Sarah Kauss, CEO of S'well, inspires female college students to become entrepreneurs

By Evan Miller and Brianne Yi (Row 4)

Sarah Kauss quit her real estate job 5 years ago to attempt to start her own company. Four years later, Kauss was listed on Fortune’s 40 Under 40 list, and her reusable water bottle company S’well is making $40 million in revenue.

Kauss credits her success to her willingness to act nontraditionally. When she was still working in real estate, she had a relatively high-ranking job. However, her clients and partners often wouldn't see her as in charge due to her gender. “I overcompensated with educating myself, so I could own the room,” Kauss said. “I didn’t want some engineer coming up to me and telling me something about my building I didn’t already know.”

While Kauss learned much from her real estate jobs, she knew that it wasn't for her. When she saw a presentation at her Harvard 5-year reunion on the clean-water crisis, she was struck with the idea to create her own company to help solve this crisis. This epiphany gave her the confidence to quit her job and pursue the idea. She worked fast, developing the bottles in her apartment and sending one of the first models to Oprah in hopes of gaining media attention. “If I kept [S’well] back until it was ready,” Kauss says, “it would never have been ready, or someone else would’ve done it first.” Luckily for her, a senior editor at Oprah responded to her, and her company took off. S'well now has partnerships with companies such as Starbucks, Facebook and New York Fashion Week, and their bottles are sold at places such as Bloomingdale’s and Crate and Barrel. The company also works in charity with organizations, such as Michelle Obama’s Drink Up, UNICEF and American Forests.
Kauss shared her story with about 50 people at the Department of Women’s Studies’ Gender, Finance and Power talk this past Wednesday. Her talk succeeded in inspiring many of the young women who were attending. “I want to be an entrepreneur,” freshman finance major Gina Hyun said. “This was a good chance for me to see how a CEO thinks and how they actually started their company.” This talk is one of many ways that colleges are attempting to address the need to increase the number of female entrepreneurs and CEOs. There are many women recently who want to become CEOs, but are not able to because of the current college infrastructure. Programs such as the UMD Department of Women's Studies are helping to address this need by providing support for these women to pursue these goals and learn the entrepreneurship skills needed to succeed in their chosen fields.

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