Women’s History Month: Honoring LGBTQ+ Woman Entrepreneurs
This March, the National LGBT Chamber of Commerce (NGLCC) has proudly celebrated Women’s History Month, an opportunity to honor and uplift women’s accomplishments and voices. Many of NGLCC’s Certified LGBT Business Enterprise® (Certified LGBTBE®) suppliers are jointly certified as women-owned through our partner organization WBENC, the Women’s Business Enterprise National Council. These LGBT- and women-owned businesses are leading the way in their respective fields, setting precedents for entrepreneurs across the nation. This month, we spoke to nine woman-owned Certified LGBTBE® suppliers about their entrepreneurial journeys, their involvement with NGLCC, and the importance of highlighting LGBT women in business.
Cardinal Counseling Services, PLLC | Founded by Rachel Pinto (she/they)
Cardinal Counseling Services, PLLC is an outpatient psychotherapy clinic located in downtown North Little Rock, Arkansas. Offering individual, couple, family and group therapy, Pinto has utilized a tool in her practice called the Partners for Change Outcome Management System (PCOMS) to help Cardinal Counseling Services stand out and better serve its clients.
“[PCOMS ensures] that the very DNA of the clinic will always do two things -- center the client's voice in therapy and keep us focused on the client's goals,” she explained. “Additionally, the ability we have to market ourselves as an outpatient mental health clinic BY queer people and FOR queer people makes us quite unique here in the good old Bible Belt!”
Pinto told us that being a Certified LGBTBE® has helped to set the counseling clinic apart as an LGBTQ+ focused treatment center, as well as helping marginalized folks in the area to more easily find healthcare that acknowledges and supports their respective identities.
“Being a member of the NGLCC has given me that supportive community as well - that, in fact, entrepreneurs and business owners CAN look like me!” they said.
Pinto says that being an LGBT woman entrepreneur means that they are bringing their own chair to the table, having started Cardinal Counseling after many years worked in many other jobs.
“Ultimately, I was able to admit that I didn't need anybody else's permission to birth the workplace culture I longed for,” she concluded.
Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn: @cardinalcounselingar
dozanü innovations, llc. | Co-founded by Katherine Lees (she/her) and Michelle Lapides (she/her)
dozanü innovations is a cutting-edge marketing and strategic firm that delivers intelligent solutions to clients ranging from small businesses to large corporations. dozanü focuses on five key services when working with clients, namely digital marketing, creative marketing, social media, strategic campaigning, and business development.
“We are poised to be the leading BX Design™ Team specializing in alternative perspectives delivering innovative, accessibility-minded modern marketing and business strategies that focus on inclusion,” explained Lees.
A leader in the Deaf and hard of hearing business community, dozanü prioritizes accessibility, inclusivity, and authentic representation of folks and their disabilities in their marketing work. As two Deaf women, Lees and Lapides are defeating the ableist misconception that Deaf individuals cannot compete with businesses led by hearing individuals. They are also broadening the scope of marketing materials to be more accessible to individuals that cannot always be reached by so-called “traditional” marketing.
“Traditional marketing may rely on the auditory deployment of information in English, which means that information only appeals to people who both speak English and can hear,” Lees said. “But if we deploy the same message in a video format that has an English voice-over, a person signing in American Sign Language (ASL), and using visual cues/graphics on the video, this marketing appeals to those who speak English, those who can’t hear and use Sign Language, and those who have limited English proficiency or learned English as a second language.”
Lees explained that dozanü innovations was established with the ultimate goal of being the “go-to” agency for serving marginalized communities and bridging the gap between the current corporate landscape and the accessibility that is needed in order to serve all people in an equitable way. This closely reflects NGLCC’s mission of diversity, equity, inclusion, & intersectionality as the organization works to bring LGBT business owners together and fight for a seat at the table for them.
“The resources that we have access to [through NGLCC] are invaluable, the opportunities that are presented to us for our taking can make a huge change for businesses, and the community that we know we're a part of, makes us stronger, and even a bit more daring,” said Lees. “When we understand the power of numbers, such as what we saw at the Stonewall riot, we know that when we all collectively try and band together the entrepreneur journey is a meaningful one.”
HD Structural Co. | Founded by Halle Doenitz (she/her)
Based in Los Angeles, HD Structural Co. provides structural consulting engineering services for architects, owners, developers, and contractors. Offering services ranging from design inception through construction completion, HD Structural brings a breadth of knowledge and experience with materials such as reinforced concrete, post-tensioned concrete, structural steel, light-gage steel framing, masonry, and wood structures to each of their projects.
“The field of structural engineering is very male-dominated, so we definitely stand out as unique as a woman-owned business, and even more so being LGBT-owned in this industry,” explained Doenitz. “I became a Certified LGBTBE® because I'm an out and proud business owner and advocate and want to increase visibility for my community. There are very few LGBT owned structural engineering consulting firms nationwide and it’s so important for our community to be represented in this industry.”
HD Structural Co. further distinguishes itself through a series of notable and complex projects bearing its name. This includes Los Angeles’ George Lucas Museum of Narrative Art, which is expected to open next year.
Doenitz told us that as an engineering student, she lacked role models in the LGBT engineering and business community due to their lack of visibility. Now, as a successful female engineer and LGBT entrepreneur, she prioritizes openness about her identity in the workplace and on the jobsite, setting an inspiring example for young LGBT women and aspiring engineers.
“Visibility and representation matters, both for my LGBTQ+ community and other underrepresented minorities within our architecture/engineering/construction industry,” she said. “Diversity, Equity and Inclusion goes beyond mere tolerance and acceptance, it is about being respected and valued for my unique perspectives, experiences, and who I am as a human being.”
Violet PR | Founded by April Mason (she/her)
Violet PR is a boutique public relations firm located in Montclair, New Jersey. Focusing primarily on economic development, real estate, and social good, founder April Mason helps clients to develop compelling content and attract a supportive audience. As a boutique firm, Violet PR offers individualized attention and customized services to each client.
“We actively seek out clients that are making places better and work with a lot of government entities, nonprofit agencies and small businesses in the real estate, architecture and engineering space,” Mason said.
Violet PR has set the bar high for other PR firms, having won over 30 national and regional awards for excellence over the last several years. Last year, Mason became a member of the NGLCC in order to expand her professional network and connect with other queer entrepreneurs.
“I came out later in life at age 41, and perhaps as a result, it's extremely important to me to get connected with the LGBTQ+ community in my professional and personal life,” she told us. “I have some catching up to do!”
As a queer woman, Mason is proud to bring a multifaceted perspective to the work that Violet PR completes for clients. With many companies in the industry being run by straight men, she has set out to become a role model for young women looking to become entrepreneurs in the future. Prior to starting her firm, Mason had only worked for companies run by white, straight men, and has elected to change that industry trend by promoting and prioritizing female CEOs and executives through her work. Violet PR is also involved with LGBTQ+ work both inside and outside of their home base.
“I'm particularly excited that this year, we'll be promoting the state of Kansas' first Pride celebration on the steps of the capitol building as part of our work for the city of Topeka,” Mason said. “I also have clients that want to attract diverse talent - including LGBTQ+ professionals - and I'm glad to be in a position where I can help them.”
FIC Human Resource Partners | Founded by Jessi Purdy (she/her)
FIC Human Resource Partners is a consulting firm dedicated to fostering inclusive cultures of belonging through policy, training, and discussion. Offering services ranging from policy creation, DEI workshops, and LGBTQ+ and transgender focused consulting, founder Jessi Purdy brings her full self to work each day with pride.
“My identity as a panromantic, asexual, trans woman is central to the work that I do,” she explained. “It is my lived experience, both professional and personal, that led me to begin FIC Human Resource Partners and work to foster inclusive cultures of belonging.”
Purdy has developed a dynamic business model focused on prioritizing collaborative partnerships. FIC Human Resource Partners frequently partners with subject matter experts across a variety of topics to expand customized offerings to their clients and ensure that the correct voices are present for certain conversations.
“While we are the lead partner for some projects, we are the supporting partner in others,” she said. “This collaborative partnership model allows us to place the mission above the ego.”
Purdy joined the NGLCC to further her entrepreneurial career and to open up contracting and procurement opportunities for her business.
“The LGBTBE certification is a badge that clearly lets prospective clients know that we are an LGBTQ+ owned business, and…it helps open up doors to corporate and government clients that we might not otherwise connect with,” Purdy explained.
Purdy had powerful words to offer when asked what being an LGBTQ+ woman entrepreneur meant to her, stating that it meant having full control over her destiny and the ability to do the work that needs to be done in the ways it needs to be done.
Florida Pure Sea Salt | Founded by Maureen Cacioppo (she/her)
Florida Pure Sea Salt was born from a longing to help people slow down, come together, and enjoy every bite and cocktail they share, as told by founder Maureen Cacioppo.
“Our ingredients are crafted with that same love, care, and intention,” she explained. “Food is a thread that connects us all and salt is a lasting part of making our food experiences outstanding.”
Boasting 17 different infused salts ranging from flavors like egan-friendly maple bacon, lime, rosemary, butcher block black pepper, and black garlic, Florida Pure Sea Salt prioritizes high quality ingredients and utilizing clean water while still doing their part to protect the waterways. Each type of salt is made in small batches, with some completing the process in 3 days and others taking up to 2 months to create.
“We seek to cultivate togetherness through the creation of memorable meals for food-lovers to share with their closest friends and family,” Cacioppo said.
Cacioppo joined the NGLCC to utilize services from and connect with like-minded businesses, as well as to attend the organization’s events.
“I've been able to grow my skills in public speaking through their pitch events and have also been featured in speaking opportunities to share more about our business,” she said.
What does it mean to Cacioppo to be an LGBT woman entrepreneur?
“It means I work hard to create a team of diverse people who appreciate and respect people's differences. It means that I'm intentional with who we partner with. It means I sometimes struggle with sharing my life with the public even though it's become an expectation of small business owners so people can connect to the brand. It means that I have to work very hard in keeping the balance between work and life. It means I've had to learn that in order to be the best for my family and teammates, I have to first be the best for myself. It means I have a tremendous amount of responsibility on my shoulders to make the best decisions because they affect my entire team and their lives. It means we have fewer funding opportunities. It means I have an opportunity to mentor the new wave of LGBT woman entrepreneurs and others. It means that there are many similarities in struggles and triumphs with all entrepreneurs. It means I'm proud of who I am, those who have put in great work before me, and where we are going.”
Robinson Law | Founded by Cristal Robinson (she/her/hers)
Robinson Law is a disability & discrimination firm focused on diversity & civil rights in education and business ownership. Through the firm, founder Cristal Robinson offers a variety of services ranging from Educational Law, Special Education Advocacy, Entrepreneurship Law, Business Consulting, Estate Planning Law, Employment Law, Election Law, Campaign Consulting, Mediation, & Collaborative Law.
“I’m a neurodivergent business owner with family who are too,” said Robinson. “It brings representation to my clients and other younger people to show that they can also do it.”
Under Robinson’s guidance, the firm focuses on helping neurodivergent and queer individuals. Robinson’s firm is paperless, virtual, and mobile, and has been since before the COVID-19 pandemic, allowing her to serve clients across the country with ease. As a seasoned attorney, business owner, and educator, she is passionate about advancing the rights of neurodivergent and LGBTQ+ people and business owners.
To Robinson, being a successful LGBT woman in business means that she can bring quality representation to all of her clients, as well as setting an example for younger folks that want to follow in her entrepreneurial footsteps.
“I am OUT as an autistic, neurodivergent, queer, mom who owns a law firm,” she said. “Being out has helped me bond with my teen and young adult clients.”
Robinson says that outside of the office,she enjoys watching her autistic son experience life, growing older with her autistic spouse, and figuring out her true self as a late in life diagnosed autistic professional.
Instagram, Facebook, & LinkedIn: @CristalRobinsonLaw
J Squared Communications | Founded by Jessica Reveles (she/her/ella)
J Squared Communications is a full service digital marketing agency. Under the supervision of entrepreneur Jessica Reveles, J Squared Communications has customized content creation offerings ranging from social media, blogging, email marketing, website design and development, and SEO. The agency prioritizes and specializes in serving marginalized businesses through inclusive, diverse, and culturally relevant marketing.
“Our mission is to serve and support women, LGBTQ and BIPOC owned businesses through leveraging content marketing to help businesses increase their online visibility and attract ideal clients,” said Reveles.
Reveles certified her business through NGLCC to attain the added credibility of being vetted experts and also supportive advocates for the LGBTQ community. As she explained, many of J Squared Communications’ clients fit into “multiple buckets” of the populations they serve, identifying as people of color, LGBTQ+ individuals, and more.
“Being a Certified LGBTBE® through the NGLCC is a source of great pride for me as the owner and CEO at the helm of the company, and for our diverse staff as well,” Reveles said. “Additionally, being an LGBTQ woman of color and a certified representative of the community puts me in a position where I have the opportunity and really the responsibility to promote diversity, equity and inclusion through our actual content—visually through the photos we select for various campaigns, audio-visually and with multimedia, and through copywriting.”
Reveles has undergone an intensely challenging, incomparable journey to reach the present day. Having started her business from a homeless shelter with her seven-year-old son by her side, she worked countless jobs until she was able to rent office space years later. She has since grown from a freelance social media manager, to a small business owner, and now to an immensely successful CEO. Together, she and her team produce a variety of award-winning work for a large number of clients.
Reveles is proud to be out as an LGBTQ woman entrepreneur following years in the closet.
“When I met my best adult friend, another gay woman entrepreneur, I learned to love myself and came into my own,” she explained. “I went through a long, hard and painful journey—but now I'm here and actually leveraging my LGBTQ identify to help promote others' businesses who are part of underserved and underrepresented populations.”
The Changists | Founded by Cheralyn Stevenson (she/her/hers)
Founded in 2020, The Changists aids lawyers and law firms in modernizing and digitally transforming their practice and workplace. Founder Cheralyn Stevenson’s aspiration is to help lawyers succeed by merging the worlds of law and business, which is accomplished through their offerings of advisory support, vendor selection, IT project management, training, outsourced legal billing, virtual chief operations officer, new talent recruiting, and law firm set up.
“Our vision for The Changists is to help lawyers by being better at the business side of running their firms,” said Stevenson. “We want to help create intentional and purposeful change in the law industry, help build future business leaders, and play a part of growing diverse firms.”
The Changists obtained LGBTBE certification to join the NGLCC network and build connections with LGBT businesses, entrepreneurs, and supplier diversity thought leaders.
“Becoming certified as an LGBTQ+-owned business meant so much to us and the team at The Changists because so much of our work is informed by who we are,” Stevenson said. “When we give our services to other business leaders, we love to know that they're going to help and give back to communities like ours and that reflect us, whether its to women, to people of color, or to the LGBTQ+ community.”
Stevenson is proud to be a successful entrepreneur and business leader and still authentically be who she is - an LGBT woman. She founded The Changists with her wife, Stacey. To Stevenson, being out as a business owner “means that we will be able to give back to communities we understand and identify with. If we can support a lawyer who would serve people in the LGBTQ+ community, knowing we contributed to that, is the most important thing to me as an LGBT woman entrepreneur.”
Learn more and get involved at nglcc.org!