Isaacson founded Living Room Realty, a fellow B Corporation, in 2009. Who starts a real estate company in the middle of a recession? Bold, brave, and badass, Jenelle says “It’s never okay to play small.” Before Living Room, she was the lead singer and guitar player in a female punk band. The connection between business and Living Room Realty picks up awards for sustainability, being a great place to work consistently
“It’s important to know what your voice is. If it’s true, it will resonate,” says Jenelle. Her passion and truth have held the company together and pushed them to live the values they espouse. While Jenelle has a varied background, she seeks to bring truth to all that she does. They commit to the community they serve, not just the employees and clients. Their Loving Room Fund helps provide capital for worthy organizations. Their agents donate part of their commissions towards the fund, and the buyers choose from a selection of organizations. Whether you’re buying, renting, or investing, working with Living Room Realty means supporting a business that walks the walk.


Inspired by the maker movement in 2010, Jamie Schmidt became an entrepreneur. She experimented with the best ways to make a natural plant-based, natural deodorant. When she started out, she used customers as her focus groups and sold at farmer’s markets. This meant week by week, she got feedback and was able to tweak her product. Her focus has been on moving things forward, regardless of whether or not she had the means at the time. Saying yes first is the key to her business. When things started to grow, instead of holding back, she would say yes and work behind the scenes to make sure the company was still able to deliver. 
Schmidt’s mission to bring natural products to the masses has been a success. From the beginning, Jamie Schmidt knew she had to prove that natural products could work. and her obsessive product testing meant that they did. Their products, from deodorant to toothpaste, have inspired a new wave in the industry. They reflect their values in their product with recyclable jars. While they continue to improve, they’re moving to 100% recyclable packaging. They get bonus points for using earth-friendly ingredients, too. We’re excited to see what’s next.