The Greater Reading Chamber of Commerce & Industry's group Women2Women on Thursday introduced its Latina business owner round tables at a panel discussion at the Crowne Plaza Reading in Wyomissing.
Attended by about 30 Latinas, the event kicked off an effort by the economic group to involve Latinas, said Karen Marsdale, senior vice president at the chamber and founder of Women2Women.
"Our goal is to start to bridge the gap between the Latina business community and the traditional women business community," she said. "We have a huge common goal in making woman businesses successful."
Marsdale said she hopes this acts as a catalyst for Latina business owners to join the group and to use the resources available.
The event included a panel discussion by area businesswomen Rebecca Acosta, Reading School District board member; Leticia Marshall, regional vice president of Marketflex at Nationwide Financial; Elsie M. Maduro, senior community development officer at Sovereign Bank; and Johanny Cepeda, owner of Mi Casa Su Casa, 320 Penn St. Carolina Martinez, director of Kutztown University Latino Business Resource Center and one of the event organizers, acted as moderator.
Cepeda said she hoped to share her experiences as a business owner: "the good, the bad and the ugly."
She said the event is an opportunity to network and to share with other business owners.
"We are not alone and are in this together," Cepeda said. "(We can) collaborate and help to figure out ways to help one another be better and more profitable through these tough economic times."
She added that she hopes to continue attending and participating in Women2Women events that fit her schedule.
Margarita M. Caicedo, Reading Area Community College coordinator for bilingual ESL program and also a council member at Women2Women, helped to organize the event.
She said she thinks of herself as a liaison and hopes that this event helps to close the gap between Latinas and the rest of the women business community.
Caicedo said she thinks it is the right moment for an event like this.
"Ten years ago we could not have put this together," she said.
But a combination of willingness to work together, the large number of Latina business owners and a need for help can make a collaborative effort by all women business owners possible today.
"We are trying to put together professional, entrepreneurial lives," Caicedo said. "What I can feel, and I have been talking to a lot of (Latina business owners), they are ready for this and they are like 'OK, it's about time.' "
Also in attendance was Maria Montero, executive director for the state's Commission on Latino Affairs and Commission for Women. She said the event could help ease the entry of Latinas into Women2Women.
After the launch event, Latina business owners will be welcomed to join roundtable groups of between 10 and 12 women, Marsdale said.
The number of groups will be contingent on the interest in the Latina community.
The model for round tables include monthly luncheons with topic ideas such as legal, financial, marketing and motivation, Marsdale described. The lunches also include a subject matter expert to help guide the discussion.
The goal of the round tables is to build trust among a group of like-minded women and discuss a gamut of business questions.
Running a business is the common ground that can bring a whole community of women business owners together, she said.
Marsdale said taking advantage of this resource opens the door to many more resources offered by the Chamber and the community.
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