Bank of America walks the talk when it comes to helping women business owners succeed. It not only served as presenting sponsor of the annual National Women’s Business Conference hosted by NAWBO last month for the seventh consecutive year, but it also sponsored the conference gala’s most coveted award: Woman Business Owner of the Year.
The three award finalists—Gail Becker of CAULIPOWER; Merrilee Kick of Buzzballz/Southern Champion, LLC; and Lynn Weirich of Business Financial Group (BFG)— were selected from hundreds of nominees and took the stage during the gala to share their entrepreneurial journeys and insights with Karen Harrison, senior vice president and national SBA executive at Bank of America. Karen and Jill Calabrese Bain, client experience and sales enablement executive at Bank of America, ultimately announced Gail as this year’s winner.
Here is some of the advice on starting and growing a successful small business shared by this year’s finalists:
Gail Becker, CAULIPOWER – 2019 winner of the Woman Business Owner of the Year Award
Prior to founding CAULIPOWER, Gail’s career covered media, politics and business. However, as a mom of two boys with celiac disease, she couldn’t find pizza options that were tasty and gluten-free. So, she left her corporate job to launch CAULIPOWER, with a mission to reinvent favorite foods one healthy meal hack at a time. In two years, she turned her idea into the No. 8 best-selling frozen pizza brand in the United States, extended the product offerings and created a $100 million-plus company.
What advice would you give prospective or new women business owners looking to start and grow their businesses?
Never be afraid to bet on yourself, because if you don’t, no one else ever will!
What skills or characteristics are foundational to be an entrepreneur or small business owner?
To be an entrepreneur today, you have to be pretty fearless. I inherited my fearlessness from my father, who came to this country as an immigrant with absolutely nothing and built a small business, which I got to work in every Saturday for $20 plus lunch. When he passed away, he really passed along to me this fearlessness, which I’ve used every single day in building my business.
Merrilee Kick, Buzzballz/Southern Champion, LLC – Finalist
Merrilee is CEO and founder of BuzzBallz/Southern Champion, the only woman-owned distillery/winery in the United States. BuzzBallz/Southern Champion makes ready-to-drink cocktail brands and premium spirits brands sold in 43 states and seven countries. The company is family operated out of the Dallas area. Merrilee is a winner of the 2018 EY Entrepreneur of the Year Award Southwest, EY’s Winning Women Award 2016 and many other accolades.
What moment would you say has had the biggest impact in shaping your professional success?
One of the most important things that happened to me in my professional career was attending a trade show. I was having a hard time getting sales in different states. We barely had any money when my son and I hoofed it to that trade show, got a tiny little booth and then overnight we had 15 new distributors for our product. They were statewide distributors, which was a big deal for us. That’s when I knew we were going to make it.
Lynn Weirich, Business Financial Group (BFG) – Finalist
Lynn is president of BFG, a human resource consulting firm she co-founded in 1997. BFG helps business owners manage their back-office issues related to their most important asset: their people. Services include payroll processing, timekeeping, onboarding, training, HR information systems and more. Lynn is one of three founding members of NAWBO-San Antonio and she has won numerous awards, including the San Antonio Business Journal’s leadership award.
What would you say has had the biggest impact in shaping your professional success?
I would say that it’s recognizing that my internal clients come first and foremost. If they are happy and they’re productive and the culture is right, then my external clients will be well taken care of too.
For more from this year’s finalists, check out this article in the September issue of NAWBO ONE