Female entrepreneurs like Oprah Winfrey, Arianna Huffington, J.K. Rowling and Barbara Corcoran, among others, serve as influential leaders for women everywhere, proving that, hell yeah, if you have vision, focus and aren’t afraid to take risks, you can accomplish anything you set your mind to. And while these ladies are some of the most well-known female entrepreneurs, it’s not necessarily easy to connect with them on a personal basis and feel a connection.
Sure, the life of the Internet-era female entrepreneur appears glamorous. Conference calls from the beach, laptops in Bali with some clever Instagram caption and the ability to set your own schedule all sound dreamy enough. But those who enter entrepreneurship simply for the sake of freedom and becoming their own boss often fall behind once the initial excitement fades. The reason? Without a purpose that resonates deeply and drives self-motivation, you’ll lose steam quickly.
But thanks to two female entrepreneurs and travel industry veterans, there’s a company called Shefari — which it’s changing the way women travel and connect to inspire one another.
Shefari co-owners Christina Papavlasopoulos and Nektaria Panagiotari met 10 years ago in the copy room of a Greek fashion business where they both worked. Says Nektaria, “we not only became fast friends as two of the few American employees, but I innately knew that we possessed the ideal complementary qualities to one day start a venture together. Christina is creative, innovative, and an excellent writer. I am organized, strategic, and a strong curator/editor,” she adds. “We’ve always depended on our unique strengths to grow Shefari.”
Together, the duo founded Shefari, the luxury travel planning service whose name is a homage, both in spirit and quite literally, to the girl trip. Opening its digital doors in 2015 with the idea to connect women through the art of travel, Shefari saw an opportunity to redefine what women’s travel could be.
“We saw in our initial research that the ‘girlfriend getaway’ market was estimated at over $6 billion, and showed no signs of slowing,” says Papavlasopoulos, who adds that at the time, “no one was doing what we envisioned could be possible.”
While Christina and Nektaria have planned diverse trips like destination weddings, honeymoons and family trips, their bread and butter is women’s travel, having an ability to intuit exactly what clients want, such as the perfect boutique hotel, or an off-the-beaten path cultural excursion.
The two loved planning trips for clients, but it became clear that Shefari was ready to pave its own path. The partners recognized a dilemma many female entrepreneurs face: determining when it’s time to take your experience and create something new, rather than stay in the same lane. While it’s intimidating to change one’s business model, the partners knew it was time to level up.
“With our growing knowledge of travel, we knew we could combine custom itineraries and dreamy destinations with real community. We decided to take the risk and pivot from customized travel to one-of-a-kind group experiences,” states Panagiotari.
In 2019, Shefari launched their own “Travel Meets Transformation” series, a collection of impactful join-in journeys. The trajectory was natural, says Papavlasopoulos. “We were often told and asked, ‘Love your trips! Have any for solo travelers?’ So, we listened and developed this series.”
After years of watching the market, which included the growing popularity of yoga and fitness retreats, the founders saw yet another gap to bridge. “Yoga retreats are growing in popularity,” says Papavlasopoulos, “but we see an endless opportunity to bring travelers together over a wide variety of fundamental topics. Think professional development. Volunteering. Philanthropy. Wellness. Faith and spirituality. Women crave deeper connections and meaningful travel experiences – it’s much more than just chardonnay, spas and shopping.”
Shefari is kicking their trip series off with a bang: a retreat designed for female entrepreneurs being held in Greece. Called the “She Succeeds Entrepreneurial Retreat”, the retreat will be held this October at the resort formerly owned by Onassis himself in Corfu. This all-inclusive, five-star experience will be led by highly successful CEOs and coaches, merging travel and rejuvenation with self-optimization, as well as cultural and wellness activities.
“Our inspiration was essentially five days of valuable TedTalks meets a mind-blowing vacation,” explains Panagiotari. “We have the CEO of baby mega-brand DockATot, Lisa Furuland Kotsianis, talking branding, leadership, and intuitive decision-making. We have Marina Vasilara, Global Communications Director of Greek skin-care brand APIVITA, leading digital marketing strategy sessions.”
The lineup will also benefit attendees’ businesses by giving them assets to walk away with for their personal marketing. “Photographer, Hope Kauffman, will discuss social media growth and how she developed a 112K Instagram following, as well as provide headshots and lifestyle shots for each participant to use on her own branding. It’s going to be powerful stuff,” states Panagiotari, adding that attendees will also enjoy “private cruises, tours and authentic dinners in town.”
The two female entrepreneurs, Christina and Nektaria, admit that starting their own brand hasn’t always been an easy road. It’s one of adaptation and challenges. Whether learning how to have new levels of self-discipline, or the trial-and-error of different profit models, they’ve been there and done that. The pressure and responsibility of providing for oneself and expressing value to clients can also be daunting. Having gained some of their best insight from networking and connecting with like-minded founders, they knew an entrepreneurial retreat would benefit business owners who are in a similar position.
In the spirit of giving other female entrepreneurs a hand-up, Shefari is awarding a generous full retreat scholarship to one worthy entrepreneur. Papvlasopoulos shares, “It always fills our hearts when grateful clients rave about our trips. We hear people say that they couldn’t have planned such an exceptional experience without us, or that we gave them the honeymoon of a lifetime. With the retreat scholarship, we heard something new: ‘Thank you for this opportunity. Your work is changing lives.’ Now THAT was a wow moment.”
There are guaranteed to be many “wow moments” on Shefari’s first retreat. And with a few spots remaining for those interested in joining the “She Succeeds Entrepreneurial Retreat” this October, you can take part in a new wave of women traveling with a purpose.
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