As president and CEO of the Women’s Business Enterprise National Council, Pamela Prince-Eason helps connect women-owned businesses with opportunities to work with corporations and government contractors.
The organization’s annual national conference and business fair runs Tuesday through Thursday at the Minneapolis Convention Center. The Star Tribune sat down with Prince-Eason to talk about how she hopes the event will support women-owned businesses in the Twin Cities.
Q: Tell me about what the business fair does for women-owned businesses.
A: What you’ll see is a lot of corporations, including General Mills, Cargill, Target — the large players around here — will have booths set up and we’ll have colleagues from their organizations in these booths, and then women-owned businesses who are interested in selling to these companies will be going from booth to booth.
Q: How many of the businesses at this year’s fair are based here?
A: We probably have about 350 exhibitors, and I would say that proportionally, maybe 10 or 15 percent will be from this local area. But the great part will be that your largest corporations, and some of your most successful women entrepreneurs, will be there.
Q: How did you choose the Twin Cities as your location this year? Has it been here before?
A: It’s never been here before. Because of the prominence of entrepreneurship that occurs in this area, the openness to doing business with smaller business, etc. … we ended up picking this territory.
Q: Why, in general, is it important to promote and have a support system for women-owned businesses?
A: Well, currently, women are making the vast majority of buying decisions in just about every type of product that’s being sold. So the interest is in understanding how we make decisions as consumers.
Q: What were some of your experiences as a woman in business that guided your work with the council?
A: When I was in my professional role as a procurement leader [at Pfizer], one of the challenges was that as a business, we were always trying to drive the cost down as much as we could, and we were always trying to look for inclusion of women- and minority-owned businesses in the supply chain.
Sometimes those things can be at odds with each other. Through my understanding of what the pressure is on the corporate side, I’ve been able to take some of those messages that are hard to talk about to the women-owned businesses.
Q: Does the business fair help with those sorts of things as well?
A: The whole national conference and business fair does. We have some workshops going on that are specifically led by our corporations and some of the government entities so that they can convey what it’s like to do business with Target or Coca-Cola. [Business owners] are able to internalize that information, ask questions, without actually being in a sell situation.
Q: Who are some of the local businesses that will be at the business fair?
A: Our major co-sponsors of the event — every year we have two that are women-owned businesses and two that are corporations — are Target, which is headquartered here, and Coca-Cola. In addition to that, the [women’s business enterprises] are Cassandra Sanford, who has [a technology consulting company named] KellyMitchell, and then Ranjini Poddar, who has a [staffing supplier] company named Artech.
We have 10 businesses, nine of which are from here in the Minneapolis area, that are part of this host committee. You’ll see all the players in big business who are really committed to helping entrepreneurial businesses.
So I think you’ll find it fascinating.