Women business owners are naturally “daring” individuals—they took a leap in starting their businesses and then continue to dare every day as they grow—which is why the theme of this year’s National Women’s Business Conference (WBC), hosted by NAWBO National last month in Minneapolis, Minnesota, resonated so strongly.
A record number of women entrepreneurs turned out for this year’s event to reach new heights in their lives, businesses, communities and the world by gaining valuable resources from exhibitors, information from breakout session speakers and inspiration from keynotes like the remarkable Erin Brockovich, whose story and film made her a household name, and the courageous Gayle Tzemach Lemmon, who has risked it all to tell the stories of enterprising women in conflict regions.
Erin, who shared personal stories about overcoming work and life adversities, told how “stick-to-itiveness”—a dogged perseverance or tenacity—has always been the key to her success. “We will always rise up and meet our challenges,” she encouraged. “We can connect with our dreams and be more inspired, so we can move forward with passion and confidence.”
Gayle, on the other hand, shared her journey of how desperation led to innovation that ultimately became the focus of her New York Times best-selling book The Dressmaker of Khair Khana. “Who has the opportunity to change the world?” she asked. “You. You are manufacturing hope and creating opportunity. Even when it feels like pure perspiration, I hope you remember the inspiration you are giving to others.”
These messages were definitely heard loud and clear by the women entrepreneurs from across the country, who own businesses large and small in a variety of industries, whether it was their very first NAWBO National conference or their seventh. For Linda Ruhland, founder and president of Spirit of Success in Minneapolis, this conference was her first as a non-member. She had heard a lot about NAWBO over the years, and when she met the NAWBO-Minneapolis chapter president at a local Business Journal event for women, who told her about the WBC, she made her mind up to look more into it. “I thought it was a really great opportunity, and bargain frankly,” says Linda. “One of the most valuable things to me is how many people who I’ve known from other experiences over the years that I’ve become reacquainted with here, and also hearing from them their experiences and how engaged and connected they are through NAWBO.”
For Jayne Armstrong, district director for the U.S. Small Business Administration’s Iowa Office, this year’s WBC certainly wasn’t her first. In fact, it was her seventh. She’s been involved with NAWBO for 23 years now—since she met the amazing women of NAWBO as she was helping to organize the 1995 White House Conference on Small Business. “I was so inspired by them that I’ve been a member ever since,” says Jayne, who went on to help organize two NAWBO chapters in Delaware and West Virginia. “I am a firm believer in NAWBO and will do anything to support the teal, and I also love to connect the SBA with NAWBO,” Jayne says of why she attends. “I’m excited that our SBA Administrator Linda McMahon is speaking here. As a woman SBA director, she’s such a role model for so many of us, and she’s there for the right reasons because she wants to give back to the small business community. I’m very excited for everyone to see that.”
Other attendees’ reasons for attending and takeaways were just as unique:
DJ Heckes, CEO of exhib-it in Albuquerque, New Mexico (13-year member and president elect of NAWBO-New Mexico): “I came this year for the first time because I really believe in succession planning and want to support our current president. I think first, as a chapter leader, I am coming here with baby eyes and open ears because I want to see what chapters are doing well because I don’t believe in reinventing the wheel. I believe in learning from people who are doing great things and then taking those things and figuring out how they work for your chapter. As a business owner, I am here because I’m very interested in joining the NAWBO Circle program, because sometimes when you’re part of that 3 percent of million-dollar business owners in the nation, it is a little different than being a sole proprietor or having just three to four employees. You have a whole different set of rules and regulations for how to play in the game of business.”
Sidia Wright, CMPS, mortgage planner with Legacy Mortgage, Inc. in Maple Grove, Minnesota (new member of NAWBO-Minnesota): “This is my first conference. I came to network and build lasting connections with other small business owners all across the U.S. I really like the breakout sessions where we learn about other people’s businesses and what they’re doing to grow them. That’s most exciting for me. Sometimes I have reservations about growing my company. I’ve done it before, however, I want to do it bigger and better this time. I’ve been in this business for 20 years and I had a company I built before the meltdown, so now I’m stepping out and rebuilding.”
Shobha Mallarapu, MS, PMP, CISA, president and CEO of Anvaya Solutions, Inc. in Folsom, California (10-year member and 9-year board member of NAWBO- Sacramento): “I joined NAWBO for a mastermind program that NAWBO-Sacramento was offering. I had started my first business and was feeling lonely and wanted to be around other business owners. I come to the conference for the information I get out of the sessions and to meet other business owners. I’m also in the NAWBO Circle program and I got to meet my mastermind group—some of the members I already knew, but others I met in-person here for the first time. I also come to get inspired overall, so that I go back more energized to work on my business.”
Andrea Thermos, CPA, manager of Boulay Group in Minneapolis, Minnesota: “This is my first conference; someone invited me and it was local, so I came. I have really been inspired here by the support women have for one another and just the camaraderie that happens because we’re together and supporting one another in such an awesome way as business owners. It’s also very apparent that everyone is very present. Also, one of the breakout panels I attended had some really solid ideas to implement in my workplace. There are some inequities I see happening on a regular basis because I’m in a very male-dominated field, so I’d like to see more women have opportunities even if they choose to have families or take a different path. They should still have the opportunity to be an owner of a firm.”
Carolina Aponte, CEO of Caja Holdings in Indian Trail, North Carolina (2-year member and Rising Star winner of NAWBO-Charlotte): “I went to last year’s NAWBO Advocacy Day event, because that’s what I’m really interested in, and it was a great experience. I learned a lot, so I figured that coming to the national conference should be even better. There were some nuggets during the speeches that I took notes on and will take back to my team. I also had the opportunity to meet some really interesting people and make some great connections with people from other states. I have a ‘Be Brave’ bracelet on and I think it goes with the conference’s theme of being daring. I identify very much with the theme and with what Erin Brockovich had to say.”
Sandra Clitter, founder and president of Your Tech Tamer in Media, Pennsylvania (member of NAWBO-Philadelphia and the National PASC): “This is probably my seventh conference. I always try to come because it’s my favorite few days of the year. It’s the only time I get to see some people who are among my best friends, and in the business world, they are my best friends. Erin Brockovich was pretty remarkable this year. I have a whole series of quotes I wrote down from her keynote. The breakout sessions are always good, too; you get tools you can put into practice immediately, so you can take notes here, think about it, talk to other women here about implementing them and then when you go back to your office, you can do something with them right away. People really need to come because they will meet the most amazing, supportive women in the world and find a drive that’s going to lift them up and help them improve their businesses and run them more effectively. They will find a support system and network that goes far beyond their chapter. People who only operate at the chapter level have no idea what all of NAWBO is and they’re shocked and thrilled when they do come to a conference.”
Did you miss out on this year’s conference or just want to relive all the great moments again? Watch a highlights video here.
For the 2017 conference photo galleries, click on the links below: