WBENC Summit & Salute celebrates 20 years of growth and success [VIDEO]

By  | 

By Jessie Wagoner

The Women’s Business Enterprise National Council’s recent Summit & Salute was the place to be for Women’s Business Enterprises. The national event, held in New Orleans in March, drew in 1,600 attendees for networking and celebration.


The Summit engaged participants in two days of programs focused on the future of various industries, business networking and development opportunities.

“We had eleven workshops across the two days focused on the future of various industries, featuring executives from our America’s Top Corporations for Women’s Business Enterprises,” shared Pat Birmingham, Vice President, WBENC Marketing and Technology.

As attendees entered the workshops, they encountered a robust discussion around the future of each industry. The future of information communication, supplier diversity and travel were just a few of the many workshop offerings. With each workshop slated for a full two hours, there was plenty of time for attendees to soak up knowledge from industry leaders.

The Meet & Greet Opportunity Connection gave WBEs and corporations a chance to sit down and network—in a rapid fire setting.

“During the Meet & Greet, each woman business owner had the opportunity to present a one minute pitch to a different corporate representative,” Birmingham said. “We had 72 corporations and 650 WBEs participate in this high-energy session.”

One-on-one matchmaker meetings between individual women-owned businesses and Corporate Members allowed for more in-depth conversation and relationship building. A total of 482 pre-scheduled one-on-one matchmaker meetings were conducted. At past events, these types of conversations have lead to subsequent business opportunities.

“It is a free pass for you to actually be in the presence of decision makers of corporations that can one day accelerate your business,” Teresa Lawrence, owner at Delta Personnel, said. “Once you get a conversation going and the synergy begins, it’s like fire and you start forgetting who is us and who is them. That is magic.”

Developing connections and giving WBEs access to business leaders was a driving force of the summit. In working together more WBEs can experience ongoing success.

“Everyone is coming here to have access to each other and do business with each other,” Vice President, WBENC Certification and Program Operations, Candace Waterman said. “We are growing exponentially and providing programming for WBEs and corporations to get the development they need. We have formed strategic partnerships with NGLCC, WEConnect International, USHCC, and USBLN. There is good work that has to be done and we can’t do it alone.”

WBENC also took a moment to honor the newly announced Legacy of Leaders. “This group of champions within the WBENC network include past WBE leaders in the ‘Women of Distinction’ as well as past corporate advocates who played a key role in our history in forming the inaugural ‘EnCORE’ group,” Birmingham said.


There was plenty to celebrate at the Salute! Dinner—twenty years’ worth of growth and success. WBENC has been advocating and breaking down barriers for WBEs for two decades. Honoring WBENC WBE Stars from each of the 14 Regional Partner Organizations is a Salute tradition, but this year WBENC honored all of the Stars who have received this recognition since its inception.

“We celebrated 20 years of WBENC and WBENC Stars,” Birmingham said.

Numerous awards were handed out throughout the evening— each one a surprise. In true Oscar fashion, award winners were kept in suspense until the envelope was opened. Susan Stentz, Exxon Mobil Corporation, claimed the first award of the night—Best Corporate Advocate in a Supporting Role. Debra Jennings Johnson, BP America, Inc., was the Best Corporate Ambassador. Best WBE Ambassador honors went to Hannah Kain, ALOM.

Birmingham says the Summit & Salute atmosphere was fun and celebratory as awards were handed out and years of hard work and commitment were honored.

“The most exciting and fun part was literally when the envelope was opened on stage and the awardee announced. That is when they knew—it was a total surprise. It was very exciting.”


Summit & Salute attendees raved about the event and the impact WBENC has had on their businesses. From developing connections to learning new tactics for success, attendees say WBENC certification is a must.

“We have been WBENC certified for the last 16 years,” said Brenda Loube, President and Founder at Corporate Fitness Works. “It is an opportunity for women who own their own businesses to get access to major corporations that we probably would never have anywhere else.”

WBENC Certification provides a number of benefits for WBEs. The world-class certification is accepted by more than 1,000 corporations representing America’s most prestigious brands, in addition to many states, cities and other entities. WBENC is also an approved Third Party Certifier for the United States Small Business Administration Women-Owned Small Business Federal Contracting Program.

Birmingham says there are a number of ways WBEs can benefit from being engaged with WBENC and the 14 Regional Partner Organizations year-round. Corporate close-ups, matchmaker events, workshops, webinars, regional events, and of course the two annual events hosted by WBENC – Summit & Salute and the annual business conference – are some of the ways to take advantage of this network. The WBENC website is updated regularly with resources to support WBEs and a full calendar of events.

“Our website,, is the go-to resource for WBENC information,” Birmingham said. “We have the website set up to mirror the CORE that we deliver to our constituents, which is made up of Certification, Opportunities, Resources and Engagement.”

Attending Summit & Salute and being certified through WBENC have proven to be worthwhile in growing businesses.

“The WBENC network is very strong. These connections and contacts have led to contracts,” Anjali Ann Ramakumaran, founder and CEO at Ampcus Inc. said. “I would urge all women-owned businesses who are not certified to get certified and grow.”

Business Equality Pride (BEQPride) is the first publication from the BEQ family of national print and digital magazines exclusively addressing the needs of LGBTQ small-to-medium sized businesses, entrepreneurs and professionals.