Connecticut Senate Majority Leader Bob Duff (D-Norwalk), Wells Fargo, and a Stratford-based entrepreneur were among those receiving awards at the Women’s Business Development Council’s (WBDC) 19th annual Women with Impact Business Breakfast & Symposium, held Sept. 23 at the Hyatt Regency Greenwich.
The Women’s Business Development Council Women with Impact event. Photo by Margaret Fox.
The Stamford-based WBDC — a nonprofit micro-enterprise development organization whose goal is to increase economic independence for women — continues to make strides in supporting and promoting women in business, according to the group’s founder and CEO Fran Pastore. In her remarks, Pastore said that WBDC currently represents some 18,000 clients who create and support 4,200 jobs around the state, adding that WBDC members pay over $3.5 million in taxes each year. Currently there are 106,678 women-owned businesses in the state, she stated, “who need our support each and every day.”
Pastore further noted that following the launch last year of the WBDC Capital Loan Fund — which provides loans of up to $50,000 to entrepreneurs and startups — the organization recently approved its first loan, to Vertical Addition, a gymnastics center at 575 Pacific St. in Stamford, which owner Ashley Popoli plans to use to help expand the company by adding locations next year.
Although most of WBDC’s work is done on behalf of women, Pastore said that 10 to 15 percent of its clients are male.
Also making opening remarks was U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal, a regular supporter of women’s issues who remarked that, thanks to his work with the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women, “I’ve been elected an honorary woman.”
WBDC Outstanding Leader Award recipient Senator Bob Duff and Fran Pastore, Founder and CEO WBDC. Photo by Margaret Fox.
Blumenthal drew applause after calling for equal pay for equal work by women, and said that veterans in general and women in particular are “a source of talent that really demands focus in this nation. It is a cause whose time has truly come.”
The Democratic Senator noted that at his first WBDC event, “we maybe had about five tables filled.” This year’s edition had about 720 attendees.
Following the presentation of the WBDC Corporate Impact Award to Maria Ferreira, president of suburban New York and Connecticut’s community banking at Wells Fargo, State Rep. Laura Hoydick presented the Deb Ziegler Award for Entrepreneurial Excellence — named after a board member who died in 2005 — to Renata Papadopoulos, owner of Stratford’s Lovely Cakes. Business at the bakery is up by more than 45 percent this year, said Papadopoulos, who in addition to securing a Connecticut state grant and a loan from the Small Business Administration with help from WBDC, rents space in her commercial kitchen to other entrepreneurial bakers.
Duff, presented with the WBDC Outstanding Leader Award for being “a tireless advocate for job creation” in the state, received laughter and applause when he exclaimed, “Fran for president!”
Women with Impact Award recipient Seema Hingorani, Founder and Chair, Girls Who Invest, Inc. (R) and Jill Hummel, WBDC Breakfast Chair, Pres. Anthem Blue Cross & Blue Shield (L). Photo by Margaret Fox.
“Women-owned businesses account for roughly 30 percent of all Connecticut businesses and are an important piece of Connecticut’s economy, generating billions of dollars in economic activity,” Duff said. “As the number of women-owned businesses continues to increase here in Connecticut, it is my mission to ensure that the state acts as partner in tearing down obstacles to success.”
The WBDC Woman with Impact Award was given to Seema Hingorani, founder and chair of Girls Who Invest Inc., a Manhattan-based nonprofit dedicated to increasing the number of women in portfolio management and executive leadership in the asset management industry. The group hosted 30 college women at a four-week program at Penn State over the summer, and Hingorani said she hopes to enroll 60 young women for next summer’s free program, as well as offering similar courses at multiple locations around the country and starting another course for high school girls.
Throughout the morning session, the WBDC invited those in attendance to participate in “textgiving,” in which audience members could text a donation. Pastore said last year’s textgiving resulted in about $50,000 in donations; by mid-morning, this year’s edition had raised over $35,000.