Entrepreneur Ali Golds has been named in a national review of the female groundbreakers of 2017.
The Littlehampton mother, who works with vulnerable women and teenage girls, was chosen by The Independent as one of 20 names 'whose strides in their fields challenged preconceptions and stereotypes and provided inspiration'.
Ali, 50, of Surrey Street, said: "I am absolutely overwhelmed. When you look at who else is on the list, it is extraordinary.
"Being given this accolade is brilliant because it gives me a platform to reach women who my never have heard of me.
"The Independent recognised my fight against adversity, and my passion for supporting vulnerable women and girls to achieve their goals and dreams despite their own adversity.
"I think there are very few people who are prepared to be as open about their lives as I am. I just think if I can save someone from what I have been through, I will have done something.
"This award has made me realise you do have to be open and honest. I am pretty unshockable and the girls tell me they love the fact they are not judged."
A growth coach for female business founders, Ali wrote How To Be Your Own Boss as a Single Mum and 88 Ways To Make More Money in Your Business.
The review states: "Ali Golds is that rare person who has managed to channel negative experiences into positive achievement."
She left school when she was 16 with few qualifications and as a single mum faced bankruptcy when her marriage broke up but is now a successful businesswoman.
Ali has two main hats, she runs Start Up, a programme supporting women going into business, and is the founder of The Juno Project, which helps girls aged 14 to 16 who have been or are at risk of being excluded from school.
She founded The Juno Project in January 2012 but relaunched it a year ago and it is now in the final stages of achieving charitable stages.
Ali said: "That is a really passionate project for me because it comes from my own background. I wasn't excluded from school but I understand all the challenges that they are going through and how easy it would have been for me to have gone down the path they have gone on.
"I didn't do very well at school and later found out I had learning differences."
Ali was born in Worthing and attended Gaisford High School for Girls. She married at 19 and had two children but was divorced at 25.
She said: "I feel me and my family were not the right fit. I think for me it was an escape. He is a very nice chap, he was just wrong for me. I threw myself into work and that has been my salvation."
Ali married her second husband in 1997 and had a third child. They had what she describes as 'the perfect life', living in Arundel but it ended in the divorce in 2004 and she said she lost everything.
Picking herself up again, she moved to Devon to do a PGCE teaching qualification and won an award from the University of Exeter.
However, she ended up in a women's refuge for a month to escape a partner.
She said. "I went to Women's Aid, who said he was unpredictable. I went into a refuge and that is the first time I ever felt safe.
"That is what put me back on track. It is the most incredible charity."
Ali moved to Littlehampton in 2010 and in 2011, started helping young people by teaching them about business. She became lead adviser to Lord Young for his report Enterprise for All, which has resulted in a number of changes to education.
She said: "I don't tend to do regrets because what is the point? I am where I am now.
"With Start Up, I work with women who have challenges and issues, many of them single mums, who want to start a business. They are so low in confidence and often come from abusive relationships.
"We run start-up programmes online and workshops all over the UK with one-to-one support.
"With The Juno Project, some of them have got brilliant parents but they have other things that have taken over."
The pilot project has worked with three pupil referral units, in Littlehampton, Burgess Hill and Haywards Heath, in the past year and most of the 100 girls come from West Sussex.
The plan is to be working with every secondary school in the UK in the next five years.
Ali added: "We are on a real roll. The girls are put on a 24-week programme, helping them to build their self-esteem and confidence while looking at their employability. They then have access to a volunteer mentor for two years.
"I just sat and thought this is what they need. It came from my experience and the women I work with at Start Up.
"I have always worked in business. I worked in business development before starting my own business. You do have to be a certain kind of animal, the sort of person who just keeps going. You are continually innovating all the time and being creative. I call myself a Duracell Bunny, I just keep going."