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Monica Smiley

Monica Smiley is editor and publisher of Enterprising Women. She serves on the Board of Directors for the Institute of Economic Empowerment of Women (IEEW). To learn more about how you can become a mentor in the Peace Through Business program or donate to the organization, visit Contact her at

WBDC 30th Anniversary Celebration a True Gem For Women’s Business Development Center

Traditionally, pearls are considered the gemstone for 30th anniversaries, and at WBDCelebrate on November 15 at Chicago’s Wintrust Great Banking Hall, the pearls flowed. Nearly 500 guests broke out their pearls for the 30th anniversary evening reception in honor of the Women’s Business Development Center. Successful business owners smilingly exchanged pearls of wisdom with each other in a festive atmosphere decorated with floral and pearl centerpieces. Even the lanyards for the nametags were pearl-like.

Guests got their groove on to the sounds of funky music, highlighted by a special performance from The Black Ensemble Theater that paid tribute to the history and future of women’s business ownership. Awards were presented to Michelle Vondrasek, president of Von Technologies, Innovative Business Award; Caren Schweitzer, president, WBE of the Year Award; Pamela Jones, president, Charboy’s, Vetrepreneur of the Year Award; and Kara Yokley, president of KMY Consulting, Deborah Sawyer Rising Star Award. Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle received the Government Supporter Award.

The JPMorgan Chase Foundation and Deluxe Foundation received the Foundation Impact Award and Future Forward Award, respectively. Some 50 previous women business owners honorees, whose companies were launched since the WBDC was established in 1986, received the Hedy M. Ratner and S. Carol Dougal Legacy Award. The event concluded with a champagne toast to guests by Hedy, Carol and WBDC president and CEO Emilia DiMenco.

As a leading Midwest economic empowerment organization, the WBDC today provides women, minority and military veteran business owners with the access they need to grow and prosper: access to contracts, capital, information and contacts to increase business capacity that adds jobs, fuels economic growth and builds strong communities. Over the years, the WBDC has continually updated its approach and programs, but its mission of empowering women and other underserved populations through entrepreneurship is unwavering.

To date, the WBDC has helped more than 78,000 clients start and grow a business. Annually, they certify 1,600 businesses as Women’s Business Enterprises (WBEs) in a nine-state Midwest region and help them obtain corporate and government contracts and business financing through workshops, webinars, business counseling and events. The WBDC is headquartered at 8 S. Michigan Av., Chicago with satellite offices in Aurora, Ill., and Minneapolis, Minn. For more information visit

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2017- The Year of Empowerment
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