11 women we’re watching
by Michelle Boudin
Women in the Queen City are making big moves, and many attribute their success to the support from other women lifting them up and cheering them on — proving that Charlotte is more of a Golden Girls than a Mean Girls kind of town. Some, like Sil Ganzo, Meggie Williams, Sarah Baucom and Carrie Barker, splashed onto the startup scene several years ago and are now poised to take their brands to new heights. Others are now hitting their stride. All are making Charlotte a more vibrant, generous and creative place to live.
head of corporate citizenship/executive director, LendingTree Foundation
THE CORPORATE CONNECTOR
April Whitlock is on her second stint working at LendingTree, this time running the company’s nonprofit foundation and, in the process, working to change the way the city of Charlotte views philanthropy. Whitlock created the foundation’s first nonprofit cohort, bringing together 10 organizations and lifting them up with financial help, strategic guidance and encouraging them to work together to do even more good. “LendingTree had a corporate foundation for several years but didn’t have a cohesive strategy, so my role was to develop our philanthropic strategy for the foundation and our corporate community engagement,” Whitlock says. “What sets us apart is our focus on providing unrestricted grants to emerging nonprofits while supporting them with capacity-building resources and social-capital connection.” The 53-year-old mother of three attends eight to 10 community events a week and serves on multiple boards, but she says it’s all part of the job. “One of the advantages of the work that I do is being engaged in the community and helping with connections between corporate and the community. Our hope is that LendingTree will continue to be a model for a different way to do corporate philanthropy in Charlotte.”
founder and executive director, ourBRIDGE
What started as a single after-school program for children of immigrant families in 2014 has expanded to include partnerships at local schools — and will soon debut an entirely new line of services. Sil Ganzo, 40, launched ourBridge as a place for newly settled kids to learn English, make friends and adjust to their new community while still holding tight to their own culture. The Buenos Aires native is a self-described no-nonsense advocate. “I never cared about making friends to get ahead, because the only way I believe I can get ahead is by making sure all our immigrant families have the same opportunities,” she says. “I am a strong-principled person. If it doesn’t feel right, I will not participate. If I believe something is wrong, I will make sure others see it, too.” Along with helping start a refugee camp in Kenya, Ganzo and her team will soon open the Charlotte Center for Newcomers, a 6,000-square-foot building on the Aldersgate campus where newly-arrived families from across the world will find help navigating everything from schools to health care as they begin their new lives in Charlotte.
owner, Proper Flower
THE MOOD BOOSTER
Melissa Martin travels the globe as a member of an international floral design team for a top event planner, while also running her own successful flower and design business in Charlotte. The 1999 Providence High School homecoming queen and Queen City native spent time in Raleigh and New York City before moving back home eight years ago to launch her company, Proper Flower. Beyond events, Martin says Proper Flower also will soon offer floral and craft workshops. “We hope to collaborate with different artists of all mediums to provide an ever-changing creative outlet,” she says. Martin, 41, says she still pinches herself when she walks around her massive warehouse. A women’s networking group she joined when she first started her company continues to be a source of inspiration, she says. “Each of us is always encouraging other women in business to come to check out our awesome networking group, lift each other up and help support each other with the struggles of starting and running a business. I continue to surround myself with inspirational, motivational and hard-working women.”
regional director of government affairs, American Airlines
THE PUBLIC-AFFAIRS PRO
It is the world’s biggest airline at one of the busiest airports in the country, and Tracy Montross is in the middle of it all. The 40-year-old mother of two works with state and local governments and tourism groups on behalf of American Airlines in seven states, including Charlotte, the airline’s second-busiest hub. Montross moved to the Queen City in 2008 to attend graduate school at UNC Charlotte and has been involved in the community ever since, serving as chief of staff for former Mayor Anthony Foxx from 2011-2013 and on multiple boards, including the Charlotte Mecklenburg Library, the Charlotte Regional Visitors Authority, Women Executives and the Charlotte Regional Business Alliance. With two toddlers at home, Montross says she’s able to do it all thanks to the support from her husband – a full-time dad who also works as the wine director at Rosie’s Wine Garden.
THE COMMUNITY CREATIVE
From sneakers to parks to giant murals, DeNeer Davis is leaving her mark across Charlotte and beyond. Born and raised in the Queen City, Davis, 35, was a student working toward a degree in exercise and sports science and recovering from an ACL injury when she discovered art. Her paintings are full of bright colors and uplifting messages. She recently finished a number of projects with the Carolina Panthers, including a mural she worked on with high-school students and a pair of coach’s shoes as part of the NFL’s “My Cleats, My Cause” program highlighting players’ and coaches’ charities of choice. A documentary about her life just wrapped shooting, and she’s working on several more murals around town. Davis is also hoping to do more work with students. “My favorite project to date has been the basketball court at Kimbrough Park in Statesville,” she says. “Every day, the kids would get off the school bus then come to the park and paint with me. They told me I brought life and love back to the community, and a reason to want to go to the park and have gatherings. That was meaningful to me.”
Yashira “Yoshi” Mejia
owner, Super Yosh Cocktails, and instructor at The Cocktailery
THE MIXOLOGY MAVEN
As a freelance mixologist and bar consultant, Yoshi Mejia, 35, makes a point to work with small venues and women- and minority-owned businesses. She’s been in Charlotte since 2013, but didn’t officially launch her company, Super Yosh Cocktails, until last fall. “Creating my own lane that no one can take away from me has not been easy,” Mejia says. “However, I wouldn’t have it any other way. In a male-dominated industry, I seek no one’s approval but the opportunity to give more flavor, perspective and representation to the ever-growing cocktail scene in Charlotte.” As an instructor at The Cocktailery, she also loves teaching others her craft. “My love language is service, so being able to pour, literally, into others, [and to] provide an experience that makes people look forward to my next event or class, makes my heart very full.”
founder and chief executive officer, Skiptown
THE PET-CARE PROPONENT
What started as a simple dog-walking business has grown into a high-tech company that’s about to be replicated in cities across the country. Meggie Williams started Skiptown in 2016 and was the company’s first dog walker. Thanks to a $27 million investment in late 2022, Williams and her husband are on track to open 30 Skiptown locations in the next five years, starting with Houston, Denver and Atlanta. Williams, 35, says she bootstrapped the business for the first year and a half until she realized the need to perfect the technology. The next step was partnering with apartment complexes to build on-site day care and boarding facilities. “We were the first company to partner with apartments in this way,” Williams says. “The success of those apartment services prompted us to look for a standalone facility where we could offer our suite of high-end services — and the idea for the Skiptown ecosystem was born.” Skiptown’s flagship location in South End opened in early 2020 with a private dog park, day care and boarding center, along with a popular dog bar, where dogs and their owners can enjoy a drink and some playtime.
communications catalyst for Charlotte is Creative, artist
THE CULTURE CHAMPION
A talented artist herself, 25-year-old Makayla Binter spends her days working to help other Charlotte artists get recognized — and get paid work opportunities. Binter came to Charlotte in 2016 to attend Davidson College before spending time as a Hearst Teaching Fellow at Charlotte Country Day School. That’s where she met her new colleagues, Matt Olin and Tim Miner, the founders of Charlotte is Creative. Binter runs CIC’s social media channels and scouts the city for emerging artists and creatives to promote. Binter is also hard at work creating her own art: She’s painting a mural at the Black Student Union at her alma mater and another for the town of Matthews. She also serves on the board for the Talking Walls Mural Festival.
founder and owner, Give Impact Advisory Services
“My love for my hometown is what drives me to show others how they, too, can leave a lasting impact on the Charlotte community,” says Liz Ward, founder of Give Impact. The advisory-services firm helps clients maximize their resources to positively impact the lives of low- to moderate-income families in the Charlotte area through real-estate initiatives. Ward, 38, lives in SouthPark with her husband and kids but grew up bouncing around eight different homes. As the daughter of a CMS teacher, she can relate to those struggling to meet their own basic needs — it’s why she created Give Impact in 2020. “I had a ‘life is too short’ moment and realized that it was potentially now, or never,” says Ward, who worked in banking and commercial real estate finance before launching Give Impact ”I felt called to use my gifts to help the city in a unique way.” So far, that’s translated into advising in the placement of more than $22 million in private capital designed to help with upward-mobility initiatives across the Queen City.
Sarah Baucom + Carrie Barker
co-founders, Girl Tribe Co.
THE RETAIL ROCK STARS
Baucom and Barker have built the ultimate girl tribe, literally. The Charlotte natives, who met at Charlotte Catholic High School and today live two minutes from each other in Cotswold, started their company almost a decade ago with just $200 and a mission to empower other women entrepreneurs. Known first for their graphic tees and then for their hugely successful pop-up shops, the women opened their first brick-and-mortar store in 2017. They now have three shops, with four more set to open in the next two years. Girl Tribe employs 50 women and just opened its own production facility. By year-end, the founders expect to produce 100% of their own branded products. “As our company has grown quickly in the past 18 months, we have really focused internally on culture, leadership and development for our employees,” Baucom says. “Right now we are laser-focused on creating a team that can grow into their own leaders as we are training the next generation of creative women.” SP