Raleigh’s International Women’s Day Expo: Empowering Women And Showcasing Women-Owned Businesses

Dominique Heath, Colunmist

On Saturday, March 9, 2024, the Raleigh Convention Center was buzzing with excitement as hundreds of people gathered for the highly anticipated International Women’s Day Expo. The event was dedicated to honoring and empowering women from all walks of life and aimed to provide a platform for women-owned businesses to showcase their products and services. With the three keywords “Networking, Collaborate, and Connect,” the event was designed to foster meaningful connections and collaborations among attendees.

One of the highlights of the expo was the panel discussion, which brought together influential personalities such as The Honorable Secretary of State Elaine Marshall, representatives from Wake Tech and the Small Business Administration, and local banks. The panelists engaged in a timely discussion on the state of women-owned businesses and the need for more representation and resources, specifically for BIPOC women. The announcement by Kamala Harris that $32M in grants would be invested in North Carolina minority and women-owned businesses further underscored the importance of the discussion. These grants offer a lifeline for BIPOC women-owned businesses, enabling them to access capital, invest in new technologies, and expand their operations.

The panelists addressed the challenges that women-owned businesses face, including access to capital, lack of representation, and discrimination. They emphasized the need for more resources, support, mentorship programs, and safe spaces for discussions. In particular, they highlighted the unique challenges faced by BIPOC women-owned businesses, as these women are starting businesses at a faster rate–according to a report by American Express,  women-owned businesses have been growing at a rate of 58% since 2007. Lack of access to capital, discrimination, and limited resources remain significant obstacles for these entrepreneurs despite women-owned businesses contributing $3.1 trillion to the US economy and employing 9.4 million people.

The panel also emphasized the role of the government in supporting women-owned businesses. The creation of policies and programs that support women-owned businesses, providing access to capital, and increasing representation in various industries were discussed as vital steps toward fostering an inclusive and supportive business environment.

The panel discussion was a platform for women entrepreneurs and business owners to get valuable insights and advice from experts in various fields. The panelists included Raleigh Mayor, Mary-Ann Baldwin, Deputy Director for Governor Cooper’s DEI, Cristina Espana, NCSU Business Counselor at the Small Business & Technology Development Center, Adriana Lanzas, Gene Holland, Interim Director of the SBTDC’s Capital Center based in Raleigh, NC, Todd Lyden, Director of Small Business Center at Wake Tech Community College, Allison Sanders, brand marketer with over 10 years of dynamic experience, Farrah Morgan, design maestro crafting brands for a better world, Angelica Thacker, trailblazer within the construction industry, Francie Gottsegen, NCFC & NC Courage Club President, and Alyssa Mako, Vice President of the Center for Entrepreneurship, National Institute of Minority Economic Development. Their expertise and insights enriched the discussion and provided a roadmap for future initiatives supporting women-owned businesses.

In addition to the informative panels, attendees had the opportunity to network, collaborate, and connect with each other and exhibitors. The resource fair showcased a wide range of women entrepreneurs and small business owners, representing various industries and offering products and services that catered to women’s well-being. From haircare and jewelry to professional services and medical programs, the fair featured businesses that were making their mark in the market. Local Raleigh businesses like Spa Zazz, CEO Hair Care, Motherland Authentic, Boozie Cakes, and BE! Social Solutions were among the inspiring companies that drew attention.

The success of the International Women’s Day Expo was a testament to the growing recognition of women-owned businesses and their significant contributions to the economy. The event provided a much-needed platform to empower and celebrate women while highlighting the need for continued support and advocacy. As attendees left the expo, they carried with them a renewed sense of inspiration and determination to support women-owned businesses and to create a more inclusive and equitable business landscape.

The International Women’s Day Expo served as a milestone event for promoting women’s empowerment and showcasing women-owned businesses. With its resounding success, it demonstrated the potential for future initiatives to further empower women and support the growth of women-owned businesses in Raleigh and beyond.

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