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After working in a world of 'tech bros,' this woman founded a female-only island

CNBC logo CNBC 4/16/2018 Sarah Berger

We've all had those moments, whether you're drowning in work in a cramped cubicle or just tired of the daily grind. In those moments, a thought might cross your mind, like "I wish I could escape to a private island."

Well, entrepreneur Kristina Roth actually made that happen. She's not just escaping to an island, she owns it. And she's opening it up to women worldwide. But men? They're not allowed.

An idyllic island

SuperShe Island is tucked away in the Baltic Sea off the coast of Finland. The 8.4-acre (literal) no man's land features four newly renovated cabins and can accommodate 10 people. Its amenities give five-star resorts a run for their money, with Finnish saunas, spa-like facilities and beautifully decorated rooms. Daily wellness activities on the island include yoga, meditation, farm-to-table dining, cooking classes, fitness classes, nature activities and more.

"It's beautiful…it has blueberry fields in the middle [of the island]," Roth tells CNBC Make It. "So in the summer when you walk, it's just like blueberry fields's really a little utopia."

SuperShe? #MeToo

Roth didn't start out in utopia.

"I came with two pieces of luggage to New York, and I didn't know anyone, and I really started a business with no investors…," Roth, who is originally from Germany, tells CNBC Make It of the IT business she founded, Matisia Consultants.

"I bootstrapped with a laptop and my brain, and I brought [the company] up to really high revenue numbers" — $65 million a year by the time she sold it, says Roth.

a large body of water

Along the way there were plenty of people — many men — who underestimated her.

"I'm a computer scientist, and I worked only with men. Ergo, how many times did I have to listen to 'Hey blondie, what are you doing here?' At least that was during my studies," says Roth. "And I think judging a book by its cover — again that's a cliché — that happens a lot in the tech world."

One memory stands out. As CEO at Matisia Consultants, Roth was meeting with a new client. She arrived with a group of men in tow. All the client knew, she says, was that the CEO of the company was coming with a group of people. When they arrived, the client immediately assumed that one of the older gentlemen in the group was the CEO.

"Immediately they went to him. He worked for me," Roth says. "They immediately went to him and shook his hand…and of course, I made fun of my client for the rest of the project. And I never forgot it."

After Roth sold Matisia Consultants around two years ago (for an undisclosed sum), she began traveling and meeting women all around the world. Roth's success story "really seemed inspire other women, and other women's stories from other areas, whether it's fashion or art or sports, started to inspire me," she says.

An idea began to take shape.

"During my career, I went to a lot of women networking events," Roth says. "And honestly, I was bored out of my mind, like I didn't want to waste my time. It all felt so organized and so 'Hi, it's me, here's my business card.'"

Roth wanted to create something better. SuperShe society was born. It began as a networking group and expanded to include a lifestyle blog, events and women-only retreats in luxurious locations such as Hawaii, Necker Island and Turks & Caicos. It was meant to create a fun way for women to network — a way that men have been networking for years, Roth says, whether it's at the golf course or the cigar club.

a group of people standing next to a body of water © CNBC

SuperShe "was 'Hey, let's go have a fun time, we're going to go surfing and hiking and kite boarding, we're going to get to know each other, I like you, you like me, guess what? We will help each other," she adds.

Today, the SuperShe community currently touts around 3,000 members, according to Roth. Its pink-tinged Instagram profile plugs itself as a "not-so-secret society of women who share a thirst for living an exceptional life and a hunger for healthy living."

a group of people performing on stage in front of a crowd © CNBC

"For me, SuperShe is really striving to be an independent woman," Roth says. "Sometimes, during our lifecycle, we're not that independent. So striving to be emotionally, financially and on all levels, independent. Because guess what? That's the only time you can make decisions about your own future. If someone is paying your bills, if your emotionally co-dependent in a bad relationship, you're just really not able to be the best version of yourself."

A female-only island just ups the ante. During her travels, the idea took root. She bought some property in Turks and Caicos, and had planned to hold a retreat there, but then Hurricane Irma came, hitting the region hard.

Meanwhile, Roth had heard about the island in the Baltic Sea, ironically, from her boyfriend.

"It was stuck in the back of my head, 'Someday, I wish I could escape to an island,'" Roth says. "The opportunity presented itself when I was in Finland, and of course I needed to strike immediately and make this dream happen."

The island itself needed a lot of work, with no electricity, no water and no roads. Roth, who declines to disclose how much the renovations cost but does reveal it was "a lot," set about turning the island into a haven for women.

That's about the time the Me Too movement began to grow. It was a narrative that was impossible to ignore and one that Roth calls "inspiring." The timing of SuperShe, she says, was perfect, if unplanned.

How to land a spot on the island

a stack of flyers on a table © CNBC

Does SuperShe Island sound like your idea of paradise? Well, you can't just book a trip there — Roth handpicks the visitors herself. The application process even includes a video interview.

And while the island won't officially open until July (she plans to host a trial-run in June), Roth says her team have received around 3,000 to 4,000 applications and counting. Countries with a standout number of applicants include the U.S., India and France.

"I really get stuck reading [applicant's] stories," Roth says. "And I'm really fascinated that I really struck a chord...women say 'I've been dreaming about this' and 'This is what I wanted,' and it's good to see the reassurance, because you come up with an idea and you do it, and having this direct feedback helps me a lot."

SuperShe Island, however, is not free from criticism. Roth says a week-long all-inclusive stay will likely cost between $5,000 to $6,000, which is expensive for many people. Plus there's the unique vetting process. So some say the retreat is elitist and disproportionately counts out people of color, those with disabilities, trans people or those who are gender non-conforming.

Roth disagrees and calls it a "totally equal opportunity group," and while the island might have capacity limitations, she adds that "In the broader SuperShe community, we welcome everyone."

She also says the price is fair. "For being picked up from the airport, being brought to an island, getting every day a massage, food, a full program and being on a private island, come on guys," Roth says.

Still, Roth says she plans to roll out a more affordable one-day program aimed at people traveling through Europe or for local Finnish women. Roth explains she'll "always be open" to giving out freebies too, for people who can't afford it.

So what is she looking for during the vetting process?

The women's stories are key. "We have super interesting stories from women who really take their time and tell us," Roth says.

"A lady who escaped from North Korea and applied and one artist [a painter] still living in Syria in war were stories that stood out, because these women live or lived in danger and still longed for the same things we all do," she adds.

Personality is also important: "[A] nice smile and a nice attitude is important, because we will be stuck on an island," she says. "It should be fun."

—Video by Mary Stevens

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