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Proud To Be WOB: Inspirational Women Leaders and Funding Strategies

March 10, 2021 @ 3:00 pm - 5:00 pm | $35




(312) 283-5723

In honor of International Women’s Day, we are once again partnering with the Women’s Business Development Center to provide an afternoon filled with information and resources for female entrepreneurs! Join us and the Wonder Women of the Food and Beverage Industry for two important conversations, one focused on the successes and strategies of innovative female leaders in the food and beverage industry, and the other diving into the world of financing your startup.  

Find the support you need while connecting with and celebrating your fellow female founders. 

 On March 12, The WBDC will be providing more information about becoming a certified Women Owned Business and the fantastic programs and initiatives available to female entrepreneurs. Please register for that webinar separately: Proud To Be WOB: How To Become A Certified Woman Owned Business.   

 First Session: 3:00 PM to 4:00 PM Inspirational Women Leaders Panel:  

From Madame C.J Walker to Martha Stewart, female leaders have been paving the way to innovation for centuries. We are thrilled to bring together inspiring women leaders continuing this path forward and learning from their experiences in the Food and Beverage industry. We are coming together as a community to share resources, insights, and awareness to an empowering group of entrepreneurs, women. 

About the panelists:  

Katrina Markoff, Founder, Vosges Chocolates 

Founder of Vosges Haut-Chocolat, Katrina Markoff has been fusing spices, nuts roots, herbs and liqueurs from around the world with premium chocolate. A pioneer of the exotic chocolate movement, Markoff travels the world in search of best-in-class ingredients at the pinnacle of their taste profile. Through her chocolate creations, she seeks to harness the power of storytelling through the medium of chocolate and open minds, spirits and palates to new ideas. Markoff is the recipient of numerous accolades including Fast Company’s 100 Most Creative People in Business, Fortune Magazine’s 40 under 40, the Bon Appétit Food Artisan of the Year Award, and being named “THE innovator in chocolate to lead the US through the next 30 years” by Food & Wine Magazine. 


Vanessa Pham, Co-Founder & CEO of Omsom 

Vanessa is the co-founder and CEO of Omsom, a new Asian pantry staple that makes cooking your favorite Asian dishes with uncompromised flavors and hard-to-find ingredients possible in any home kitchen. She and her sister Kim, first-generation Vietnamese-Americans, created Omsom to reclaim the cultural integrity of Asian cuisines that are too often diluted in the grocery aisle. Since launch in May 2020, Omsom has been praised by publications including The New York Times, Bon Appetit, Vogue, and The TODAY Show. Vanessa is a Harvard alum, 2020 Forbes 30 Under 30, and prior to co-founding Omsom, advised Fortune 500 CPGs on their growth and retail strategy as a management consultant at Bain & Company. She loves thinking about the cultivation of vulnerable and wholehearted work culture, painting watercolors, and cooking all things fermented, caramelized and braised.

Ayeshah Abuelhiga is the Founder & CEO of Mason Dixie Foods

A graduate of George Washington University, she has always worked hard to be #1: 4.0 GPA, class president, varsity track and field team captain, editor of the paper, Ayeshah continues to strive to be the best she can be. Prior to founding Mason Dixie, she held executive positions at Fortune 500 companies including Toshiba and Audi and consulted at Microsoft, where she learned about leadership and acquired the skills to run a successful business. In 2014, Ayeshah expanded her biscuit dream beyond the restaurant with business partner and Brand COO, Ross Perkins. They saw a gap in the $1.3B frozen baked goods category and wanted to offer baked goods made from scratch to a larger consumer base. Mason Dixie Biscuits launched as the only, clean-label, ready-to-bake line of frozen biscuits and immediately forged a strong customer base.


Jeni Britton Bauer, founder of Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams

Jeni opened her first shop in a farmers market in 2002 and has since grown the company to more than 50 scoop shops nationwide. She won the James Beard Award in 2012 for her cookbook, Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams at Home—a New York Times best-seller. She has been recognized by Fast Company as one of the most creative people in business. Jeni is a 2017 Henry Crown Fellow. In 2020, she served on the Small Business Council for the Biden/Harris Presidential campaign. As Founder and Chief Creative Officer, Jeni remains active in the company and oversees all creative output.


Moderator, Natalie Shmulik, CEO, The Hatchery Chicago 

Natalie Shmulik is The Hatchery’s CEO, and the go-to resource for everything food business related. Along with an M.L.A. in Gastronomy from Boston University, she has a wide range of experience working with supermarkets, culinary publications, consumer packaged goods companies, and food service establishments. After successfully operating her own restaurant, Natalie was hired as a specialty consultant for one of Ontario’s largest supermarket chains where she enhanced consumer experiences through educational initiatives. Discovering her passion for innovation, Natalie was brought on as a brand strategist for the first cold brew tea company and later moved to Chicago to run The Hatchery Chicago. With over five years of food incubation experience, Natalie has gained a unique perspective on the industry and what it takes to launch and grow a successful business. She was recently featured in Forbes and continues to play a valuable role in branding and marketing for food businesses around the country, with her specialty in trend forecasting. 


Second Session: 4:00 PM to 5:00 PM Access to Capital Panel: 

40% of businesses in the US are owned by women and generate around 1.8 trillion a year in revenue, according to Women’s Business Enterprise National Council.  Even with this growing number of female owned businesses, women continue to have limited access to capital. Hear from experienced leaders and experts as we discuss ways to break through barriers and engage financing opportunities. During this panel we will address existing challenges, discuss solutions and provide tools and strategies to further elevate women and help their businesses grow. 


About the panel:  

Shayna Harris, Co-Founder & Managing Director, Supply Change Capital 

Shayna Harris has spent her career developing sustainable food strategies in more than 20 countries. Over the past two decades, she has led teams through fast-changing, ambiguous environments and has simultaneously managed remote teams across four continents—effectively working across timezones, cultures, and languages. She is the co-founder and Managing Director at Supply Change Capital, an early-stage venture firm investing at the intersection of food, culture, and technology. She was previously the Chief Growth Officer of Farmer’s Fridge—a network of automated smart Fridges that vend chef-curated meals. In addition, Shayna has advised brands such as Mars, Stonyfield, Unilever, and Starbucks on how to implement strategic sourcing and sustainability programs within their businesses. 


Eva Brown, VP CED Lending and Investment Strategies & Director of Community and Economic Development 

In this role, Brown works to develop, manage and execute Community Economic Development Lending and Investment programs that drives success in achieving an outstanding CRA rating.  Previously, Brown was Regional Community Development Manager at U.S. Bank overseeing a team that worked to position the bank as a leader in the community as well as focus the bank’s lending, giving, investment and volunteer efforts where those resources are needed most.  Brown also served as the Director of the Access to Capital Program for the Women’s Business Development Center in Chicago.  In that role, Brown provided financial business counseling and training to WBDC clients and managed all aspects of the WBDC loan program.  She brings a wealth of experience working in the banking industry with a focus on small businesses as well as a passion for assisting minority and women-owned businesses.  Brown has also held positions at BMO Harris Bank where she managed a large loan and deposit portfolio of business clients.  Brown received a BS in marketing from Northern Illinois University. 

Mary Tritsis, Director of Community Business at Allies for Community Business

Serving as Director of Community Business at A4CB, Mary provides the capital, coaching, and collaboration entrepreneurs need to grow great businesses in their communities. Mary’s hard work was instilled by her parents who immigrated decades ago to the United States. She brings over 30 years of financial experience to A4CB, formerly Accion Serving Illinois & Indiana. Mary manages A4CB’s team of Allies who help entrepreneurs from any background start and grow their business to create wealth for their families and communities. She also has 12 years of nonprofit volunteer experience as she currently serves as President of KIDSS for Kids, one of the largest affiliated organizations at Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago. Mary is a Board Member of the Lurie Children’s Foundation. She earned a Bachelor’s of Business Administration from Loyola University of Chicago with a post graduate in Executive Management from the University of Michigan, Stephen M. Ross School of Business.


Moderator, Lotika Pai, Managing Director of Access to Capital, WBDC 

Lotika Pai is the Managing Director of Access to Capital at the Women’s Business Development Center (WBDC) in Chicago. She works with both start-up and established business owners helping them with their capital goals. She understands that access to capital is critical for small business success, especially for those in underserved markets and in low-to-moderate income communities. She manages the growth of the WBDC direct loan fund and building the organization’s capacity to place debt and equity growth capital by leveraging partnerships with the government and traditional and non-traditional financial institutions. Lotika has a diverse professional background. She is a successful entrepreneur, a former investment banker at Lehman Brothers and Barclays Capital, a global supply chain management consultant and an engineer. She is an active mentor with the Ascend 2020 Small Business Growth program run by the University of Chicago’s Polsky Center and the University’s Office of Civic Engagement, helping create local support ecosystems for neighborhood-based inner-city small businesses in Chicago. Lotika is a 2008 graduate of Chicago Booth. 

Thank you to our partners and sponsors for this event:


March 10, 2021
3:00 pm - 5:00 pm


(312) 283 - 5767

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