Women’s History Month: Success Stories, Lessons Learned, and Resources

According to the U.S. SBA, over 12 million businesses are owned by women. Those businesses employ over 10.1 million workers. Just 50 years ago, there were only around 400,000 women-owned businesses in the county.

Continued growth of women-owned businesses is crucial to economic growth and a thriving small business community. Here are two stories of successful businesses started by women, lessons they learned along the way, and resources that are instrumental in their success.

Sugar Bliss:

In 2006, Teresa Ging left her finance job on Wall Street to pursue her dream of opening a cupcake boutique. After being passed up for a promotion along with several colleagues, all of them women, Teresa found herself baking cookies. Teresa had never baked before, but the craft quickly became therapeutic to her. Needing a break from finance, Ging set out for Le Cordon Bleu patisserie training program in Paris. Teresa then returned to Chicago searching for a retail location for her new business, Sugar Bliss. The next 8 months included research, testing recipes, and looking for retail space. 

Teresa experienced some early setbacks: securing a business loan for her first store after being told she was too young to start a business, experiencing delays with the build out after securing a loan, and building a new business in Chicago from the ground up.

Nonetheless, Teresa persevered. She worked with the Women’s Business Development Center (WBDC) in Chicago to prepare her business plan and loan application, helping her score offers from two banks.

Today, Sugar Bliss has multiple locations, and has recently landed her trademark cookies on Walgreens’ shelves. How did Ging accomplish this great feat? Teresa certified Sugar Bliss as a woman- and minority-owned business which led to a grant and connections to major corporations and government agencies. Through her certification, Ging began to attend industry events where she developed connections with retail buyers. One of those connections happened to connect her to Walgreens.

“I ended up getting certified 10 years after I started. I wish I had gotten certified from the very beginning,” Ging shared.

Lessons to learn:

  • Don’t be afraid to try, and have a plan: Teresa needed a change, identified a passion, developed a plan to build her skillset, tested her products, completed research, and courageously stepped into her new journey. You don’t have to have all of the details figured out, but have a plan and a passion, and take that next step.
  • Keep persevering: If Teresa had halted her business after receiving rejections from banks, she would have never seen her business thriving as it is today.

Resources to take advantage of:


Canva is an online graphic design app used to create social media posts, flyers, presentations, and other designs.
Founded by Melanie Perkins in 2013, Canva has become a go-to marketing tool for startups, students, communications professionals, and more. Perkins is one of the youngest female CEOs of a tech startup, starting her business at just 19-years-old. 

Melanie set out to make design accessible to all. Today, Canva is worth $3.2 billion.

Perkins lightbulb moment struck while in college. To earn a little income on the side, Melanie taught students design programs like those offered by Microsoft and Adobe. After finding those platforms to be extremely challenging for her students, Perkins thought there must be a better way. At the time, Melanie believed the future would be all online, collaborative, simple tools.
Perkins started small, with few resources and little business experience. Melanie and her then-boyfriend launched an online school yearbook design business, Fusion Books, to test out their idea. Without money to rent office space, Melanie’s mom’s living room became her office. There Perkins created a platform where students could collaborate, design yearbook pages, and simply print.

After some success, Perkins began to network and build relationships with professionals in Silicon Valley. The team began to grow, adding valuable members with applicable experience and backgrounds.

Today, Canva has won celebrity backing, serves over 60 million users/month across 190 countries, and employs about 2,500 people. There is still more on the horizon for Canva as Melanie continues to cast vision and strategies for continued growth.

Lessons to learn:

  • Accept that you won’t know all the answers: “You’re going to have to ask a lot of people for their advice and help, but you’re going to have to distil it down to what makes sense for you.”
  • Don’t allow preconceptions about your age, gender, where you’re from, etc. halt your passion: Melanie’s age, gender, and Australia-based company, has garnered objections over the years. Melanie was told no 100 times before her first yes. However, Melanie turned those preconceptions and objections into motivation, propelling her business forward.

Resources to take advantage of:

  • Networking: Melanie taught herself kitesurfing so that she could network with potential investors. Don’t be afraid to step outside your comfort zone, meet new people, and make meaningful connections while sharing your business idea.
  • Grow your team: Don’t build your business alone. You need people on your team that bring different expertise, background, and skills. Identify your areas of weakness, find valuable team members to fill the gaps, and lean on each other’s strengths.
How a 32-year-old turned a high school yearbook idea into a $3.2 billion business (Karen Gilchrist, 2020, CNBC)
How Canva became one of the most successful start-up unicorns in history (Ruth Devine, 2020, The CEO Magazine)
How Certification as a Woman-and Minority- Owned Small Business Landed Sugar Bliss Cookies on Walgreens’ Shelves (Barabara Thau, 2022, CO)
Meet Teresa Ging of Sugar Bliss Cake Boutique and Sugar Bliss Patisserie in Downtown Loop (2017, Voyage Chicago)