Kansas City and Iowa Take Their Seat at the Table | NAWBO


Kansas City and Iowa Take Their Seat at the Table


NAWBO’s founding mother and visionary leader famously said, “Get a seat at the table or build your own table, and make sure to include other women at that table.” Since then, NAWBO National and our chapter leaders have continued this powerful legacy of building relationships, educating ourselves and others, advocating for and against issues that impact our success—and ultimately being invited to the “table” to offer expert insights to key influencers and decision makers. Two chapters—Iowa and Kansas City—have recently sharpened their focus on advocacy and are working to build and strengthen their knowledge and connections to further their efforts. Here are their stories:

Iowa Chapter

NAWBO-Iowa’s chapter leaders engage at the National Women’s Business Council Small Business Roundtable.

NAWBO-Iowa’s chapter leaders engage at the
National Women’s Business Council Small Business Roundtable.

Iowa’s Chapter Co-presidents Kathy Towner and Kendra Erkamaa complement each other well when it comes to getting a seat. Kathy has been a part of NAWBO since 2002 and owns a communications firm specializing in small business internet marketing. Kendra, a financial planner, has been a NAWBO member for a decade. “We are a good mix,” says Kendra. “She has what I don’t and I have what she doesn’t.”

Together, Kathy and Kendra have led the charge within their chapter to engage with public servants, like Iowa’s Governor Kim Reynolds, as well as participate in important events, like the recent National Women’s Business Council Small Business Roundtable, which was attended by around 40 people, including Iowa’s first female Senator Joni Ernst, local women small business owners and those engaged in assisting and promoting small business at the state and national levels. Additionally, they have worked to strengthen their relationship with government agencies like the Small Business Administration (SBA) and Iowa Economic Center.

The pair has also worked to partner with other organizations with shared values and perspectives, lobbyists, a pulse on policies impacting women and small business owners and training to help develop their voices and advocate for themselves. Through a partnership with Iowa Association of Business and Industry (ABI) and NFIB, which advocates on behalf of America’s small and independent business owners, for example, NAWBO members visit the Iowa state capitol annually. During their last visit, 12 members personally met with their state representatives. “I spent 30 minutes with my local representative that day, and women from Pella spent 45 minutes with theirs,” shares Kathy. “It was a really amazing experience on both sides. Part of our mission for the day was to advocate for or against specific legislation, but it was also to make sure as many people as possible at the capitol recognize and know NAWBO.” Adds Kendra: “It’s a wonderful baseline experience to interacting and advocating for yourself—seeing the resources and understanding the issues and what’s impacting you and then feeling empowered to walk through the process.”

Another exciting development has been having Reynolds as Iowa’s first elected female governor in her second term of serving. “She has been a real catalyst for engaging,” says Kathy. “She’s a great partner and ally and has relationships with many people on our leadership team. As governor, and even when she was lieutenant governor, she has asked many of us to consider serving and running.”

For the past two years, the chapter has headed to the Iowa Governor’s Mansion, Terrace Hill, for a members-only event featuring drinks, appetizers and local women in politics sharing their personal journeys, including why they chose to serve and how they got there. “They are there to recruit women to be able to step into political leadership—women who have already served on a school board or zoning board,” shares Kendra. “The fact that we have access to Governor Reynolds is a real draw. We’ve had several of our members run for mayor, and I personally gave my card to the Governor, who thought I could perhaps serve for her in an appointed agency capacity.”

Kathy and Kendra also made important inroads at March’s National Women’s Business Council Small Business Roundtable. Senator Ernst was involved in bringing the event to Pella, Iowa, to discuss rural women’s entrepreneurship. Six NAWBO members from Pella were on hand for the discussion, including NAWBO member and SBA Iowa District Director Jayne Armstrong.

“It was a discussion and Q&A with Senator Ernst to hear what she is doing through her appointment by the president to the U.S. Senate Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship,” explains Kathy. “She has three pillars for 2019: access to funding for rural small businesses, young women in STEM and entrepreneurship and rural small business ownership. We also discussed paid family leave, infrastructure, broadband and defining micro businesses versus small businesses since 90 percent of women business owners in Iowa are solopreneurs.” Another takeaway the NAWBO women in attendance received from Senator Ernst was this: Overcome the feeling of intimidation of walking into a room full of men by being the expert. If you know your “stuff,” gender can’t be an issue.

While this smart business advice, when it comes to advocacy, Kathy and Kendra agree you don’t have to be an expert to make an impact. They recommend just saying “yes” and taking the first steps. “You show up and make those valuable connections and look for opportunities to understand what NAWBO or you can bring,” they say. “Once you start making those connections, you’ll be invited to the table.”

Kansas City Chapter

Vicki S. CannonDawn PottsAbout 200 miles away in Kansas City, two NAWBO leaders—Vicki S. Cannon (left) and Dawn Potts (right)—have been making similar progress in getting invited to the “table.” Dawn, a financial advisor and owner of H2O Cleaning that serves the construction industry and is WBE-certified in Kansas City, Missouri and the state of Kansas, has been a member for five years and board member for four. Vicki has owned her social media consulting and training business for nine years and been part of NAWBO for three. She immediately got involved in leadership and is the chapter’s current director of programming.

“Advocacy is a new entity to our group but a very important one,” says Dawn, who serves as advocacy co-chair, along with Stephanie Sage. “It’s important for us to keep moving our chapter forward to growth but also local, statewide and nationwide advocacy. It’s time we align with the National efforts.”

To accomplish this, Kansas City’s leaders have made it a point to participate in NAWBO National’s monthly advocacy calls as well as talk to other chapter leaders about how they’ve grown their efforts locally and beyond. They have spoken with other women’s groups to introduce NAWBO and see where they might align on issues. Additionally, they have launched a postcard campaign to local and statewide politicians in both Kansas and Missouri so that NAWBO is known and top of mind, and have developed a list of key public servants to personally reach out to and develop relationships. “We also hope to continue doing things like fieldtrips to the Kansas and Missouri state capitols, and going to NAWBO National’s Advocacy Day in D.C.—this year we have eight members joining us so far,” shares Dawn.

It’s all part of the chapter’s efforts to make its members more politically aware and understand how it impacts them as women business owners. “I’m a solopreneur, so I didn’t think about how it impacted me until the tax changes,” shares Vicki. “I was so happy to have NAWBO National advocating for business owners like myself.”

One opportunity to become more aware and build relationships came at the recent Road to GES Heartland USA event in Kansas over two days in March—which was a prelude to the larger Global Entrepreneurship Summit in Amsterdam. The event brought together hundreds of entrepreneurs, investors and public and private sector leaders from across the Heartland who are building innovative solutions to agriculture, health and connectivity. The event was designed to encourage deals that advance economic growth and prosperity in the U.S. and around the world.

Vicki and Dawn attended on behalf of NAWBO-Kansas City and even though it’s hard for busy entrepreneurs to take time away from their businesses, they both agree it was time well spent. They learned about the many ways entrepreneurs can access money, from the SBA and funds that invest in entrepreneurs to venture capitalists, angel investors and crowd funding. “For me, being a financial advisor,” says Dawn. “I’m always interested in knowing about what’s moving, shaking and changing in our economy for investors. Small business owners have such a challenge accessing capital. I met a couple sitting next to me from Western Kansas with an irrigation company that has eight locations. They’ve gone international and hit the ceiling in funding their expansion, so they have been self-funding. They were there to really grasp anything they could.”

Vicki S. Cannon pictured with Setsu Suzuki, who was
part of the International Visitor Leadership Program
that brought 23 women entrepreneurs from all over
the world. Setsu is from Japan.

Vicki was intrigued by the focus on business in the Heartland—in the middle of the country—where you tend to not get as much access to capital as the east and west coasts. “There’s a lot more angel invetors and venture capital money in this area than most are probably aware of,” says Vicki. “It was also interesting to see the connection to university systems. If you have a strong university system, you are more likely to have a strong entrepreneurial and angel investor system. There are incubators available for entrepreneurs to not only access capital, but also research to help move them forward. There are also angel funds specifically for women in the midwest/metro area. It was so fascinating for me to understand a little more of where the capital can come from and see that there’s more access in the middle of the county than there has been in awhile.”

Twenty-three global entreprenuers also attended as part of the International Visitor Leadership Program, and Vicki enjoyed connecting with as many as she could. “I met people from Taiwan, Japan, Afghanistan, South Africa, Jamaica and more,” she says. “They all have businesses and were learning what’s available and sharing their experiences. It’s so cool they were able to experience the U.S. from a Kansas perspective.”

Vicki and Dawn also used the event as an opportunity to let more people know about NAWBO. They weren’t given event nametags, so they wore their own with the NAWBO logo. It was a great conversation piece that sparked interest in our organization. They even met women they were able to connect with NAWBO National as well as the Chicago chapter.

In the end, they left with the feeling that the event shone the light on the impact of women and small businesses owners and that opportunities abound for us all—even in the Heartland.

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