2022 Smart Women in Meetings: Entrepreneur

Laurie Amigo

Strategic Branding Director, Halo

Authentic, Purposeful, Engagement

Fierce Fuel: My family is my fuel and zest for life. They renew my passion daily with simple joys and ridiculously amazing moments. This energy carries into my professional career with my clients and creative projects.

Attack Mode: Going back to the basics created an abundance of opportunities in the past few years. Mailing personal notes, creating fun customer trivia contests and focusing on personal engagement created unimaginable opportunities.

Pouncing on live events to meet face-to-face rebirthed my creative energy and enthusiasm. My sales have soared in the last 3 years. The pause in between the year’s chaos allowed me to cross off a few of those “would like to do” lists for myself and my clients. I got organized and intentional.

There were challenging times, indeed, especially with lack of inventory due to supply chain issues, but these times also manifested some of my most creative projects.

Goals Currently Stalking: I believe the next few years are going to be as Nikki Giovanni said, a “marvelous transitory adventure.”  I am looking forward to a beautiful balance of calm and storm. I don’t believe the storm is over yet, but I have a better umbrella to weather the sunny and stormy days.

My goal is to extend my umbrella to clients, friends and family to create a new powerful force to break down barriers for success, friendship and love. My focus is to also achieve bravery in exploring new technology and processes outside of my comfort zone as I go into 2022 with gusto and intention for a ridiculously amazing year!

 

Kimberly Marlin Bean, GMS

Event Strategist, KBT Creative Support Services

Determined, Grateful, Positive

Fierce Fuel: A social creature since childhood, I now see where good fortune as well as challenges in my life led me to a career in hospitality. My family, faith and friends have impacted my life for good, provided me with stability and the belief that I could accomplish my dreams by working hard, doing my best and taking advantage of the opportunities in my path. I love planning, research and making those around me happy with thoughtful details, beauty and unique experiences. My goal with any project (professional or personal) is to creatively use my talents for successful results.

Attack Mode: During the recession of 2008, my husband and I had to reinvent ourselves as the economy affected our livelihood like so many. Being scared can either inspire or defeat you, we began making plans for new careers. Investing our savings in rental properties was intimidating but ended up being a wise move.

Leaning on my background in volunteering/planning events at my alma mater, Lipscomb University in Nashville, I reached out to contacts and accepted a position with the Nashville Public Education Foundation. Soon I was planning board meetings, large fundraising luncheons and dinners, booking entertainment at the best locations in Nashville. With encouragement, I began KBT Creative Support Services in 2011 and love what I do!

Covid-19 hit in March 2020. I was thinking my career was over which inspired me to move ahead carefully and strategically. I began by hosting socially distanced “Patio Paloozas” outdoors in our backyard garden (which became my sanctuary during the pandemic) with colleagues, clients and friends for boxed suppers and old-fashioned visiting.

I entertained over 45 people during that time, and it re-energized me! Professionally, I began arranging site visits in Nashville and regionally to explore unique hotels/resorts. When the travel industry began to safely host conferences for meeting professionals, I jumped at the chance to research new locations, learn best practices, and began posting my experiences on social media. My client list has more than doubled, this “down time” was a blessing in disguise for me to refocus and regroup.

Goals Currently Stalking: Goals for my future include adding to my event planning skill set, introducing my granddaughter to travel (Disney this summer!), expanding my company and client list, traveling and researching new and exciting locations. I would like to join more associations within the travel industry and continue to grow my friendships within the hospitality community.

Giving back has always been an important part of my life from childhood. I do not want to lose that aspect of “ought” and I hope to share that with others personally and professionally. The sense of “ought” shapes how you think, feel and compassionately respond to others. Business is more than money and a list of “to dos”. At the top of that list is humanity and the ability to be kind and honest in business and life.

Personally, I plan to entertain more, travel more, play and cook with my granddaughter, make more memories with those that are important to me, taking the time to be intentional in reaching out to friends and family. Covid-19 taught me there is nothing that replaces spending time together and how extremely fortunate I am to be in this business.

 

Ashley Baptiste

CEO, Conferences Connect

Learn, Share, Grow

Fierce Fuel: I am on a mission to help as many people in the world as possible! Our event series, The Power Conference to ADVANCE Women, helps women thrive. The ripple effect of which rises individuals, families, neighborhoods, communities, etc. to new levels of financial freedom, personal and career success, business leadership and overall well-being. When women live powerful and fully expressed lives, everyone benefits. This is my legacy that fuels my fierce approach to my career and life.

Attack Mode: I certainly didn’t expect Covid-19 to bring our growing conference business to a screeching halt! But when it did, my focus was to help our customers. I asked, “what do our customers need right now? How can we help them? What knowledge, experiences or people can we connect them with so their transition of working-from-the-office to working-from-home will be easier?” It was a huge change for most professionals!

In the process of serving our customers with engaging virtual events, we found many more people beyond our core audience that also wanted our help. We didn’t sit still or wait to ride it out. We threw ourselves into extensive business training to learn the new and ever-changing rules of marketing, sales, developing teams and scaling our business.

Stepping out of our comfort zone, seeing what’s possible, and being open to learning new things has been an incredible growth experience for us. Out of that, our business has grown exponentially. We are positioned to help individuals, teams and companies to transform. To make a difference in many people’s lives powers my mission!

Goals Currently Stalking: Our goal is to grow—to take The Power Conference to ADVANCE Women to twice as many stages for as many people as we can. I mean it—we’re going big! We want to make a big impact—to make the event and its growing community available to anyone who wants to take their careers, relationships and lives to the next level.

We are planning regional hybrid conferences, large annual events, as well as small, exclusive workshops held at luxury resorts to cater to a higher-end clientele. We are in the process of choosing the right partner who can help us reach millions of people to experience this event and participate in its growing community.

 

Jennifer Bello

President, Creative Producer and Event Designer, JB Experiences (also at Hello! DMC)

Direction, Intention, Trust

Fierce Fuel: I am an extremely curious person. I am also extremely passionate about, mostly, everything. All that I do comes from a profound need to express that passion and a deep desire to help others. I take on past experiences, lessons and everything I learn every day to do just that. Creativity is my most effective channel. To me, it’s all about the things and ones you love. That’s where my fuel comes from. It applies to my everyday life and to my career.

Attack Mode: I aim to always remain open to seeing things from another perspective. When something challenging comes my way, the first thing I do is to try to gain a different point of view. The most challenging times might unveil the most unexpected opportunities too.

But if in the end, the only thing I got was the lesson, I take it and use it to help others navigate those challenges and grow. To me, helping others has a unique way to get you out of your head. It makes you see things from another angle.

Goals Currently Stalking: The focus is on growth. Things are happening. The goal is to remain open to these opportunities while becoming a better person and partner for those around me.

 

Janice Cardinale, VEMM

Heart-Centric Entrepreneur, Cardinale Creative

Passion, Possibility, People-Centric

Fierce Fuel: As a female entrepreneur, I am fueled by passion. Early on in my career, I was in an audience of creative event profs and the speaker told everyone, “Never Say ‘No.’” “YES” is my welcomed mantra. My success has been built on relationships with people who trust and respect me. I listen to others because I care, and the long-term benefit contributes to my purpose. I am a natural-born risk taker and open to trying ideas that others in my network might not. Strength, courage and believing in myself bring confidence, rewards and sustained value in my career and life.

Attack Mode: In 2020, I began a mission project called Giving Butterflies with MPI Toronto.  With students graduating from event and hospitality programs, I knew that it would be nearly impossible for them to find work opportunities.

The reason that associations exist is to provide professional development, networking, community and volunteer work to anyone in the event industry. MPI had lost many members at the start of the pandemic and I felt that if I created a bursary, it would open the door to providing experiences that would be appreciated and embraced.

I set up a competition for students across the Province of Ontario and from that we chose 10 students in 2021 who would benefit from the membership funds. These students have found jobs, they are committed and dedicated to their future in an industry that has been decimated.

Further into 2021, many event profs were struggling with mental and physical health issues. I made the commitment to help some I knew. Unlike a GoFundMe, I used my own creative skills, which I sold to corporate planners and others to fund meals, transportation and life’s essentials for these individuals. Peer support is essential now with many people feeling the effects of job loss, business loss and family pressures, we need more.

In Canada, I am advocating for those who struggle with mental health who fear the stigma of this invisible disease in the workplace. I am working on finding like-minded event profs who are willing to share in a panel discussion on this very invisible disease. Change is required in the workplace to allow people to feel safe and secure. This is my mission for 2022.

Goals Currently Stalking: My bucket-list is full and if I can accomplish half of the things on it, I will be a lucky person. At the core of who I am, I decided long ago, that I did not want to leave this earth being remembered for the events I was involved with or the entertainment I mentored over the years, but rather the opportunities I built for others to succeed.

My life is plentiful in many ways and the event industry has always been good to me. Being able to pay it forward has sincerely been my goal long before Covid-19 began. I have been blessed to go on a mission to Africa and have supported the event industry in Canada for many years.

My motto is: “can’t stop, won’t stop.”  I care about climate change, sustainability and the future. I love to write creative content for leading industry publications, I enjoy facilitating round tables and want to continue to guide a younger generation of thought-provoking students into the future with the knowledge that I have to impart.

 

Kelly Gallagher

Vice President, Marketing, Canvas Meetings & Incentives

Elevate, Thrive, Joy

Fierce Fuel: I’m fueled by goals! Whenever I am able to successfully complete a goal or see others around me reach their goals, it brings me immense joy! I want to make myself, my company and my partners as successful as possible! I never stop looking for new ways to seek out those opportunities, and as soon as I reach a goal, I set another. Ultimately, I want to keep staying curious by traveling, seeking new opportunities and encouraging those around me to do the same.

Attack Mode: Canvas didn’t sit back to see what would happen the last two years. We started four new lines of business during the pandemic—virtual events, promotional items, gifting and even a tour and travel division of the company.

We turned in-person events into fully virtual events. From standard webinars to full-blown conferences, we did everything with passion and perseverance! As our events became successful in the virtual space, we started providing gifts to the attendees. The reaction was so positive that this turned into holiday and client gifting. We were in survival mode and we all know that being in hospitality means you do a variety of things beyond your job title. It then felt natural to become a direct promotional product distributor.

While larger scale events were on pause, many of our current clients and personal network connections pushed us to use our expertise in global planning to support their leisure trips. We decided to take on the task of creating a Tour and Travel division of our company, and we’ve taken social groups all over the world this year—from Nashville to Cancun to the Maldives!!

We are not scared to take risks, and we’ve been rewarded because of it!  We are thriving in so many new ways that we really believe we are coming into 2022 as a whole new company with even more opportunities. And we aren’t stopping here! Canvas is staying curious, being brave and having fun. We hope everyone comes along with us.

Goals Currently Stalking: On a professional level, we have goals at Canvas that fall into several different buckets. The first is clearly financial. We want to hit huge milestones with revenue and growth in our Meetings & Incentives division. But we always strive to do so in a natural and considerate way, with clients and partners that we value and trust.

We are going to be looking for amazing new team members this year that want to be a part of what we are building. We also want to help each of our current and future team members find ways to expand their knowledge and role at Canvas, so that they can be professionally, emotionally and financially successful for many years to come.

We have unique and clear goals for our Tour & Travel division as well. We have so much opportunity for growth here, and we hope to really lean into this and find the best path forward to ensure this thrives into what we’ve been dreaming of.

On a personal level, I think the last two years have really reinforced that I want to keep my life and finances diversified. I bought my first investment property just a few months ago, with a goal to grow that portfolio to at least 5 properties in the next 5 years!  

 

Liz Green, CMP, CTA

CEO, ELEVAR Events by Liz Green, LLC

Passion, Perseverance and Inspirational

Fierce Fuel: Showing up for myself as myself has been a mantra I’ve chosen to live my life by. It guides my personal life and my career. Knowledge is power; I love the multifaceted event planning experience, challenge and depth I gain when I collaborate on various client projects. When you love what you do, then it’s no longer work and this passion elevates your life, career and even your clients’ events. I want my kids to witness this passion and fuel their own desires. I want to know that I more than showed up and represented myself at my best.

Attack Mode: Starting my event planning company full time during a global pandemic proved to be one of the challenging things I have done yet. With patience, perseverance and an open mind, I have found that many great things can arise from going through adverse situations. I believe that challenging times are not only a time to strengthen existing skill sets but to recognize your weaknesses and look for opportunity for growth.

During the last two years, I identified and set new personal goals that would allow me to not only grow as an individual but allow me to step out of my comfort zone learning new skills. I challenged myself to dive deeper into exploring the ever-growing list of new technologies and innovation to stay cutting-edge.

I attended webinars and identified additional certifications that I could pursue that would diversify my skill sets. Connecting with my peers that I would otherwise see as competitors allowed me to share knowledge, best practices and experiences while building new friendships. Staying flexible and open changed my perspective and my business model to better serve my existing clients as well as offer new services to potential clients.

Transparency and having open communication started many dialogues that have allowed me to position myself to continue moving forward through the challenges. I always try to jump in and say “yes” when an opportunity presents itself even if I do not know how to accomplish the project working out the details later.

Goals Currently Stalking: I am so excited for the coming years. I am working towards having my company recognized nationally as a woman-owned certified business. I believe this validation will allow me to expand my business.

I would love to grow into an organization hiring young individuals going into the hospitality industry where I can provide them great career experience and mentorship. I would also like to work towards obtaining my Certified Special Events Professional (CSEP) designation.

I will continue to look for ways to better help my community and those in need around me. Personally, I plan to run the Disney half-marathon in the next couple of years. The best is yet to come!

 

Mahoganey Jones, CMP, DES

Founder and CEO, Event Specialists Inc.

Intentional, Fun, Supporter

Fierce Fuel: I’m a firm believer in professional development and to always be learning. I also believe in having fun and went into business for myself to do what I love and be able to be with my family.

Attack Mode: I leaned into relationships and collaboration. I’ve built industry partnerships with fellow event planners, producers and techs. Knowing I can’t accomplish everything I want on my own, I reached out for help and offered help.

I also embraced the knowledge that I already had and used the time to perfect my skills. I also chose to spend the majority of my time focused on the production and tech side of events that I love and built a team off complimentary skills.

Goals Currently Stalking: I’m focused on continuing to scale the business to allow me to spend more time building the EventPreneur Club. I also want to finally travel more with my family.

Covid reminded me of how much fun I have with my family and that my work can be balanced without sacrificing family time. Having my daughters join the business when they get older is a dream I see coming true very soon.

 

Heather Mason

CEO, Caspian Agency

Impact, Strategy, Science

Fierce Fuel: I believe in abundance. There is more than enough money, opportunity and innovation for all of us. We are only limited by our imagination. I also have a keen awareness of my own mortality. I want to spend these short years on earth making a difference, no matter how small or grand.

Attack Mode: Having lived through disruption before (the internet, 2008 financial crisis) I have seen how these moments are ripe for innovation. A loss of business in one area can lead to a constellation of opportunity in another.

We were able to show clients how their events should never have just been one—but rather entire convening journeys. This type of thinking and strategic offerings led us from the one-event-at-a-time business to multiple, year-long engagements. We also created online trainings in this type of thinking and started to engage in many more overseas partnerships.

Goals Currently Stalking: We are aiming for more multi-year and multi-dimensional event contracts with clients. We have seen a shift over the years, and accelerated by Covid, that clients understand events as a strategic, professional business. We plan to continue to leverage that.

We plan more growth internationally and to flex into more corporate social good clients as opposed to our traditional foundation ones. I am personally extremely excited about hybrid and how that is going to change forever the landscape of events (for the better!) And personally, I am booking more speaking and MC opportunities for every type of client.

 

Michele Stephenson

CEO and Founder, MDS Events LLC

Balance, Happiness, Family

Fierce Fuel: I love what I do!  My clients are my friends! It’s important to me to have a trusting relationship with my clients, just like they were my family.  My family means the world to me, and I would do anything in the world for them. I am very grateful and optimistic in life!

Attack Mode: I pivoted and focused on youth sports. My son is a hockey coach, and he was letting the Team Moms know what I do and how I can help them with booking rooms for their tournaments. It really worked well, and I started working with other sport teams with other team moms that were my friends. It wasn’t anything like booking corporate events, but if kept my mind fresh and focused. Networking is key even with your family and friends.

Goals Currently Stalking: Keep on doing what I love the most! Owning my company, spending time with my family and new grandbaby, good friends and keeping a balance, healthy, successful life. I run half-marathons and I am very active in working out and sports. This keeps my mind fresh every day! I am very lucky to have such a good life!

 

Lizz Torgovnick

Chief Creative Officer and Co-Founder, Sequence

Curiosity, Inspiration, Collaboration

Fierce Fuel: I find the process of discovery and creativity to be endlessly fascinating and motivating. I love learning something new every day or seeing a new perspective, being a part of a collaborative team impacting people and organizations every day and making beautiful and meaningful experiences.

My partners fuel me, seeing the incredible company we have built and continue to improve every day. My daughters both fuel me and remind me to disconnect and recharge—unplugging can put it all into perspective. It’s fun to share my work with them and get their unfiltered reactions, especially when we have a project involving kids!

Attack Mode: I am generally a realist, so the first step to pouncing when it came most recently to the pandemic and the shift in our industry was just accepting that it was happening and that we had no control.

Then, a quick shift away from what we couldn’t control to what we could: we started talking about virtual nonstop, while at the same time looking at the puzzle pieces (staff, systems, skill sets, areas of expertise) we already had in place within Sequence and how to rearrange them for the new reality.

Starting the conversation morphed quickly into leading the conversation as we became a sounding board for what our clients wanted, what they knew and didn’t know. They had questions, we needed to provide those answers…so we did! We had to stay confident, to know we could make this shift on our strong foundation, and then just make magic like we always do.

We were focused on the same goals, solving the same challenges, using the same systems, but with some different tools in a new context. Our Biz Dev team was out there knocking on doors when many were standing by waiting to see what would happen, which got us into a lot of (Zoom) rooms we would not have been otherwise. As this virtual event work was coming to fruition, we had even more to show potential clients every day and that momentum has continued to sustain our forward motion during this challenging time.

Goals Currently Stalking: I’d like to focus on where my personal and professional goals overlap. That’s within the creative space, utilizing a unique systematic approach that bridges the right-brain and left-brain. With so many things to juggle in founding and sustaining a business over 10+ years, having a family, and just being a human it’s easy to get sidetracked.

The big goal for us right now is building a creative department at Sequence which will support our focus on strategy-first experiences, no matter what they are or who they are for. We have always done things that way, but this is the time for us to formalize it and amplify it across the company in a new way.

We are improving our systems and processes, creating new and more integrated tools, and a shared language around the creative process. The goal is to create a department with the perfect blend of skill sets, while maintaining a fully collaborative approach to creativity where everyone from every department has a seat at the table.

With all of this happening within the company, I also want to get out of the (home) office and back into the inspiring world around me! I have implemented no-meeting Fridays for myself to make room for a weekly inspiration day (field trips both event-related and not), taking classes (sustainable design, sketching), and finding more hands-on craft time with my daughters who love making things, too! All of these goals boil down to one for me: I want to feel inspired.

 

Tess Vismale, CMP, DES

Chief Event Executioner, isocialx

Humanity, Bridge-builder, Gratitude

Fierce Fuel: As a third-gen Spelman Woman and after working there for six years, I inherently know the power of women. I was bred to serve humanity and seek to change the world. Therefore, if I can give value to my fellow event profs, that alone will exceed my expectations. I always want to share the ideas of moving our industry and our colleagues to higher growth.

Attack Mode: Before Covid-19 collapsed our hospitality industry, we were always on the road educating professionals on the latest technologies and practical tech solutions that can make their lives more comfortable and more efficient. We serviced more than 40 meetings annually for our clients.

We were in the process of building capacity to be able to deliver practical tech education to empower people to use the devices and tools they need daily. Also, we were expanding our event execution consulting services to include tech support for face-to-face. This growth included hiring a virtual assistant, content designer and accountant/bookkeeper.

We decided to respect the pause that this crisis has afforded us, think local first, and pivot towards virtual experiences for Atlanta area parents, professionals and small businesses. I also applied for and won grants. These opportunities were the lifeline to keeping iSosiclalExecution, Inc. open.

This is how the “new normal” looks for us: We create a virtual hand-holding experience. We serve as help desk and technology expert whether clients have issues with the tech or need to simplify the work from home processes. It includes thought leadership, event/edtech coaching, remote hosting, virtual and hybrid facilitating, audience advocacy and speaker management for virtual events.

Goals Currently Stalking: I am shifting my business to focus on ideation and what is possible. I hope to engage in thought-provoking dialogue, spark progressive thoughts and actively listen to my peers, for I have an eternal love for humanity.

I want to continue to be intentional about fostering environments and partnerships that create a better business events industry. In my thoughts, words and deeds, I want to demystify the belief that we need to be competitors instead of collaborators when doing business. This is for the greater good of the event, our industry and the world.

In addition, I want to continue providing mentorship and educational resources for the next generation. One example is time volunteering with Good Journey Development Foundation. We work with students, teaching them the importance of digital citizenship and how to engage with technology safely and productively.

As a result, we have seen students have that “aha moment” and become more mindful of their online presence. In addition, after exposing them to different technologies, many have also expressed interest in pursuing event production as a career.

My last goal is to continue to educate and campaign companies and organizations to create the role of the Event Technologist. This vital role is key to the success of our industry. Whether they hire internal or engage a consultant, everyone needs a person to help oversee and streamline the technical aspects for virtual/hybrid event experiences.

I will know I reached my goal when companies follow the lead of Informa Markets by hiring an SVP, Technology & Transformation. An Event Technologist that sits in the C-suite is real progress.

 

Deirdra A. Watson, CPR, EOES

Founder and Managing Director, Concept Solutions

Collaborative, Trustworthy, Innovative

Fierce Fuel: I am fueled by the vision of people and teams coming together in a successful, collaborative way. I make sure that everything is taken care of down to the minute details, including how a family member, staff member, vendor or client is feeling about the process and the potential outcomes of what we are doing together.

I take the importance of family and friends and apply that to my business, yet I also strive to take the things I learn as a leader and coach and use that in a productive way, so that everyone has an enjoyable experience.

Attack Mode: Being an independent entrepreneur, I have pounced on opportunities by embracing new technologies and I am always networking and listening to not only industry peers but vendors and subject matter experts. Many of us in the event industry had to pivot. What do we do now?

In early 2019, I had been a guest on a show called Best in Events. I contacted the host and had a conversation about Covid. It grew to be a regular show that I co-hosted for the first year and a half. We talked to many industry professionals from Sanitation to Online Virtual Event platform providers. We opened the discussion on what the industry looked like and what it would look like tomorrow and beyond.

My networking has led to opportunities in the past two years for clients, from developing public relations, marketing, and Kickstarter campaigns, to doing website development as well as my true passion events. Those events although all virtual (except for planning my own wedding in 2020) included galas, silent auctions, youth events and association conferences. A number of those opportunities lead me to do video editing as well.

No matter whether we are in a pandemic, or we are back to some type of normalcy, networking and having conversations is extremely important. For me, it is about building the relationships that will lead to lasting trusting relationships, referrals, and opportunities today, tomorrow and beyond.

Goals Currently Stalking: I have always found that with life, your goals are forever changing.  One minute you are writing down goals like: “I want to travel the world” or “I want to win another award for a live event.”  Then a thing called a pandemic hit.

For 2022, my main goal is to concentrate on growing my business and adding more services to my business. Although I did provide them in the past, it has become apparent to me that clients need these services, and they want to see that you offer them.

I want to make it easier working together so they do not have to outsource. Especially since we are going to be doing hybrid and virtual events for a long, long time. I am stalking a goal to start a podcast in 2022. I still don’t have a name for it, but one day it will come to me.

My personal goal is to get into better shape (those Covid-19 pounds need to go). I also want to spend more time with my new husband. Not that we don’t spend enough time together, as we both work from home, I just want to be present more.

Finally, my big goal is to do more things that bring me joy. My motto has always been “Do what you love. Love what you do.” That is one of the reasons I am in meetings and event management, I have a passion for it and a love for the industry and the people in it.

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