Ana Fernandez-Parmet Grew a Family and Built a Business
Everyone has a unique recipe for success, and for Ana Fernandez-Parmet, it’s always been about putting family first—whether it’s her own husband and children (and now grandchildren) or the women entrepreneurs she’s so deeply connected with through NAWBO.
This January, the company that Ana and her husband, Mike, founded in 1991 will turn 33 years old. Ana knows this well because Parmetech, Inc. is the same age as their first-born son, who turns 33 this November. Being pregnant with him fueled their initial interest in becoming their own boss.
A Career and Life Change
Parmetech today is an industry-leading classroom and office technology solutions, products, software and services company for customers across a wide range of industries, but Ana started her career with a much different focus. She worked as a social worker—her area of study in college—with children from welfare environments in a rough part of Philadelphia.
“It was really hard work emotionally and ideally I wanted to be a psychologist but wasn’t ready for grad school,” Ana recalls. “Also, I saw the ugly side and was getting disillusioned not knowing where I was going. My husband said to me, ‘You’ve got to do something else.’”
Mike grabbed a phonebook and called a local export management company. When he reached the owner, he told him that Ana was a social worker looking for another job and that she spoke Spanish (she’s a first-generation Cuban, who was born in the U.S., graduated from high school in Columbia and then attended college in Pennsylvania).
The owner’s assistant happened to be out recovering from a car accident, so he said he could use Ana’s help. “I typed all my college papers and wasn’t very good at it,” she laughs, “but he said, ‘You’re smart and can spell and I need that.’” For three months, the owner wrote things down and Ana typed them up, and she was already earning more than in her previous career.
Once the assistant returned, Ana was offered a role in inside sales. The company represented U.S. manufacturers, exporting products to be used on oil rigs mostly in the Middle East and Southeast Asia. “I didn’t need to know about the products,” she says. “Bids would come in through the fax machine and I had to figure out pricing and send them back.”
Ana enjoyed supporting the sales team and working with international customers, however, when she became pregnant, it was new territory for her and the company owner to navigate. Ana didn’t want her son in daycare and didn’t have parents or in-laws who could step in to help. She asked about working from home a few days a week, but the owner was uncomfortable with it.
Meanwhile, Mike, who had been working as a computer programmer for a mortgage company, was laid off when Ana was 4-and-a-half months pregnant. He consulted with companies for a while, then after their son was born, they began thinking more seriously about business ownership, but had such different skill sets and career experiences.
But Mike had an idea: Back at the mortgage company, they had been using remanufactured toner cartridges that were removed from the print unit, taken to a plant to be refurbished and then returned. Mike and Ana decided to approach the man doing this to serve as his sales reps.
“We didn’t have any customers so made up a script and I’d call people out of the phonebook,” says Ana. “We had one product only for laser printers. We started in January 1991 and began to get people to say, ‘Okay.’ Before we knew it, we had our second child 19 months later.”
Ana remembers driving to the factory with her children to meet customers. For four years, it was just her and Mike and then they hired a technician and delivery person. They also joined forces with HP to sell their laser printers and other product lines. “We have five kids and our two oldest now work with us…the ones who came to the factory when they were little.”
As the business grew, Ana and Mike grew out of their condo with a basement converted into an office into a house. Since 2009, the business has been all under one roof—outside their home, but not far from the kids’ schools so they could continue to put their family first. “We grew a family and built a business,” she emphasizes.
An Expanded “Family”
For a long time, Ana and Mike were Parmetech’s only salespeople. When they were finally in the position to hire someone to help sell, Ana had breathing room to get out and network. She discovered NAWBO Philadelphia in 2018 when she attended a small networking event, but wasn’t inspired to join. That changed in 2000 when she returned for a larger event.
“I really liked it so I decided to join, and before I knew it, someone asked if I could help the chapter with sponsor outreach for an event,” she says. “I did that and then they needed help with something else.”
Ana was active on the NAWBO Philadelphia Board for 17 consecutive years. She was Alliance chair and co-chair, served on the Executive Committee as secretary and vice president, and was president elect from 2016-2018, president from 2018-2020 and immediate past president from 2020-2022. Today, Ana shares all this NAWBO leadership knowledge with other chapter leaders as part of the President Assembly Steering Committee, or PASC.
During these years, Ana was also part of a group of NAWBO women who trained at the Edward Lowe Foundation in Michigan on their Peerspectives Method for Mastermind facilitation. This resulted in her facilitating a Mastermind group for the NAWBO Institute’s Circle-program for top-tier women business owners for three years.
Additionally, Ana was instrumental in launching NAWBO Philadelphia’s Semi-Circle program—inspired by the national Circle program to help members grow their businesses to the million-dollar level. The program offers a mentor for the year, and Ana helped to secure mentors from her NAWBO network. She also mentored a member based in Los Angeles. Today, Ana continues to support this program as a member of the Semi-Circle Committee.
While Ana has been part of other groups like eWomenNetwork, Business Network International and Women Presidents Organization, NAWBO has been the constant thread in her business life and success. “I don’t see NAWBO as a business generator,” Ana shares. “We have business that has come from it, but most importantly, it’s helped me to mature as a business owner.”
Part of this maturity has come from having such a wide network. Because Parmetech is a certified woman-owned business, Ana began helping to plan supplier diversity programs and bring in supplier diversity managers for those. “My network really exploded and I was able to start connecting people,” she says.
She also listened to several NAWBO Philadelphia leaders who were involved with NAWBO nationally—attending events like the National Women’s Business Conference and serving in leadership roles—and encouraged Ana to do the same. “They’d say, ‘You’ve got to go, NAWBO is so much more than Philly.’”
Ana joined the NAWBO Circle in its first year in 2016, which gave her access to women with much larger companies who she could talk freely with and troubleshoot challenges. Since the program fee includes the National Women’s Business Conference, Ana went for four consecutive years before the pandemic. She missed last year’s conference for her granddaughter’s first birthday and mother’s illness, but was excited to be back this year in Austin—where she accepted the prestigious Susan Hager Award.
Ana had no idea she had been nominated for this honor named after NAWBO’s founding president, so she was incredibly surprised. “I’ve won awards in the past, but I was reading the criteria for this award and just felt very honored and humbled. I have given this organization a lot of my years. When I was president, I felt like I had two full-time jobs trying to grow the chapter and my business, but I did it because I love NAWBO.”
A New Chapter
Parmetech now has 16 employees, including Ana and her son and daughter, plus program analysts and technicians. Ana serves as president and CEO while Mike is CFO. Their son is Parmetech’s Chief Operations Officer.
The company’s core business remains remanufactured cartridges, but they’ve expanded into areas like pay-per-click printing and print environment management. In recent years, they also partnered with ViewSonic and began dabbling in smartboard interactive panels for conference rooms and classrooms.
“This part of our business exploded,” explains Ana. “It took off to the point where if we didn’t have it during COVID, we would have had to lay off employees and eventually close our doors, but didn’t because our main clients are health/hospital systems that were considered essential businesses. We work a lot in higher education, too, which was a ghost town. Our printing went to zero overnight, so this part of our business was our saving grace.”
With printing now making a comeback, Ana and her team are focused on leveraging their interactive technology to get a foot in the door of organizations that might have print needs, too. They’re also finally getting out there again to attend events and network.
“The whole networking thing became so challenging in the virtual world that I was just so grateful to have the network at NAWBO that I did,” she says. “I called 2022 my reconnect year to get back on people’s radars after all the trauma we went through.”
If that’s the case, 2023 has been her year of rewards—for all the years she’s spent building her own business and building NAWBO with a constant focus on family.