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Ten female celebrities who proved to be hard-nosed entrepreneurs

By Christina Tynan-Wood | Small Business

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Victoria Beckham

Victoria Beckham (@victoriabeckham) has made such a success as an entrepreneur – with her ready to wear and boutique clothing lines, which earned £30m last year – that many people forget that she started out as a celebrity. And not just by looking pretty on the arm of her uber-handsome and internationally famous soccer star husband David Beckham. She was one of the four Spice girls, dubbed Posh Spice by a British music magazine in 1996. Going from ¼ of a gimmicky girl band to the fashion mogul she is now in the years between is quite an accomplishment. She didn’t do it by standing next to fame, either. She did it the old-fashioned way: Hard work. She is legendary for putting in long hours, hiring good people, and multitasking to fit work, famous husband, and the couple’s four children into the same number of hours in a day that the rest of us get.

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Kathy Ireland

Ireland may be the prototype for the celebrity entrepreneur. (Though she cites Liz Taylor as a business mentor.) Initially famous for her ability to look fantastic in a swimsuit – she was in the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue thirteen consecutive years starting in 1984 and on the cover for five of those – Ireland is clearly just as good at business as she is at making tiny pieces of fabric look alluring. She started on the road to entrepreneurship with a small step: lending her celebrity name to a line of socks at Kmart. She has since put her name on everything from clothing to windows. She curates and brands a vast collection of furniture, ceiling fans, and home products, wedding solutions, and business products under her global branding company, Kathy Ireland Worldwide (kiWW). Her company makes a huge amount of money: It is listed as the 28th most powerful brand globally by License Global Magazine, with annual merchandise sales of $2 billion, according to Forbes Magazine. According to Fairchild Publication, Kathy Ireland is one of the 50 most influential people in fashion. And, in 2012, she made the cover of Forbes (not in a swimsuit), which dubbed her “Super Model Super Mogul.”

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Jessica Alba

If acting doesn’t work out for Jessica Alba, (@jessicaalba) she’ll probably be fine. Her startup, Honest Company, which sells chemical-free products – everything from diapers to adult vitamins – to moms has been doing nothing but grow since she launched it with her business partner Christopher Gavigan three years ago. This year, revenues were up to $150 million and the pair secured $70 million in venture capital funding. It employs 250 people, has a nearly billion-dollar valuation and is preparing to go public. Of course, it doesn’t look like her acting career plans to stall any time soon, either. For one thing, she costars with Jason Statham in the upcoming (2016) Mechanic: Resurrection.

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Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen

Even if your teenage daughter insists the Olsen twins are a train wreck, the facts point more toward money-making gravy train. The two started off playing a diaper-clad baby but they grew up to be fashion entrepreneurs. With names and faces recognizable to every tween girl alive, they launched a line of clothes in Walmart for that demographic. But, as they grew up, they developed a more serious interest in fashion and launched (because they could afford to) The Row, named for Savile Row in London. The high-fashion brand is influenced by the fraternal twins’ own aesthetic of flowing skirts, big sweaters, and casual-chic. It’s all going well. It’s certainly going better than some of their movies. The fashion-interested twins had an estimated worth of $1 billion a couple of years ago.

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Rachael Ray

If you have never cooked with a Rachel Ray kitchen tool, you are a rarity. The woman has turned her celebrity personality into a business. She is famous for her cooking shows where she is playful and accessible to anyone who likes to eat. And she uses that fame to sell cookbooks, kitchen gadgets, pots and pans, dishware – even dog food. She has turned her lifestyle brand into a magazine (owned by Meredith, for whom this author also works.) But it isn’t the product, it’s her we’re buying when we pick up a book or dinnerware with her name on it. We want her relaxed, goofy, creative approach to cooking (and eating) in our own homes. A couple of years ago, according to Forbes, she was worth $25 million. Possibly more impressive? The Oxford American College Dictionary added her term EVOO, an acronym for extra-virgin olive oil, which Ray coined, and credited her.

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Jaclyn Smith

If you remember Jaclyn Smith as the smart Angel from Charlie’s Angel’s, it will come as no surprise that she managed to parlay her TV celebrity, which might have been fleeting but turns out to have had enormous longevity, into a range of products with enormous popularity. She has a line of home décor products, luxury skin care products (developed with her husband, Dr. Brad Allen, a medical researcher) and a line of clothing. Of her clothing, Woman’s Wear Daily said it possessed the highest consumer awareness of any private label apparel brand in the country.

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Oprah Winfrey

Someday, we will study this woman in college classes on entrepreneurship. She can turn anything into a success. She started out poor and abused (not to mention black and a woman) so going to college – for other people – would have been an accomplishment. For Oprah, it was one step toward the media empire she built that includes TV shows, a network, and a wildly successful magazine with her picture on every cover. She has starred and produced several successful films and Broadway shows. She is a force. And everything she loves – because she does much more than touch things – turns to gold. She is worth 3 Billion, according to Forbes.

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Reese Witherspoon

Adorable, sexy, funny, winner of Academy Awards, you’d think Witherspoon (@RWitherspoon) could just stop there. Nope. As an ambassador for Avon, she has furthered women’s causes, influenced policy, sat down with world leaders, and banked millions. And her own production company – which she started because she was tired of fighting every other female actor out there for a few crappy roles – recently got Gone Girl and Wild on the big screen.  Make a bunch of money and make the world a better place for women? I think even her Legally Blond character Elle Woods would be proud of that. Her net worth? Around $80 million.

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Kate Walsh

Once claiming as her on-screen boyfriend, McDreamy from Grey’s Anatomy, Walsh has managed to segue the idea of missing her ex-boyfriend’s scent on her skin into a bankable product for her and a visceral experience for the millions of women who could never claim that man as their boyfriend, even in fiction, but can relate to missing one of their own. She created a perfume, which she designed herself to evoke the musky scent her ex. But she did much more than put her name on a scent. She built – and owns outright – the company that makes and sells that perfume and has grown that business from an idea that wouldn’t go away to a company that has been valued at $10 million.

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Martha Stewart

Don’t we love to hate the woman that could turn fixing the curtains and setting the table into a media empire and line of home goods? Well, it hurts to be hated. But her particular brand of obsessive attention to detail in the home has fleshed out her bank account to $970 Million. It’s hard to fault her business acumen. Though, apparently, it is much easier to fault her stock-trading acumen. Her failures there are what landed her in a West Virginia prison for five months, where presumably it is much harder to get truffle oil or the perfect place setting. Like many good CEO’s, prison time didn’t hurt her career though. In fact, might have helped it. Her stock went up while she was chilling in the Big House.

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