Heidi Ganahl (MA 1999) has a lot of powerful messages, especially for young women, but perhaps the most powerful message this serial entrepreneur wants young people to know is that it’s okay not to know. “We need to normalize not having it all figured out at 22. I don’t think enough of us speak up on that, and that’s on us as older women,” Ganahl said.
Ganahl’s professional road has taken a lot of turns—it certainly wasn’t a straight line from a corporate job in pharmaceutical sales to founding and growing doggie daycare brand Camp Bow Wow to more than 100 franchises to her current passion of encouraging leadership among young women. But that’s kind of the point. Ganahl has built a career out of disregarding conventional paths and instead following her joy. Lately that joy has been SheFactor, the national, socially driven channel to empower young women to create lives they love.
“My daughter, Tori, came home her senior year of college and had a meltdown about what to do next—and this is a really driven kid who’s always known what she wanted to do,” Ganahl said. “At the same time, I had just become a regent for the University of Colorado, so I was hanging out with young people a lot. I noticed this ‘deer in headlights’ look in a lot of young women. It’s such a great time for young women in terms of all the opportunities, but all the options are almost paralyzing.”
So she sat down and wrote a letter to her 20-year-old self, which turned into “SheFactor: Present Power, Future Fierce,” a book to help young women launch a life they love. SheFactor caught on, and her daughter joined and now helps run the business. In summer 2019, the Ganahls launched live SheFactor chapters around the country, and they were really building momentum when, well, you know what happened next.
“Then COVID hit, and we had to take everything virtual and shift the business model a lot,” Ganahl said. “We haven’t been able to build the 20-something live community as big as we want because of COVID, but we’ll get back to that, and in the meantime we’ve built an amazing virtual presence. We’ve met so many amazing young women. Before COVID, we went to 25 cities around the country with SheFactor. Women just need a little guidance to listen to their hearts. I give them the courage to do that.”
Before SheFactor, Ganahl launched what’s now called the Fight Back Foundation, a “Shark Tank”-style competition for startups solving social problems through an entrepreneurship filter. This is what Ganahl loves to do: create and build companies based on her ideas, and then pass them on to good people who will keep the ball rolling. It’s what she did with Camp Bow Wow, the Fight Back Foundation, and now it’s what she’s doing with SheFactor as she passes the torch to Tori.
“I like creating and building and then putting people in place to take it to the next level. I think it’s important to tell young people that just because you like to build things, you don’t have to run the business for eternity. Once I recognized that, it freed me to do what I love. If you like the building part, then do that, and let other people who like the management and building momentum parts to take over after it launches,” Ganahl said.
These days, you’ll find Ganahl following her joy again. She just started a podcast, “Heidi’s Colorful Colorado,” geared toward healing our divisiveness by bringing diverse people together through storytelling. We’re sure it, too, will be filled with powerful messages.