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WBENC 2018 conference: big event, big opportunities

A giant expo, networking forums and in-depth workshops headline the schedule at this year’s Philadelphia conference

The Women’s Business Enterprise National Council (WBENC, Washington, DC, www.wbenc.org) is the largest U.S. third-party certifying and networking organization for women-owned business enterprises (WBEs).

Each year one of the fourteen WBENC regional partner organizations hosts the WBENC national conference and business fair. This year’s conference will take place June 23 through 25 in Philadelphia, PA, hosted by the Women’s Business Enterprise Council (WBEC) of Pennsylvania, Delaware and southern New Jersey. The council is led by president Geri Swift.

“Philadelphia offers a vital combination of history and contemporary business energy,” says WBENC president and CEO Pamela Prince-Eason.

This year’s theme continues last year’s: Join Forces. Succeed Together. “We launched this theme last year to convey the tremendous growth we all can enjoy when our corporate and government members, WBENC-certified WBEs and regional partner organizations work together to drive women’s business development. This powerful theme still resonates today and inspires the collaborative business innovation and growth that lead to a stronger economy,” says Prince-Eason.

Prince-Eason anticipates that 300-plus exhibitors and more than 3,000 women business owners, corporate procurement executives and federal contracting officers will attend what she reports is the largest national conference and business fair targeting WBEs.

Workshops and business fair
This year’s event will see an in-depth conference workshop series across three learning tracks: building and honing skills, leveraging expertise and building capacity. Presenters will include leading experts in business growth at corporate and government member organizations and other key members of the WBENC community.

The highlight of the three-day business conference will come on day two: the business fair. “It’s a huge expo,” says Prince-Eason.

Corporate co-chairs of this year’s event are Bristol-Myers Squibb and Ernst & Young; WBE co-chairs are Arbill and IPAK.

Benita Fortner: WBENC’s new board chair
Benita Fortner, director of supplier diversity for Raytheon, was recently named chair of the WBENC board of directors. She’ll hold the post for the next two years. A twenty-year veteran of supplier diversity, Fortner is passionate about developing WBEs and minority enterprises.

“This is the first conference after a long project to develop our new strategic plan. We have focused the content of our workshops to address WBE and corporate survey input. This was nearly two years in the making,” Fortner says. “We wanted to make sure the vision was right to help our corporate partners and to sustain and grow our WBEs.”

Fortner notes that WBENC helps WBEs educate themselves and engage with each other. “The beauty of the WBENC network is that you are bringing together so many different perspectives and you get so many light bulb moments. It’s exciting,” says Fortner.

Fortner has been involved with WBENC since Raytheon became a corporate member in 2000. She’s been a member of the board since 2001. “My first participation was on the technology committee. I brought in Raytheon team members to get WBENC’s technology up to speed.”

Fortner is honored to lead the board. “This is the most significant organization for WBEs. My focus is to see how we can all leverage the implementation of the strategic plan. We’re improving our technology and communications. We’re also focusing on connecting our WBEs nationally and internationally, with the WEConnect partnership. We have a great network and we will be pushing the connections, competencies, capabilities and communications of this network forward. I am very excited,” she says.

Arbill: WBE co-chair
Julie Copeland is president and CEO of Arbill (Philadelphia, PA), which manufactures and markets safety products and services. Arbill conducts a site audit and develops a blueprint for each client that includes selected safety products and training, and tracks ongoing value and savings.

Arbill was founded as a hand protection supplier by Copeland’s grandfather in 1945, and continued by her father. Copeland became president and CEO in 2005, and has grown the company significantly. Arbill now occupies a 100,000-square-foot headquarters building, and has developed a network of distribution centers and global manufacturing partners.

Also in 2005, Tyco, a major customer for Arbill, suggested that Copeland take the company through WBENC certification. “We’ve had incredible opportunities to bid and win since becoming WBENC certified. We’ve had double-digit growth since 2009. We now employ just under 100, double the number we had in 2005,” she says.

Copeland says her co-chair role for the WBENC conference gives her a chance to tell the story of the role WBENC played in Arbill’s success. She also hopes to help other WBEs benefit from the educational and networking opportunities at the event.

“The programming at these conferences is really beneficial, and the access to corporate decision-makers can help take a WBE to the next level. No other organization brings big corporations and WBEs together like this. It’s an opportunity not to be missed,” Copeland says.

IPAK: WBE co-chair
“Being an entrepreneur is not easy. You are never off. But employing people is the greatest high,” says Karen Primak, president and CEO of IPAK (West Deptford, NJ), a company founded by Primak with her sister and mother in 1993.

IPAK manufactures print and technology-based marketing solutions and produces video content. The company was started in a spare bedroom and has grown to ninety-plus employees. IPAK now owns a 125,000-square-foot plant.

Primak says her company’s role as a WBE co-chair gives IPAK greater visibility and increases networking possibilities. The position also gives her a platform from which she can help other WBEs. “Only two percent of WBEs in the U.S. have more than ten employees and more than $1 million in revenue. As one of the larger WBEs we are here to inspire others, to show them it can be done,” she says.

The WBENC conference is particularly valuable to her company because she says the Internet does not do justice to their products. “We need to show and tell. Co-sponsors have a big booth, and it’s right when you walk into the business fair. The conference brings in a lot of our target audience, so it’s really worthwhile,” Primak says.

IPAK received WBENC certification in 2004. “It’s given us lots of access. At one WBENC conference, we landed a major pharmaceutical client by simply walking up to their booth,” she says.

One of the biggest challenges Primak and IPAK have faced is that “we created a new category. Educating our target audience on how we’re different is key. We’re not an advertising company, a brand consultant, a printer or a video company; we’re all of that rolled into one. At first I didn’t understand how difficult it would be to position ourselves,” she says. “But our service, our willingness to jump through hoops, is what separates us from our competitors.”

In 2013, the Telly Awards named IPAK Productions a bronze winner for its FOX Sports Florida Creative University commercial campaign. The same year, the company was named a silver winner by the Mark Awards for a basketball campaign.

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