Female Entrepreneurs Driving Social Change

This article was published in the Summit 2021 issue

by Kacie Malouf , Co-Founder of Malouf Companies and Board Chair of the Malouf Foundation

In 2003, I worked at a local buffet. My husband, Sam, was getting his master’s in accounting, and I was slinging food at a crowded restaurant. I would come home, exhausted, and Sam would help me scrape the food off my apron. I hated it.

That same year, Sam and I went on a shopping trip that changed our lives. We had recently purchased a mattress from Downeast and needed to buy a sized-up sheet set. The sticker shock we both felt when we saw the prices led to the idea that started our company. We started by reselling luxury sheet sets (unused!), and then slowly took more ownership of the business. We made a gamble that I could replace the essential $1,500 I made each month, and I quit my job.

We tell this story a lot when people asked us how our multi-million-dollar business got started, but never quite so openly. Sam, now the CEO, quickly gives me credit for the idea that started it all, but our entrepreneurship was (and is) a fully shared risk.

Today, our venture has grown to 55 lifestyle and wellness companies and two of the biggest Certified B Corporations® in Utah under the umbrella of Malouf Companies™. I’m currently serving as an executive at Downeast (17 years after their mattress got the ball rolling), a 30-year-old home and apparel company we acquired last year, and a partner at Tamarak Capital, a venture capital firm. I also head the Malouf Foundation, a registered 501(c)3 nonprofit organization dedicated to confronting child sexual exploitation, specifically in sex trafficking and online abuse. I’m now a working mom of five, instead of a young 20-something with no responsibilities but myself. We’ve come a long way.

When people ask me how we got here, and what advice I have for other female entrepreneurs, I never know quite what to say. Our own gamble often felt like a precarious leap of faith that should have failed spectacularly—but hasn’t. Each person’s circumstances, background, and experiences are so different. But one thing I can speak to is a thought that guides me every day: how can I be useful to others.

If I put in hard work, I can be useful to others, whether it’s our employees, entrepreneurs, families, or survivors of human trafficking. If we instill similar values into our companies, we can be useful to thousands of people.

Corporate social responsibility guided our best practices before we knew what it was. We feel very fortunate to have the means and abilities to make a difference, and we try to infuse that into everything we do, which is why we are a B Corp™, why we take care of our employees, and why we started the Malouf Foundation.

Becoming partners at Tamarak Capital in 2020 opened a completely new pathway to “usefulness.” My entrepreneurial point of view and diversity of fields, plus influence in a VC capacity, is helping me support female entrepreneurs.

There’s a gap in investment in female-owned businesses. I’m often the only woman in the room, or in pitches, and though I’m new to this world, my perspective is an asset. Venture funding for women fell significantly in 2020, with the proportion of dollars to female-owned businesses dropping from 2.8 to 2.3 percent—on top of a devastating year for working women due to the COVID-19 pandemic. That’s not ok. I’m new to venture capital, but I’m excited to learn, both the ins and outs of the business and how to support to women in this realm.

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