Women in Small Business | May 8 | The Washington Post

Entrepreneurs, investors and administration officials discussed the role of women-owned businesses in the U.S. and how some of the most successful business owners have found mentors, funded growth and created high-impact marketing ideas.

The program was followed by the finals of the U.S. Small Business Administration’s InnovateHER competition, to identify innovative products and services that improve the lives of women and families.


Capital Business editor Dan Beyers, Personal Independence Trust chair Nell Merlino, Fenugreen FreshPaper founder Kavita Shukla and Katherine Jollon Colsher, national director of Goldman Sachs' 10,000 Small Businesses program, discussed the hurdles of funding growth at the Post's Women in Small Business live event. (Meena Ganesan/Washington Post Live)


8:00 a.m. | Doors Open

8:30 a.m. | Welcome Remarks

Launch and Learn
What women need to know about thriving in business
-Nell Merlino, Chair, Personal Independence Trust @nellmerlino
-Kavita Shukla, Inventor and Founder, Fenugreen FreshPaper
-Katherine Jollon Colsher, National Director of Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses, Goldman Sachs
Moderated by Dan Beyers, Editor, The Washington Post

Moderated Table Discussions
Led by experienced entrepreneurs, business leaders and marketing mavens
Cidalia Luis-Akbar, M. Luis Construction Co., Inc.
Erin Andrew, U.S. Small Business Administration
Cindy Bates, Microsoft
Katherine Kallinis Berman, Georgetown Cupcake
Joyce Brayboy, Goldman Sachs
Amanda Brown, National Women’s Business Council
Rachna Choudhry, POPVOX.com
Keri Gohman, Capital One
Sam Horn, The Intrigue Agency
Laura Cox-Kaplan, Regulatory Affairs and Public Policy, PwC
Julia Lichtman Kepniss, Hitched & Hitched Maids
Sophie Kallinis LaMontagne, Georgetown Cupcake
Carin Rosenberg Levine, Hitched & Hitched Maids
Natalia Luis, M. Luis Construction Co., Inc.
Gene Marks, The Washington Post
Nell Merlino, Personal Independence Trust
Melissa Moss, Moss Advisors, LLC
Roberta Phillips, U.S. Chamber of Commerce
Kavita Shukla, Fenugreen FreshPaper

Recipes for Success
The ingredients to make it as an entrepreneur
-Maria Contreras-Sweet, Administrator, Small Business Administration
-Katherine Kallinis Berman and Sophie Kallinis LaMontagne, Owners, Georgetown Cupcake
Moderated by Lois Romano, Editor, Washington Post Live

9:45 a.m. | Program Ends


Maria Contreras-Sweet
Administrator, U.S. Small Business Administration

Maria Contreras-Sweet is the 24th Administrator of the U.S. Small Business Administration. Prior to her arrival in Washington, she founded the first Latino-formed commercial bank in California in more than 35 years. As the bank’s executive chairwoman, she focused on providing access to capital and counseling to small- and mid-size businesses in Los Angeles. She previously started a venture capital firm that invested in small businesses. As California Secretary of Business, Transportation and Housing, she managed 13 departments, including the California Highway Patrol, the Department of Motor Vehicles and the Department of Financial Institutions. Contreras-Sweet was a founding director of The California Endowment and was appointed by the United States Senate to serve on the Federal Glass Ceiling Commission.

Katherine Kallinis Berman and Sophie Kallinis LaMontagne
Owners, Georgetown Cupcake

Sisters Katherine Kallinis Berman and Sophie Kallinis LaMontagne are the co-founders of Georgetown Cupcake, stars of the television series DC Cupcakes on TLC and authors of “The Cupcake Diaries: Recipes and Memories from the Sisters of Georgetown Cupcake.” Their new book is titled “Sweet Celebrations: Our Favorite Cupcake Recipes, Memories, and Decorating Secrets that Add Sparkle to any Occasion.” Inspired by their grandmother, in 2008, Berman and LaMontagne traded careers in fashion and venture capital to follow their passion for baking and opened Georgetown Cupcake in Washington, DC. They now employ over 400 employees and have expanded with locations in Bethesda, Md., Los Angeles, New York City, Boston and Atlanta.

Katherine Jollon Colsher
National Director of Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses, Goldman Sachs  

Katherine Jollon Colsher is the national director of the Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses initiative, which aims to help small businesses grow and create jobs by providing practical business and management education, business support services, and access to capital. Previously, Colsher was the director for organizational development and effectiveness at ONE, a grassroots campaign and advocacy organization founded by Bono and Bobby Shriver. She has also worked at Accenture as a manager in government practice.

Nell Merlino
Chair, Personal Independence Trust

Nell Merlino created Take Our Daughters to Work Day, started Count Me In for Women’s Economic Independence and launched Make Mine A Million Businesses with Hillary Clinton. She also helped developed Wal-Mart’s Women’s Economic Empowerment program and served as Pathways Envoy for the State Department promoting entrepreneurship. Merlino is the founding chair of the Personal Data Independence Trust. As the trust’s chair, Merlino is leading efforts to set standards for our emerging data rights. She is the author of “Stepping Out of Line: Lessons for Women Who Want it Their Way in Life, in Love, and at Work” and “Cracking the Glass Ceiling and Raising the Roof.”

Kavita Shukla
Inventor and Founder, Fenugreen FreshPaper

Kavita Shukla is the founder and chief executive of Fenugreen — a social enterprise tackling food waste with a simple innovation, FreshPaper. Shukla holds four patents, and has received several international honors as an inventor, designer and entrepreneur, including the INDEX: Design to Improve Life Award. Shukla was also recently featured as one of the seven entrepreneurs changing the world by Fast Company and on the Forbes “30 Under 30” list.

Table Hosts

Erin Andrew
Assistant Administrator, Office of Women’s Business Ownership, U.S. Small Business Administration

Erin Andrew is the director of the Small Business Administration’s Office of Women’s Business Ownership.  She oversees the agency’s efforts to promote the growth of women-owned businesses through advocacy and programs that provide business training and counseling, access to credit and capital and networking opportunities. Most recently, Andrew served as director of the Innovation Clusters and Skills Initiatives in the SBA’s Office of Entrepreneurial Development. Previously, she was a senior policy analyst at the National Governors Association. She has worked in the Iowa governor’s office as a policy advisor on economic development and workforce-development issues and at a regional development authority in Pittsburgh. She was also a senior consultant at Booz Allen Hamilton, where she counseled federal agencies on organizational change strategies and enterprise architecture.

Cidalia Luis-Akbar
Chief Executive, M. Luis Construction Co.

As chief executive of M. Luis Construction, Cidalia Luis-Akbar manages the company’s internal, accounting and financial strategies. Luis-Akbar has worked with the company since its start. She also has experience in the retail industry and is able to offer insight on customer service.

Cindy Bates
Vice President, US SMB, Microsoft

Cindy Bates currently leads Microsoft’s U.S. Small-and-Midsized Business & Distribution group. Bates leads Microsoft’s efforts to help SMBs realize their full potential through the use of technology. She also authors a weekly blog on the Microsoft Business Hub, where she offers technology and business insights and advice to SMBs.

Joyce Brayboy
Vice President, Goldman Sachs

Joyce Brayboy is a vice president in Goldman Sachs Office of Government Affairs. Prior to joining the firm in 2009, Brayboy was managing director at the Glover Park Group — specializing in government relations, strategic communications, coalition building and corporate positioning. From 1995 to 2007, she served as chief of staff to North Carolina Congressman Melvin Watt and managed the operations of his Washington, D.C. office and two district offices. While serving in the U.S. House of Representatives, Brayboy held a number of congressional leadership positions including president of the bipartisan House Chiefs of Staff Association. In 2007, she founded the African-American Women on the Hill Network.

Amanda Brown
Executive Director, National Women’s Business Council

Amanda Brown is the executive director of the National Women’s Business Council, an independent advisor to the president, Congress and Small Business Administration on issues of importance to women entrepreneurs. Brown previously served as the assistant to the director in the White House Office of Political Affairs, the advisor for strategic planning at the U.S. Department of Energy, and the national political director for Rock the Vote. She is a Forbes 30-under-30 recipient, a NationSwell Council member and a contributing editor for More Magazine.

Rachna Choudhry
Co-founder, POPVOX.com

Rachna Choudhry is a co-founder of POPVOX.com. After ten years of advocacy and lobbying for several national non-profit organizations, she realized there was a disconnect between people and lawmakers in Washington. In 2011, Choudhry co-founded POPVOX to engage individuals, issue organizations and trade groups through sharing real stories from verified constituents.

Keri Gohman
Head of Small Business Banking, Capital One

As the head of Capital One’s Spark Business banking line of business, Keri Gohman leads an organization that serves the more than 50 percent of Americans who own or work for a small business. The team aims to support the financial and business management needs of aspiring entrepreneurs and established business owners as they start, manage and grow their businesses. Previously, Gohman held leadership roles at General Electric Financial Assurance and Intuit, including work in general management of global services businesses, business development, sales and marketing strategy and distribution development.

Sam Horn
Chief Executive, The Intrigue Agency

Sam Horn has been president of Intrigue Agency – formerly Action Seminars — since 1981. She has spoken to more than 500,000 people around the world on positioning, messaging and branding. Her speaking clients include KPMG, Cisco, the American Society of Association Executives, Boeing, Inc. 500, Intel, NASA and Capital One. She has served as a pitch coach for Springboard Enterprises, which has helped entrepreneurs receive $6.6 billion in funding. Horn is also the author six books.

Laura Cox Kaplan
Principal-in-Charge of Government, Regulatory Affairs and Public Policy, PwC

Laura Cox Kaplan is PricewaterhouseCoopers’s principal-in-charge of government, regulatory affairs and public policy, and a member of the firm’s executive team. She leads the firm’s public policy and external facing strategy in Washington, serves on PwC’s Global Public Policy Board, is chair of the AICPA’s Federal Legislative Task Force and is a
member of the Center for Audit Quality’s executive advisory committee. Kaplan speaks and writes about women’s leadership, mentoring, diversity and challenges associated with navigating work and life priorities. She is chair of Global Women in Innovation and a founding board member of All In Together.

Carin Rosenberg Levine and Julia Lichtman Kepniss
Co-founders, Hitched & Hitched Maids

Hitched & Hitched Maids are the creation of Julia Lichtman Kepniss and Carin Rosenberg Levine. In 2001, Kepniss returned to law school at Georgetown and Rosenberg went to business school at Yale. A few years later, while planning their own weddings, Kepniss and Rosenberg — both from Washington, D.C. — found their hometown bridal market lacking in creativity, charm and panache. For almost 10 years, they’ve fashioned a unique bridal concept that include gowns, stylish bridesmaids’ dresses and invitations.

Natalia Luis
Chief Operating Officer, M. Luis Construction Co.

Natalia Luis serves as chief operating officer of M. Luis Construction Co., a highway construction and asphalt-manufacturing firm. Luis manages business development, estimating and project management for the operations division of the Maryland-based business.

Gene Marks
Contributor, The Washington Post

Gene Marks is a small business owner, author and regular contributor on business, politics and public policy for The Washington Post. He owns and operates the Marks Group PC, a ten-person firm that provides technology and consulting services to small and medium-sized businesses. Previously, Marks, a certified public accountant, spent nine years in the entrepreneurial services arm of the international consulting firm KPMG in Philadelphia where he was a senior manager.

Melissa Moss
President, Moss Advisors, LLC

Melissa Moss is the president of Moss Advisors LLC, a consulting firm that specializes in helping clients with strategic planning, branding and public affairs objectives. Previously, Moss was a senior vice president at Capital Guardian Trust Company and president and chief executive of the Women’s Consumer Network. During the first administration of President Clinton, Moss was a senior political appointee at the U.S. Department of Commerce and served on the personal staff of Secretary Ronald H. Brown. As the director of the Office of Business Liaison, Moss served as the primary contact between the department and chief executives of America’s largest companies. Prior to joining the Clinton Administration, Moss served as the finance director of the Democratic National Committee. She was the national field director of the Democratic Leadership Council.

Roberta Phillips
Executive Director, Center for Women in Business, U.S. Chamber of Commerce

Roberta Zenn Phillips is executive director of the Center for Women in Business at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation. Previously, Phillips was director of the Chamber’s Campaign for Free Enterprise, where she managed a $10 million budget, conducted outreach and organized events for the national campaign. Phillips was managing director at the Chamber for small and midsize membership before leading CFE. Earlier, Phillips worked for more than 10 years at the Export-Import Bank.

Biographies are provided by the speakers and edited only for length and clarity.