US Chamber of Commerce honors soleRebels CEO: Bethlehem Tilahun Alemu has transformed Ethiopian regional craft traditions, traditionally absent from the global marketplace, into international phenomenon.
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It’s windshield wipers and stem cell isolation techniques, or ice cream and Kevlar: the work of women innovators makes our world possible. In recognition of March as Women’s History Month, the U.S. Chamber’s Global Intellectual Property Center (GIPC) is honoring women who harness the power of IP to invent, create, and effect change. These women span every industry and saturate every community.
Some are trailblazers.
Dr. Katharine Blodgett was the first woman to receive a PhD in physics from Cambridge. Then, another first: she became General Electric’s (GE) first female research scientist. Dr. Blodgett patented a method of reducing vision-impairing reflections in glass, and her “invisible glass” proved a sensation. It’s responsible for the crystal-clear cinematography in Gone with the Wind and the intelligence gathered by World War II submarine periscopes and airplane spy cameras. Dr. Blodgett’s lasting impact is certainly easy to see.
Some women innovators are dreamers.
In 1947, Patsy Sherman received the results of her high school career aptitude test: most suited to the role of a housewife. Sherman, nurturing an intense interest in research and science, demanded to take the boys’ test. This time, the results listed dentistry or science as potential careers. Sherman became a scientist at 3M, where she developed the recipe for popular fabric stain repellent and material protector Scotchgard. She ended her 3M career with 13 patents for her various inventions.
Then, there are women who mean business.
Debbi Fields remembers when the company was only an idea. Her family told her she had no education or experience. Her friends pointed to market studies showing most people preferred crispy cookies, not soft cookies like hers. Banks turned down her appeals for business loans. Fields, not one to quit easily, worked hard to challenge her doubters and exceed expectations. She turned her idea into a $45 million business, and today, Mrs. Fields cookies remain a dominant force in the marketplace.
There are women who take risks.
Disney’s Frozen earned more than $1 billion at the global box office, thanks in large part to the woman sitting in the director’s chair – the first ever female director at Disney Animation Studios. While the Frozen creative team knew it wanted to break with Disney’s traditional big screen fairytales, it was Jennifer Lee who first offered the centric love versus fear dynamic. She encapsulated what everyone was thinking, but couldn’t quite put into words. And she brought the engaging, witty, sophisticated film we all love to life.
There are also women who transform.
Bethlehem Tilahun Alemu transformed Ethiopian regional craft traditions, traditionally absent from the global marketplace, into an international phenomenon. Alemu used a small bank loan to unite Ethiopian craftspeople under a structured business and brand, with the goal to gain better access to international consumers. Her craft shoe company, soleRebels, became the first privately owned company in Ethiopia to register a trademark in the U.S. and today, it’s the fastest growing consumer brand from Africa.
These women, among countless others, are the perfect embodiment of Women’s History Month. But let’s not limit their legacy to just March. When we talk about Albert Einstein, we can also talk about Dr. Blodgett. When we reference Alexander Graham Bell, we can reference Patsy Sherman, too. Or when we mention Steve Jobs, we can remember to mention Jennifer Lee or Debi Fields or Bethlehem Tilahun Alemu.
Happy Women’s History Month – let’s keep the celebration going.