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The Fastest-Growing Women-Owned Businesses

Sarah KaussIn 2009, Harvard Business School grad Sarah Kauss was on a hike in Arizona with her mother when she realized she didn't much feel like drinking the water that had been baking in the sun in her metal bottle. She suddenly had a vision for the container she wished she'd had, a bottle that was more like a thermos, with a sleek design in a pretty color. Back in New York, while working her day job in commercial real estate development, she found a designer who created a curvy prototype she then had manufactured in China in a pretty ocean blue. Though there were already plenty of re-usable water bottles on the market, Kauss's, which she dubbed S'well, stood out because of its distinctive design and its capacity to keep liquids cold for 24 hours and hot for 12. Her big break came in 2011 when O, the Oprah Magazine, wanted to include S'well on its O List of great products. But the editors wanted a colorful photo so Kauss, who was still working solo, scrambled to produce six more colors, including seashell pink and rowboat red.

S'well has since boomed, with accounts at Saks Fifth Avenue, Bloomingdale's, J. Crew, Neiman Marcus and Starbucks. Revenue has shot up in the last two years, from just under $10 million in 2013 to $47 million last year. Kauss, 40, employs 40 people in her office in Manhattan's Flatiron district, and plans to hire 10 more staffers this year. She says when she started out, she thought she could convince customers that re-usable bottles were good for the environment but she's realized that fashion is what sells. "It's a lot easier to convince people to buy a well-made product that's by their favorite designer," she says, "instead of making them feel bad about how many plastic bottles wound up in the ocean last year."

Because of its rapid rise, S'well took the number one slot in a new ranking of the fifty fastest-growing women-owned or led companies put together by the Women Presidents' Organization(WPO), a New York-based group founded in 1997 to offer female entrepreneurs mentoring and support. American Express sponsors the list. WPO hosts roundtable events with professional facilitators who own their own businesses through its 129 chapters in the U.S. and 13 countries overseas, spanning Europe, the Middle East, Australia and Africa. Nineteen hundred members pay dues ranging from $900 to $5,000 a year, depending on their company's revenue, to attend meetings and an annual conference.

For the last nine years WPO has put out its "50 Fastest" list. There is no fee to be considered for the list, which reaches outside its membership roster for candidates. It sends applications to 25,000 women-owned businesses on a list it's developed over time. Applicants don't pay to participate. To qualify, businesses need to have had $50,000 in revenue by 2011 and at least $2 million by 2015. The pool of qualified businesses this year came to 400. Then WPO had a CPA calculate the growth rates.

See Our Range Of S'well Bottles

Source: Susan Adams

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