Approximately 1,000 women (and a few brave men) from throughout much of Southern California—who already are or are interested in becoming small business owners—gathered at the 2012 Connecting Women to Power Business Conference held at California State University, Dominguez Hills on June 14.
The large crowd was treated to rousing keynote and welcome speeches laced together by master of ceremonies and HOT 92.3 FM radio personality Josefa Salinas, who made a generous offer to help any woman in the audience to promote their business on air.
Among those that Salinas introduced was the husband-and-wife team of alumnus and chairman of the California State Board of Equalization (BOE) Legislative Committee Jerome E. Horton (Class of ’79, B.S., business administration) and chair of the planning committee and city clerk of Inglewood Yvonne Horton, whose offices co-sponsored the event with CSU Dominguez Hills. The couple entertained and encouraged women business owners to tap into the resources that were provided through the conference and services that the event partners provide to start or advance their business while complying with California law.
“Our mission today is to educate, elevate and to empower you to make a difference in the lives of others,” Horton told the audience. “Your mission, should you decide to accept it, is to gather the tools necessary to make your dreams a reality and position yourself for success. Get connected to one another. The power in this room is enough to ignite the imagination and elevate your dreams to another entire level. Broaden your circle and have fun.”
“The Connecting Women to Power Business Conference provides our university with a great opportunity to collaborate with the Board of Equalization in strengthening the interest of entrepreneurship for women that enhances their skill set to help meet with work force demands in our state,” said David Gamboa, director of government and community relations at the university.
CSU Dominguez Hills Interim President Willie Hagan said he was honored to be a part of this event, on what was the fourth day of his presidency.
“This is the type of event that tells me I’ve come to the right place. I am a life-long educator, and this program is a great fit for our university and our mission, not only because we encourage these kinds of partnerships with the business community and the ongoing value we provide inside and outside the classroom, but also because our student body is 70 percent women. We have a long tradition of providing educational and career success for our female students,” he said, adding that the event held personal meaning for him because he had seen his daughter struggle to overcome obstacles as a businesswoman.
Hagan’s daughter is not alone: In 2011, there were 8.1 million women-owned firms and they provided jobs for seven million employees, according to keynote speaker and founder and CEO of Montage Insurance Solutions Danone Simpson. She said creating a unique and identifiable brand is important for success.
Amina Luckett, who has been a financial planner as an independent contractor for Primerica for two years, attended the conference to develop her company’s brand and to gain insights into running a business.
“My goal [was] to get information regarding business, since I am a business owner. And I am a female, so it was a perfect venue—being it was a woman empowerment business type seminar,” she said, adding that she attended the conference to network and exchange information with other women business owners, and she hoped she and other women would support each other’s businesses and services.
Luckett is currently focusing on social media to help get the word out about her business offerings and the breakout session she found especially informative was “Legally Speaking: 10 Things Every Woman Needs to Know About Starting and Operating Her Own Business,” presented by Angela Reddock, founder and managing partner, Reddock Law Group.
“The whole branding concept I’ve been hearing so much about is something I know I need to put into action. You have to get a brand first off, whether it’s a tagline about your business or something that draws people in, and then you get a website. You have Twitter, you have Facebook, LinkedIn, and Hootsuite…. That was really good,” she said. “It was an amazing event.”
Alumna Annette Walker-Jack (Class of ’86, B.S., business management), a bookkeeping consultant for VCA (Veterinary Centers of America) Los Angeles Animal Hospital, said she learned a lot about business taxes, bookkeeping, licenses and the BOE. For guidance beyond the conference, she made connections with people from the Small Business Administration and the Employment Development Department, as well as several lawyers.
“I enjoyed this so much I think I’ll be a regular participant when I grow up and figure out what I want to do,” she joked.
Vazi Okhandiar has had her own computer training company for 10 years and employs six part-time workers who teach people how to use Microsoft products. She heard of the conference through the California Small Business Development Center (SBDC), which is one of the sponsors for the event.
“It’s good to see so many women in business, new ideas, and I’m glad they covered social media. We have been using social media as part of our marketing plan, but I liked [hearing about] more ideas. There’s so much to marketing now,” said Okhandiar. “As a business owner I need to use all these different tools.”
Ashay “Dawnna” Mathieu (Class of ’05, B.A., music), a songwriter and recording engineer who has returned to CSU Dominguez Hills to pursue master’s degree in arts and humanities, said she learned of the conference on the university’s website, and said one of the most beneficial sessions she attended was “Capitalizing on Tax Credits, Avoiding Tax Pitfalls,” presented by the BOE.
“I’m motivated to be a better record keeper. That was one of the things [the presenter] said that hit me like a ton of bricks,” she said. “Professionally I’m prepared, but the language of business is accounting. And who wants to go and study accounting?”
Mathieu plans to use the resources she learned of at the conference, such as free classes offered through the SBDC, to help her develop her record-keeping skills. This course of action is a good example of what Renee White-Fraser, CEO and founder of Fraser Communications, recommended during her dynamic fast-paced keynote address.
“Be bold. Do not accept the limitations others have placed on you. …You have to be very deliberate in your plans,” she said.
Sylvana Coche, president and CEO of Gravity Pro Consulting, a company that provides systems, applications and products in data processing for retailers, said she found the keynote addresses to be inspirational and she learned from their rags-to-riches stories that, “Anything is possible. There is no limit; just do things with passion and believe in yourself and things follow.”
In addition to White-Fraser and Simpson, other keynote speakers were Anne-Merelie Murrell, owner and CEO of Giroux Glass Inc. (the company that provided work on the recent library addition at the university), and Natalie Cole, founder, CEO and publisher of OurWeekly News, who told the women in the audience not to be on automatic pilot about their career.
“Stop to evaluate and make some decisions about those things you will change so you can get yourself to that next level of success, however you define it,” she said, going on to ask the audience rhetorical questions and to present a challenge of sorts, “Are you happy? And what is it going to take for you to get happy?”