Food and women came together for a weekend of networking, empowerment and laughter.
Women business owners participated in the Great Food Expo and Ultimate Women Expo in Chicago at the Donald E. Stephens Convention Center on Oct. 5 and 6, 2019. The two expos were combined and allowed attendees to network and show off their companies.
Activities highlighted the importance of women in business, with guest speakers including celebrity chef Anne Burrell, actress Keke Palmer, and Grammy winner Kandi Burruss.
While expo goers could sample food and products from various companies, they also got to support a number of women-owned businesses. From a mother that came to the United States and opened a restaurant to provide for her family, to a woman who quit her job at a bank to pursue her dreams of making beauty products, the expo promoted and featured women that are giving it their all to run their business.
According to the National Association of Women Business Owners, women-owned businesses generated more than $1.7 trillion in sales in 2017, $361 billion of which was by women of color. Four out of 10 businesses in the U.S. are owned by women.
Michelle Wainwright, owner of Cute as a Cupcake, said she was excited for the opportunity to participate in the expo. She said the expo organizers contacted her and requested her company to join.
“As a small business, it’s important to get your name out there any way you can,” Wainwright said.
Many would agree with her, as some said that being at the expo was a better advertisement than a commercial. People attending the expo could also sample products and can post about it on social media.
“We get most of our business from social media and word of mouth,” said Thomas Miller of Imagine Me Paint Parties. “Now that we travel, social media helps spread our company around the country.”
Miller is the husband of the owner Jalisa Miller, who started the company five years ago. He said that they attended the expo last year and prayed for the chance to participate this year. Then right when she was submitting her application, the organizers contacted her and asked if she could sponsor and lead a painting workshop during the expo.
“It’s so great to see so many entrepreneurs and different way of lives,” Miller said. “It’s a powerful event that allows my wife to show off her passions.”
Another theme that was echoed was the power of family. Annette Pardun, the owner of Fill My Jar confectionery, said that her company allows her to work closely with her daughters. She said she started the company because she would make candy for her daughter’s teachers and coaches while they were growing up. After years of getting requests for more candy, she decided to see if she could start a small business, and soon it took off.
“This expo is very good for me as a small business owner,” Pardun said. “It’s a learning experience and allows me to see new ways I can improve my company.”
Pardun said that she learned how to cook from her mother and she is glad to be passing this skill down to her daughters.
The next Great Food Expo and Ultimate Women Expo will be in New Jersey on Nov. 2, 2019, at the New Jersey Expo Center.