CHICAGO – Coinciding with Women’s History Month, Governor Pat Quinn today hosted Illinois’ first Women Business Owners Symposium (WBOS) at the UIC Forum in Chicago. Today’s event is part of Governor Quinn’s agenda to encourage entrepreneurship that will drive economic growth and create jobs in Illinois. More than 1,200 women registered for today’s free, daylong symposium where state officials and business leaders discussed the many resources Illinois offers to help businesses grow and thrive.
“Women entrepreneurs are a large and growing part of Illinois’ economy,” Governor Quinn said. “We want to do everything we can to help them expand their businesses because when they do, they create jobs that strengthen families and communities throughout the state.”
Three out of 10 firms in Illinois are owned by women, generating a total of $53.4 billion in sales, according to Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity (DCEO) based on U.S. Census data. The number of women-owned firms has grown to nearly 350,000—30 percent of which are minority-owned—up from 240,000 in the mid 1990s. Among U.S. counties, Cook County has the second most women-owned firms in the nation.
The daylong DCEO event—which was free and open for women looking to start or expand a business—included keynote speakers Ruth Ann Gillis, president, Exelon Business Services Co., and Judith A. Roussel, director, Illinois district of the U.S. Small Business Association. There was also an exhibit hall, one-on-one counseling and free on-site daycare.
Panel discussions at the event focused on capital funding and financial growth, technology and infrastructure, new markets (private and public) and state agencies and programs. Attendees also heard first-hand experiences of women who have built their own companies. Topics of discussion ranged from how to gain access to capital, how to get a foot in the door of large corporations, where to find free technology support, how to get certified for government contracts and how to use the U.S. Census Bureau web site for market research.
“As part of our ongoing commitment to help small businesses, we are reaching out to women-owned firms, helping them to find the access to capital and the technical assistance to thrive and expand,” said DCEO Director Adam Pollet. “We want to do all we can to make sure businesses know about the many ways our state can help them prosper and grow.”
The list of panelists included Wendy Lewis, senior vice president, diversity and strategic alliances, Major League Baseball; Pat Harris, global chief diversity officer, McDonald’s Corp.; Marsha Serlin, CEO, United Scrap & Metal Co.; Katrina Markoff, CEO and founder, Vosges Haut-Chocolat; Joanne Tica-Steiger, director, Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses; Sona Wang, founder and managing director, Ceres Venture Fund LP; Maria A. Colangelo, vice president, Wintrust Bank; Poonam Gupta-Krishnan, CEO, Iyka Enterprises Inc.; Kristin Barrett, vice president, Chicagoland Entrepreneurial Center Project 1871 and Rita Haake, program manager, College of DuPage Center for Entrepreneurship.
Directors of four state agencies (DCEO, Transportation, Tollway and Veteran Affairs) and officials from three federal agencies (SBA, Census, and Commerce) discussed how to find business support and outline government projects that are fully funded and seeking contractors.
“Illinois is proud to be home to many innovative small businesses that are helping to create jobs and revitalize our economy,” said Carol E. Bell, deputy director of Women’s Business Development. “The participants in today’s event exemplify the type of creative thinking that is prevalent in entrepreneurs across our state.”
WBOS comes on the heels of a longstanding relationship between the state of Illinois and the Women’s Business Development Center, a small business development center that has worked with the state for nearly three decades, leading the effort to help further women owned business in Illinois.
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