Sima Ladjevardian is a lawyer, a mother of two, a small business owner, and a community and political activist. After leaving political upheaval and revolution, Sima’s family arrived in the United States and, through her journey as an immigrant, she saw first-hand the power and promise this country can provide. She has since worked extensively to ensure that hardworking families have all the opportunities to strive and be healthy. She was one of the first Iranian-American major party nominees for Congress. She ran in TX-2 on providing affordable access to health care for all. She was named as Houston’s Most Influential Women 2020-2021.
For the last 2 years, she was appointed as Regional Director for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, serving as HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra’s representative responsible for guiding and coordinating HHS policy initiatives as they related to state, local, and tribal governments in Region 6 covering Arkansas, Louisiana, New Mexico, Oklahoma, and Texas, as well as 68 federally recognized tribal nations.
Ms. Ladjevardian serves as a Trustee of the Harris Health Systems and the Museum of Fine Arts of Houston. She has served on many boards in the past including the Center for Public Policy and Priorities.
Ms. Ladjevardian holds a Bachelor’s degree in Business Economics from UCLA and a Juris Doctorate degree from Hastings College of Law. She is fluent in French, Farsi and Spanish.
Katica Roy is an award-winning gender economist, former Global 500 global executive, programmer, data scientist, and the CEO and founder of an award-winning SaaS company, Pipeline. CNN, MSNBC, CBS, Bloomberg, Cheddar, MarketWatch, Yahoo Finance, Wharton Business, Newsy, and NBC have sought Katica for her sharp and unconventional take on the day’s headlines. She has interviewed President Biden, Vice President Harris, Senators Booker and Gillibrand, Secretary Pete, Canadian Pay Equity Commissioner Karen Jensen, Sophia Bush, Eve Rodsky, Gretchen Carlson, and Dr. Maya Rockeymoore Cummings.
Her high-octane, visionary articles have been published by the World Economic Forum, Fast Company, Fortune, Forbes, Bloomberg, NBC, Entrepreneur, The Hill, The Advocate, Harvard Business Review, and Morning Consult. Her articles have garnered over 2.9 billion impressions.
In 2017 Katica was named a Luminary by the Colorado Technology Association; in 2018 a Colorado Governors’ Fellow; in 2019 a Top 25 Most Powerful Women in Business and awarded the Stevie Entrepreneur of the Year—Gold Award; in 2020 she was named the Colorado Entrepreneur of the Year; in 2022 a LinkedIn Top Influencer for gender equity. She is a member of Fast Company’s Impact Council and Bloomberg’s New Economy Forum.
Pipeline uses advanced technology to make intersectional gender parity a reality in our lifetime. In addition to its core platform, Pipeline launched the first gender equity app on Salesforce’s AppExchange. Pipeline was also named as one of TIME Magazine’s Best Inventions of 2019, Fast Company’s 2020 World’s Most Innovative Companies, Fast Company’s 2021 Next Big Things in Tech, and Fast Company’s 2022 World Changing Ideas. Pipeline is backed by both Accenture and Workday.
Samantha Abrams is a transformational leader with more than 20 years serving in private and nonprofit sector roles leading dynamic growth teams. She’s a skilled relationship architect in strategic corporate partnerships and engagement board development and management with an exercised level of comfort engaging with high level domestic and international stakeholders. She is known to be an agile strategist with deep knowledge and experience in co-designing and executing strategic plans with data driven outcomes.
Samantha is the founder & CEO of Color Lens Consulting, a boutique consultancy firm focusing on creating business connections beyond borders through government advocacy. She is known as a global ecosystem leader equipping and advising entrepreneurs at every stage of their journey. As founder and CEO of her family company, they have built Caribbean restaurants in the Maryland//DC area and have a vision to expand.
Samantha has served on numerous boards and commissions. She has been appointed to the National Women’s Business Council by The Honorable Isabella Casillas Guzman, Administrator of the U.S. Small Business Administration. She is on the Advisory Board for the University of Guyana Foundation, an advisor for the Guyana Economic Development Trust and several early-stage impact companies. In addition, she sits on the Board of Directors for Black Public Media and is a Founding Board member of the Social Justice School. Samantha holds a Bachelor of Science degree from Bowie State University.
Leslie Lynn Smith is a member of the United WE-Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation Commission on Childcare and Women’s Entrepreneurship. She is also the Founder and Principal of Themis Strategic Partners, a consulting firm focused on developing actionable strategies at the intersection of equity and growth. Immediately prior to founding Themis Strategic Partners, Smith was the National Executive Director for GET Cities (Gender Equity in Tech) at SecondMuse Foundation. She remains a Senior Strategic Advisor to GET Cities. Her work is powered by a vision for American cities that leverages economic justice and inclusion to enrich and empower individuals, families and communities.
Smith was born in Detroit during the city’s 1967 civil uprisings. The city’s history of fighting for racial justice inspired her work to build a more fair and just society where everyone has equal access to economic opportunity. Her years of work, across the country, in economic empowerment and community-based business development shaped her view that local entrepreneurs are best equipped to solve the challenges in their communities and create a more just and equitable society.
Before joining GET Cities, Smith was the founding president and CEO of Epicenter, a nonprofit hub for the greater Memphis entrepreneurial community. In that role, she drove strategy for a network of economic-development, academic, corporate, and government partners to increase support for new and existing community-based businesses and entrepreneurs.
Smith was also president and CEO of TechTown, Detroit’s most established business incubator and accelerator. She helped to launch novel urban economic development programs, create tech-based companies, and launch robust regional entrepreneurship collaborations.
Smith was director of business acceleration for the Michigan Economic Development Corporation, overseeing the state’s $300 million start-up investment portfolio. She also managed the statewide innovation economy and its partner network, including research universities, incubators, accelerators, and the philanthropic and private sectors.
Smith has been featured as a TEDx speaker as well as in Forbes, Fortune, and StyleBlueprint. She was named one of the Memphis Business Journal’s “Super Women of Business” in 2019. Her active board service includes the Center for American Entrepreneurship where she is Vice Chair, and the National Women’s Business Council at the U.S. Small Business Administration.
Kathy Cochran founded Elevate2 Consulting, an organization dedicated to accelerating business growth and organizational success for women business owners through business management coaching and advisory services.
Before starting Elevate2, Kathy held executive leadership roles at Microsoft and chief operating officer roles for several technology companies. These roles provided experience in mergers and acquisitions, global partner development, business development, internal operations, and, most importantly, team development.
But her passion for women-led businesses returned her full circle to her rural small business roots. Kathy works with small businesses to transform ‘how’ they work to create financial and organizational success. She believes the sustainable growth and success of women business owners will lead to economic parity and systemic change for our next generation of women business owners.
Kathy also teaches process leadership and project management at Moorhead State University-Moorhead and is learning the art of grandparenting.
Brandy R. Butler, President and CEO of ADC Management Solutions (formerly Aspen of DC), has more than 20 years of education and leadership experience in the human resources industry. An accomplished staffing professional and marketer, her vision and expertise have driven enterprise growth for the company since its inception in 2003.
Ms. Butler’s merger of creative and operational strengths has helped guide ADC-MS in a highly competitive and evolving industry. As an executive, she incorporates her experience in marketing, operations, finance and overall quality control. Her strategic approach to business development has won several key local and Federal government and commercial contracts for the company, including the U.S. Department of Transportation, the U.S. Department of Treasury, the U.S. Census Bureau, and ICF International.
Ms. Butler is an entrepreneur committed to expanding business opportunities for woman and minority-owned companies, as well as employment opportunities for diverse candidates. She is known for developing strong and meaningful relationships with clients and employees alike in an attempt to continuously provide the best service to fulfill client needs. Ms. Butler is driven by facilitating successful matches that satisfy customers and provide rewarding employment for associates.
Prior to the founding of ADC-MS, Ms. Butler began to hone her entrepreneurship and project management skills through a series of key positions. In 2001, she launched AspenLegal, a division of the Aspen Group, Inc., which included legal staffing and training. She was additionally responsible for project management for a major facilities management contract with Lockheed Martin.
Before arriving at the Aspen Group, Ms. Butler showed early promise as an entrepreneur as the Corporate Operations Manager for Silverlake Foods and then as the President and Owner of Berryland Foods, Inc., a specialty food distribution company. Through these roles, she established herself as a keen manager of budgets, human resources, and national operations.
Through ADC-MS, Ms. Butler demonstrates her commitment and dedication to giving back to the community. She has previously served as a member of the Howard University Small Business Development Committee, which strives to help small businesses gain the tools required to become successful and sustainable. Ms. Butler has also mentored young minds through Horton’s Kids, a nonprofit that provides comprehensive services to children in Washington, DC’s Ward 8.
In 2010, Ms. Butler established a partnership between ADC-MS and the Princess Mhoon Dance Institute to create the Aspen Arts Foundation (AAF), an organization committed to providing comprehensive arts programs, including life skills mentoring and scholarship assistance for young citizens in inner-city communities. The mission of AAF is to provide underserved youth living in Washington DC’s wards 5, 7 and 8 with innovative artistic programming to support quality arts development and preparation for the next generation of inventors, business leaders and innovators. In its inaugural year, AAF enriched the lives of 15 children through Dancing Feet, an afterschool program including homework study with a tutor, dancing instruction and life skills enrichment sessions.
She is currently a member of the Local Corporate Advisory Council of the National Forum for Black Public Administrators, a nonprofit that seeks to strengthen the role of African Americans in public administration and public service organizations. Butler has also served as the LCAC’s Special Event Committee Chair, and was responsible for planning educational, networking and community service activities.
In 2011, Ms. Butler received two honors from Washington’s SmartCEO magazine. She was named to the Smart100, an exclusive group of 100 CEOs who represent the region’s most influential thought-leaders, and she was one of 25 female CEOs, Presidents, Executive Directors, Founders and Owners presented with the Brava! Women in Business Achievement Award. In 2012, Ms Butler received the Washington Business Journal’s Minority Business Leader Award. In 2013, ADC-MS was listed as one of the Top Women-Owned Businesses by the Washington Business Journal and was a Finalist in the Industry Star Small Category for the SmartCEO GOVStar Awards.
Ms. Butler received her Bachelor’s Degree in Human Resources Management from Temple University. She is a graduate of the University of Virginia Darden Minority Business Executive Program and received an Employment Law Accreditation Certification and Certified Staffing Professional (CSP) from the American Staffing Association. Butler is currently completing a Master’s Degree in Human Resources Management at the Catholic University of America. She is also pursuing a Project Management Professional (PMP®) Certification through the Project Management Institute. Mostly recently, she graduated first cohort of the Goldman Sachs 10K Small Business Program in Baltimore, Maryland and is an active member in Leader Greater Washington and Young Presidents’ Organization (YPO).
Karen is the Chief Executive Officer and Co-founder of Blink UX, an evidence-driven design firm.
She is primarily focused on company vision and developing strategies to get there. She has a long history of execution and implementation, in combination with innovative, big picture thinking. Karen’s leadership approach is founded in Blink’s design principles, starting with research and prototyping, while continuously gathering feedback to stay relevant and fluid as she guides the company.
Karen’s leadership philosophy is grounded in what she calls being a “Possibility Thinker.” Her optimistic, fully present approach to life enables her to turn big visionary ideas into action, and plant a seed for what is possible in everyone she meets.
In support of Blink’s mission, to enrich people’s lives, Blink is a positive, values driven environment for both employees and clients, with a high standard of excellence. To measure and maintain Blink’s culture, Karen implemented a cultural framework, with six pillars to ensure employees leave at the end of the day feeling valued, and ready to create a bigger impact in the world around them.
Karen began her career studying fine arts in Vancouver, British Columbia, at the Emily Carr University of Art and Design. She holds a degree in fine arts from the University of Victoria and is a graduate of the Information Technology & Multimedia program at Capilano University in Vancouver.
Through her work at Blink, Karen was a winner of the 2016 Enterprising Women of the Year award and a finalist for the Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year award in 2015. In 2016, Blink was listed on Forbes Magazine’s Best 25 Small Companies in America list.
Karen writes a column for Forbes.com on the Entrepreneurs channel discussing many topics including how UX is Revolutionizing Business. A 2020 biography talks about her leadership through chaos, in Seattle’s tech authority, Geekwire. in 2016, Karen was featured in a small-business commercial for MetLife, which aired internationally over two years.
In 2020 Karen was appointed to the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) Office of the National Ombudsman, Regulatory Fairness Board, which represents small businesses’ voice on regulatory fairness issues.
Karen is a member of the Small Giants Community, the International Leadership Association (ILA), and is the Executive Director for the nonprofit organization she founded in 2014, Girls Can Do. GCD is an event series for girls with the mission to inspire a generation of possibility thinkers and ignite a vision for equal opportunity. In 2016, First Lady Michelle Obama gave a keynote video address, and Karen received a thank you letter from President Obama for her work with girls.
Karen speaks at conferences and loves to talk to entrepreneurs and students. In June 2019, she was on the keynote panel at the global Women and Leadership conference, and she is often a guest on radio and podcasts. In August 2019, she was interviewed on “Patricia Kathleen Talks with Female Entrepreneurs” a mentoring podcast. In 2017, Karen was interviewed on Sirius radio’s Mind Your Business, by the Wharton School of Business. In 2020, Karen became a regular member of the weekly podcast called “The 21 Hats” sharing candid business experiences with entrepreneurs.
Karen lives in Seattle, Washington, and was born and raised in Victoria, Canada. She loves to trail run, garden, backcountry ski, kitesurf, and hang out with her amazing daughter.
Mrs. Selena Rodgers Dickerson is the president of SARCOR, LLC, an engineering design and project management firm, and Selene, LLC, a diverse business solutions company. A Birmingham native, Selena is a graduate of Ramsay Alternative High School. She received a Bachelor of Science in Civil Engineering from Tennessee State University, and her Master in Business Administration in Project Management from Capella University. After getting laid off in 2010, Selena knew that she could either look for a job or look for contracts. She chose to pursue her own contracts. Through prayer, drive, ambition and perseverance, Selena grew SARCOR from a one-person firm to a team of engineers and management professionals. Now, through Selene, LLC, she seeks to help grow and develop other small businesses and raise awareness that minority firms are more than a minority participation goal.
Selena is a graduate of SBA’s Emerging Leaders Program and Leadership Birmingham. Most recently, she published an opinion article, “I was not ok,” on al.com on her triumph over domestic violence. In December 2019, she graduated from the Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Business program at Babson College, the #1 school for entrepreneurship in America. Additionally, she is the recipient of several awards including the Alabama Department of Transportation DBE Consultant of the Year (2017), Summit Media Fusion Creator Award (2018), Birmingham Business Journal’s Entrepreneur Spotlight (2014), and Dr. A.G. Gaston Minority or Women-Owned Emerging Business of the Year (2013). Selena was featured on the PBS nationally televised show, Start Up (October 2014), she serves on several local boards, the City of Birmingham’s Small Business Council, and she makes time for family, mentoring, volunteering, and community service activities. Selena is an active member of Mount Pilgrim Missionary Baptist Church in Fairfield, AL.
Jenny Poon is a serial entrepreneur and founder of HUUB and CO+HOOTS. As the daughter of Vietnamese refugees and a self-made entrepreneur, she speaks, writes and advocates daily to for safer entrepreneur ecosystems for women and people of color. She currently is CEO of HUUB, a data-driven digital platform for governments to streamline delivery of small business support services. Before HUUB, Jenny founded the first coworking space in Phoenix, AZ. Which she grew to 2 locations, created thousands of jobs, serving more than 500 entrepreneurs monthly. Her over a decade of experience in supporting entrepreneurs through CO+HOOTS and her experience as a daughter of small business owners, is what drives her work with HUUB and equity building today.
She contributes regularly to Kauffman Foundation, Business Journals and Arizona Republic/USA Today.
CO+HOOTS: Ranked No. 4 coworking space in the U.S. by Inc.com, CO+HOOTS currently houses 500+ scaling entrepreneurs and small businesses across two Arizona cities, was the first coworking space in Phoenix and has been an integral role in creating thousands of jobs locally. Jenny led CO+HOOTS from its inception in 2010 to being recently ranked the No. 1 most innovative coworking space in the world. Through her background in business, design-thinking and marketing, she built a place where she could connect with like-minded professionals who believe business growth comes from collaboration between different industries. She speaks regularly on leadership, the importance of nurturing innovation in the workspace and works tirelessly to bring visibility to coworking as a new economic development tool for building vibrant and equitable cities.
Jenny serves as an advisor for numerous startups, Board Chair of CO+HOOTS Foundation (a 501c3 nonprofit) and as a mentor for several young entrepreneurs. Jenny was named Phoenix Business Journal’s 2016 Phoenix Businessperson of the Year. The first minority and the first woman to receive the honor.