The Women in Business symposium put on by the Small Business Development Center at Valdosta State University — which is funded in part by the Small Business Administration — has grown significantly from when it started three years ago. What started with just reaching out to Lowndes County has now expanded to reaching 10 counties, including Atkinson, Berrien, Brooks, Clinch, Coffee, Cook, Echols, Lanier, Lowndes and Thomas.
“We’re trying to reach out to all the areas,” said SBDC director and business consultant Ruby Riesinger.
For the first two years, the event focused on female entrepreneurs and provided networking and development workshops for them. However, this year, the center opened the event to women who hold leadership positions in the private and the public sectors.
The growth of the symposium isn’t just exemplary of the work that the SBDC at VSU is doing, but also a telling sign that there is significant growth in women in business, in general.
Women own approximately 40 percent of the private businesses in the nation, according to the Center for Women’s Business Research. Last year, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that 51.4 percent of managerial, professional and related positions were held by women.
It is because of this continued growth that the SBDC has created an event that educates, empowers and enlightens female business owners, executives and entrepreneurs.
On Friday, Oct. 5, at VSU’s University Center, 20 vendors and more than 60 women participated in the third annual symposium that offered workshops and networking opportunities.
The symposium offered sessions on customer service, human resources, how to handle stress and more. The keynote address was by no other than VSU alumnus Tiffany Young.
“She’s a big supporter and believer in the Langdale College of Business,” said Riesinger.
Young is the owner of the Pink Pastry Parlor in Atlanta and is the star of her own reality television show, “Party at Tiffany’s.” Young shared her journey to success as an entrepreneur who remains constantly focused on female leadership and empowerment.
Like Young, the symposium was full of role models who have succeeded in the no longer male-dominated business world and who continue to reach out to women in business.
One such role model was Melissa Evans, a supplier diversity consultant for Georgia Power. Not only is Georgia Power the state sponsor for Grow Smart, an initiative that helps small businesses, but it is also a major sponsor for the Women in Business Symposium.
“We really help cultivate relationships for women-owned businesses in all our communities,” said Evans. “Our supplier diversity program was founded in 1978 so we have a long, rich history of helping small businesses.”
Aside from representing Georgia Power, Evans is also on the board for the Greater Women Business Council.
“I’m also here to represent them,” said Evans.
Vendors, such as owner of Shipping Unlimited Elana Chapman, were prepared to boast not only their businesses but their business practices.
“Have courage,” said Chapman. “If you believe in something, you have to make progress in it.”
The Valdosta-Lowndes County Chamber of Commerce offered similar empowerment.
“We most certainly support women business owners,” said chamber Vice President Betty Morgan. “There’s always help and we’re there for that.”
Not only does the chamber offer resources for small business development, but the SBDC does as well.
“Our business consultant services are free,” said Riesinger.
While women in business is not as taboo today as it was 20 years ago — and its statistical growth is exemplary of the country’s tolerance — a sorority of sorts has developed amongst female business owners. The Women in Business symposium is only one of many examples of that fellowship.