The Washington Center for Women in Business (WCWB) is delighted to once again co-host the INSPIRE Women’s Business Conference on May 23, 2024, in Lacey, offering inspiration, education and networking. This year’s in-person conference features motivating speakers and sessions on cultural leadership, entrepreneurship, e-commerce, small business loans, government contracts and much more, plus opportunities to meet area vendors and women-owned businesses.

“I have a feeling that it’s going to be sold out,” says WCWB Program Manager Ashley Whitley, in encouraging attendees to register now for the 2024 conference. There is space for 250 in the South Puget Sound Community College Lacey Campus venue. Most participants typically are from Thurston County, primarily Olympia, Tumwater and Lacey.

“And we have an online option for live-streaming at one-fourth the cost, which is still great access to networking, speaker bios and presentations,” adds Whitley.

Influential Speakers at Thurston County Business Conference Inspires Women Entrepreneurs

Hosted by the WCWB and the Thurston Economic Development Council, the conference promises a rich day of empowering and uplifting women in business. Attendees will connect with like-minded individuals in women-owned businesses, hear from successful entrepreneurs and experts, and discover new business strategies. “We will talk about leadership, women empowerment and understanding cultural impacts,” says Whitley.

Vanessa Munson headhsot
Vanessa Munson, Miss Washington 2023, will address leadership and women empowerment at the INSPIRE Women’s Business Conference. She became the first active duty military member to achieve the title. Photo courtesy: Washington Center for Women in Business

Miss Washington 2023 Vanessa Munson, a keynote speaker, will address leadership and women empowerment. Munson served as a U.S. Army Human Resource Specialist at Joint Base Lewis-McChord and became the first active-duty military member to achieve the Miss Washington title. She has successfully juggled a career and higher education while managing a hearing loss. She is a senior at American Military University pursuing a bachelor’s degree in business management with a marketing minor. 

“We will have two Native speakers talking about cultural leadership and diversity,” adds Whitley. Stacey McQuade-Eger, executive director of the Affiliated Tribes of Northwest Indians Economic Development Corporation, is also a keynote. McQuade-Eger is an attorney and enrolled tribal member of the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribe of the Flathead Reservation in Montana. Melanie Montgomery, Quinault Indian Nation member and Board President of Native Action Network, is also featured.

Kate Isler headshot
Kate Isler is the cofounder and CEO of WMarketplace, a nationwide e-commerce marketplace for women-owned businesses. She is providing an educational session at the INSPIRE Conference in Lacey. Photo courtesy: Washington Center for Women in Business

Kate Isler will be speaking. Isler is cofounder and CEO of WMarketplace, a nationwide e-commerce marketplace for women-owned businesses to sell their products, including professional and personal services. Isler spent 20 years at Microsoft, is on the global board of Girl Rising and is an International Women’s Forum mentor.

Other influential speakers include life coach and workplace consultant Jen Thomas of Chameleon O’Clock LLC; award-winning coach Jenefeness Franke of Fiscal Finesse Consulting, representing Black-Owned Business Excellence and the Washington African American Chamber of Commerce; U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) Deputy District Director Melanie M. Norton; a small business owners panel; and many more business leaders. Agenda details will be posted on the INSPIRE webpage. This is all in addition to a local small business panel representing Thurston County in five different industries.

Jenefeness Franke sitting on a tree branch in a dress reading a book
Jenefeness Franke of Fiscal Finesse Consulting is one of the many influential speakers scheduled at the INSPIRE Conference. Check the Washington Center for Women in Business website for details. Photo courtesy: Washington Center for Women in Business

“We want to provide enough motivation for people to believe they can be an entrepreneur,” Whitley says.

Nominate Women-Owned Businesses for INSPIRE 2024 Awards

The conference will applaud outstanding women-owned businesses in 2023 by giving awards in three categories: Innovation, Community Impact, and Leadership. “We want to recognize what people are doing in these three categories,” says Whitley.

Complete this online form before March 15 to nominate a local business. The nomination form closes prior to the conference so don’t delay if you want to nominate a local women-owned business.

INSPIRE Business Conference Provides Timely Education and Networking

The conference features timely educational sessions on e-commerce, SBA loans, government contracts, understanding pricing and other hands-on business topics. Networking opportunities are available during the day, in a post-session cocktail hour and in the vendor area where 24 selected businesses are highlighted.

Attendees can also bid on silent auction products made by local businesses. The auction fundraising and other conference funds help finance scholarships. “Funding goes back into scholarships for new women coming to the conference and who need support,” says Whitley.

Support Small Businesses at the May 23 INSPIRE Women in Business Conference in Lacey

Powered by the SBA and supported by the Thurston EDC at its Center for Business and Innovation, WCWB works to grow and strengthen women-identified owned businesses throughout Washington. The WCWB provides women with coaching, training, and technical assistance to build their dream business. The WCWB hosts events like the INSPIRE business conference as just one of the many resources local entrepreneurs can tap.

Support local women-owned small businesses by attending the INSPIRE Women’s Business Conference, sponsoring the event or a scholarship, nominating a business for an award, or applying to be a vendor. Register online. Seating is limited.

Washington Center for Women in Business
INSPIRE Women’s Business Conference
May 23, 2024, 8 a.m. – 5 p.m.
South Puget Sound Community College Lacey Campus
4220 6th Avenue SE, Lacey


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