Last month, thousands of women business owners and those who support them gathered in Baltimore, Maryland to connect, grow and thrive — within the WBENC ecosystem and beyond. The largest conference of its kind for women business owners, the WBENC National Conference & Business Fair featured innovative educational programming, inspiring keynotes, 1:1 MatchMaker sessions, networking opportunities, and an unrivaled Business Fair.
Many arrived to Baltimore ready to get down to business, and our pre-Conference day delivered with a dynamic Women’s Enterprise Forum Meeting featuring a keynote from Allison Maslan, CEO Pinnacle Global Network and a WBE2WBE Connections session with procurement opportunity and industry tables. In the afternoon, the NextGen Meeting & Reception featured a showcase of products from NextGen WBEs and alumni from the Student Entrepreneur Program, meet and greet and roundtable discussions, and a lively networking reception.
The first official day of the conference kicked off with a high energy networking walk led by the Women’s Enterprise Forum. Throughout the day, attendees had numerous opportunities to learn, coach, and do in the WBENC Business Lab, our new approach to educational programming. Eighty entrepreneurs delivered their best pitch in the first round of WBENCPitch, presented by PepsiCo, our tournament-style pitch competition. And a packed Conference Orientation session gave new and returning attendees the lay of the land in order to make the most of their time in Baltimore. One highlight of the day came during the Kickoff Luncheon, when we heard from Judy Smith, crisis management expert and inspiration for the hit TV show Scandal. The Welcome Reception capped off a productive day with food, drinks, and plenty of networking opportunities.
The busiest day of the conference was the day of the Business Fair, where attendees explored and discovered opportunities from more than 325 exhibitors and six industry pavilions. This year, we launched the Business Fair Cafe to help keep keep everyone fueled up throughout the day. Also on Wednesday, the semi-finalists in the WBENCPitch tournament pitched their business on the main stage to a panel of judges, and in the evening, we headed to M&T Bank Stadium, home of the Baltimore Ravens, for a fabulous evening event featuring live music, karaoke, sports activities, a Women Owned Pop-Up Shop, and more.
Things certainly did not slow down on the final day of the conference, with a full day of 1:1 MatchMaker meetings, more WBENC Business Lab sessions across 10 circuits, and insights from several dynamic speakers and thought leaders. Our Finale Luncheon featured a fireside chat with Julie Elberfeld, SVP, Shared Technology at Capital One, and an intimate discussion with Arne Sorenson, President & Chief Executive Officer of Marriott International, Inc., while Nora Herting, CEO and co-founder of ImageThink, illustrated key points live on screen. In the afternoon, young female founders chosen to be a part of the WBENC Student Entrepreneur Program (SEP) competed in the SEP Pitch Tournament, with Kat Samardzija from Grand Valley State University founder of Locker Lifestyle taking the first place prize. Finally, we gathered once more for our final Tribute! Dinner featuring a performance and Q&A with Keke Palmer and the final four WBEs competing in WBENCPitch. Congratulations to Suzy’s Swirl for winning first place and a grand prize of $20,000, generously provided by PepsiCo. After dinner, we headed across the street to Pratt Street Ale House to celebrate a great week and look forward to the 2020 National Conference & Business Fair in Atlanta, Georgia!