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Updated: May 3, 2024

Inc. names Maine historian-CEO among celebrity entrepreneurs in 'Female Founders 250'

Photo / Courtesy HistoryIT Kristen Gwinn-Becker, the founder and CEO of South Portland-based HistoryIT, has been named to Inc. magazine's Female Founders 250 list.

It's fair to say that at least some of the women entrepreneurs on Inc. magazine's 2024 Female Founders 250 list are changing history.

One of them, a Mainer named Kristen Gwinn-Becker, is also preserving it.

The Bangor native is the founder and CEO of HistoryIT, a South Portland company that provides software and customized services to digitally preserve and share historical collections.

But don't think about dusty museums. The company's clients range from individuals who utilize the software to universities and professional associations to high-profile enterprises including the NFL's Carolina Panthers. The goal is to make history accessible for audiences that might not otherwise have reliable knowledge of their own past.

In the seventh annual Female Founders list, Inc. named Gwinn-Becker among 250 "inspiring women rewriting the rules of business."

The prestigious roster, released in April, includes Billie Jean King, the tennis legend who made history in 1973 by trouncing former men's world champ Bobby Riggs in the Battle of the Sexes. At age 80, King and her New Jersey-based investment firm are now cultivating women's pro sports and startup businesses affiliated with women athletes.

This year's Female Founders also include pop music star Selena Gomez. Her company, Wondermind, is "creating a professionally backed mental health care network that reaches 2 million people and donating to small mental health organizations," according to Inc.

And Christina Aguilera, another pop star, is on the list for leading a sexual wellness brand, Playground, that has generated more than 7 billion impressions on social media. 

Inc., one of the country's largest-circulation business magazines, launched the Female Founders 250 in 2018. Gwinn-Becker is the first business leader from Maine, or anywhere in northern New England, to crack the list.

"It's incredible," the Portland resident said, describing her selection in an interview with Mainebiz on Thursday. "I've been named alongside women who I think are amazing — they're using their businesses and their brilliance to really make a difference in the world.

"I'm also excited, and honored, to be getting Maine on the radar. This is a great way to shine a light on a variety of industries."

Inc. receives thousands of nominations each year for the Female Founders list. The magazine selects candidates through a rigorous process that includes three rounds of judging, one by an external panel. Judges look for entrepreneurs who have made significant achievements over the past year and who have serious business credentials; name recognition doesn't get you on the list.

Criteria include quantifiable metrics from a founder's company: revenue, sales, growth, funding and audience size. Inc. also looks for qualitative metrics like social media momentum and stories that generate lasting impact.

Diana Ransom, Inc.’s executive editor, said, “The past year, for many, will go down as one of the hardest ever — between a funding freeze and ad-spending pull back. The female founders on this year’s list are a testament to what triumph over adversity looks like. They should all be proud of this singular accomplishment.”

Saving history

The history of HistoryIT dates to 2011, when Gwinn-Becker combined her profession as a historian with her self-learned experience in web and software development.

She was working as a consultant and living in Chicago. She had already graduated from the University of Maine at age 19, received a master's degree from Trinity College in Dublin, trained in museum studies at Harvard University, and earned a doctorate in U.S. history from George Washington University.

Gwinn-Becker looked for a way to help capture and share invaluable information that might otherwise be lost forever.

As Gwinn-Becker told Mainebiz in 2013, "When I was working as a consultant, I worked a lot in the world of digital archives. A lot of the kind of proprietary systems I built were big and expensive. But I increasingly heard from the places that actually contain the bulk of our historical records — that is the towns, historical societies, small libraries, church basements and synagogue collections, places that are mostly volunteer-managed."

Her business developed slowly in Chicago for a few years. But then, as she said on Thursday, "I decided to provide my mother right, that we will all come home again."

She reincorporated the business in Maine, and after working out of space on Commercial Street in Portland, HistoryIT moved to larger space near the Maine Mall in South Portland. Today, the company employs 24 people, serves many hundreds of clients, and is working on 60 or 70 customized projects at any time.

The Inc. honor, Gwinn-Becker said, will help HistoryIT accelerate its growth.

"Our marketing team is just over the moon about this," she said. "Our mission is to save history, everywhere, so there needs to be more of us. We need to put these tools directly in the hands of as many people as possible, not just museums and archives, but all types of organizations.

"With this acknowledgment, [Inc.] is saying that digital preservation has an impact on our society. It's really, really important to get that right."

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