Think of your business mentor or heroine and the chances are they will be someone older than you. However the longer I spend in business, the more I realise that many much younger people set incredible examples by blazing a trail into areas where few have ventured before. For example, it seems almost mandatory that hugely successful digital brands from Facebook to Tumblr are launched by what appear to me to be practically teenage boys. As a finalist in the 2014 NatWest everywoman Awards, a programme that aims to celebrate female entrepreneurship and create role models for fellow businesswomen of all ages, I was hugely impressed by the calibre of many of the young female finalists.
These awards and the mentors they create are so important because the high levels of confidence required to succeed in business don't always come as naturally to women as to men. One of the City of London's most senior women, Sanaz Zaimi, made exactly this point in a recent Financial Times article, Sexism and the City. The same piece reported that despite a near 50-50 gender balance in overall staff numbers, just 19.5 per cent of the City's senior roles are held by women. Like me, Zaimi feels that to redress this imbalance, women need help in boosting their self-belief.
Although there are countless schemes aimed at doing just that, in my view there is nothing quite as empowering for women as real life examples of other women's success. And it's important to look across the age spectrum to find examples of inspiring women. In that spirit, I have chosen the following four young people as my millennial heroines because they are revolutionising business models, raising awareness of their causes and improving the lives of others.
Winner of the Iris Award for a female technology entrepreneur at the NatWest everywoman Awards last year, 29-year-old Emily Brooke founded her company, Blaze, in 2012. Blaze sells Laserlights to night-time cyclists. The product aims to reduce the number of urban accidents by projecting a bicycle image six metres ahead of the cyclist, making drivers aware of their presence. The company has raised £500,000 in investment so far and is currently finalising another £1m. Within months of launching the light last year, the company had sold over 3,000 units.
Kristin Hallenga, a 28-year-old who founded breast cancer awareness charity CoppaFeel! five years ago, is another impressive entrepreneur. Diagnosed with breast cancer at 23, she has done an immense amount of work to enable early diagnosis in young women by raising awareness and encouraging them to check their breasts. CoppaFeel! uses humour, flashmobs, tube advertisements and festival stalls to engage with teenagers.
At 16, Nina Devani made it to the final of the NatWest everywoman Awards last December - the youngest ever finalist in the awards' twelve year history. Her solution for helping consumers to remember passwords, an app called "Prompt Me Nina", has been downloaded thousands of times since its launch in 2013. Nina didn't win the award, however her energy, drive and ambition really impressed me - her vision is for her company DevaniSoft to become the next Microsoft.
Last but not least, Kathryn Parsons, the 32-year-old founder of Decoded, has pulled the traditional technology business model apart and created one that puts mindfulness at the heart of its practices. Through its digital training courses it teaches people digital skills such as how to code in a day, whilst ensuring the process feels sane and manageable. Parsons has a unique approach to technology and business.
These four millennial business women have many things in common - they don't mimic their male counterparts and they humanise their businesses. Perhaps most importantly, they recognise that being authentic, having fun and owning their own success is essential. In behaving this way, these young women are an inspiration to others.