WBO Names Vanessa Smith of Blue Ribbon Cooking as Winner of the 2017 Nellie Cashman Woman Business Owner of the Year Award

SEATTLE Women Business Owners (WBO), one of Puget Sound’s leading organizations for women entrepreneurs, has named Seattle Business Owner Vanessa Smith as the 36th winner of its annual Nellie Cashman Woman Business Owner of the Year Award (‘The Nellie’). Smith was honored at the October 5 Nellie Awards Gala held at the Four Seasons Hotel, Seattle.

Vanessa Smith, the owner of Blue Ribbon Cooking, was born and raised to throw parties for a living. Growing up in a cooking school, she developed a love for helping people celebrate life’s milestones. She launched into business ownership at the age of 23 and within three years was running a company with over 90 employees.

Blue Ribbon now provides a vast variety of corporate team building cooking classes, custom catered events, all-inclusive weddings and kids summer camps. All activities are ingrained with a farm to table philosophy and the desire to bring folks back to the dining table. Blue Ribbon catering and food philosophy has lead them to win multiple “Best of” citations including four awards from leading national wedding site The Knot.

Smith believes in giving back to the community, and Blue Ribbon donates $140,000 per year in gift certificates to various causes and charity auctions, provides scholarships for kids to participate in cooking classes and learn about culinary careers, and serves holiday and other meals to homeless youth.

About her participation in this year’s Nellie Award process, she is inspired by the strength of female entrepreneurs stretching back to Nellie Cashman herself. “I identify with Nellie’s determination, hands-on leadership, and incredibly hard work ethic,” says Smith. “She clearly relished and sought out life’s adventures, and wasn’t deterred by challenges—traits I see in today’s women business owners as well.”

Since 1982, The Nellie has recognized and honored Washington women business owners who have demonstrated vision, perseverance, and fearless leadership in business and the community. To qualify, a nominee must own at least 51% of her business, have owned it for five years or more and have three or more employees. Candidates are judged on their entrepreneurial spirit, ethics and community commitment, financial and management skills, and the difficulty endured and risk undertaken to achieve their success.

Ellen (Nellie) Cashman (ca. 1850 – 1925) was an Irish immigrant, entrepreneur, gold miner, and community organizer with a string of businesses from British Columbia to Arizona that made her financially independent and universally admired. Thirty-five years ago, the Nellie Award was established to honor the legacy of this Seattle pioneer and recognize the continuing achievement and contributions of female entrepreneurs in our region.

In addition to Smith, the 2017 Nellie Award finalists included some of the region’s top female entrepreneurs, each of whom share Nellie’s spirit, drive, and individuality. They all exhibit a remarkable track record of business success and community contribution. They are:

Margo Engberg, Pinkabella Cupcakes

Jody Hall, Cupcake Royale

Diana Naramore, Sip and Ship

Lori Stutsman, Extra Mile Marketing


Spotlighting Women’s Leadership Strength

Today, Seattle is recognized as one of the best cities for female entrepreneurs (in the Top 10, according to Inc. Magazine), and more than 1/3 of the region’s privately held businesses are owned by women. There are now 9.9 million woman-owned businesses nationwide, which generate $1.6 trillion in annual revenues. However, these entrepreneurial gains are set against the backdrop of a time where many industries and government entities still have few women in leadership roles: women comprise only 6.4% of Fortune 500 CEOs, and make up just 24.8% of state legislatures across the country.

Yet these five Nellie Award candidates all powerfully demonstrate the unique characteristics that make women executives highly effective. Research[1] shows that:

  • Companies with women on the board of directors had greater profitability, and decreased the rate of bankruptcy by 20%.
  • Companies with the highest gender diversity in their personnel saw higher operating results, a higher return on equity, and stronger stock price growth than companies with fewer women.



  • Women are more likely to see and act on entrepreneurial and growth opportunities, driving for results, expanding their perspective and seeing past obstacles[2]—no surprise to our five Nellie Finalist self-starters!
  • Women are adept at engaging and developing people, building collaborative environments of trust and cooperation that yield positive results.
  • Women leaders also tend to be more holistic problem solvers, able to integrate complex information, see a wide array of options, take input from diverse viewpoints, and ultimately execute more effectively on decisions.[3]
  • Women also exhibit higher “executive social skills”, which make them more effective than men at cultivating relationships and trust—necessary attributes for working with employees, clients and partners![4]


None of these insights are new, however. Many women are getting tired of waiting for their seat at the table and launching their own ventures, particularly in the Seattle area (see statistics, below). Since its founding in 1979, WBO has been supporting and empowering women in business. It provides a peer group for woman entrepreneurs where they can find support, networking, education, and community to help each other achieve business and personal success.

This year’s finalists all cite the importance of collaboration and trust in working with their teams to build company success. They also bring a more flexible perspective than most corporations on balancing work and family, helping engender the loyalty and longevity of valued employees.

Since its founding in 1979, WBO has been a peer group for woman entrepreneurs, providing support, networking, education, and community to help each other achieve business and personal success.

WBO members and this year’s Nellie Award finalists are forging ahead, inspiring future generations of women entrepreneurs and business leaders just as Nellie Cashman did over a century ago.


About Women Business Owners

Women Business Owners helps the Puget Sound and Western Washington region’s female entrepreneurs become more connected, empowered and successful by providing a rich business referral network; insightful business education; personal and online connectivity and visibility; and strategic business support and inspiration.

For more information or to schedule an interview, contact Anne Corning @ 206-276-3257 or anne@corningworks.com



  • There has been 27% growth in the number of women-owned businesses in the U.S. between 2002 and 2012 (the latest year for which data is available); during the same period overall growth in the number of new businesses was just 2%
  • One-third of all privately held firms in the Seattle/Bellevue/Everett area are women owned
  • There are nearly 20,000 more women-owned businesses in the Seattle metro are than there were 12 years ago
  • Washington State has seen a 43% increase since 1997 in women-owned businesses and an 80%+ increase in the sales revenue of women-owned businesses in the same time period
  • Seattle ranks #8 among the nation’s cities with the greatest increase in female-owned firms since 2002

[1] Source: study by McKinsey & Company, Women as a Valuable Asset, April 2012

[2] Source: study by Zenger and Folkman, “Are Women Leaders Better than Men?” Harvard Business Review, March 15, 2012

[3] Source: chapter by Fisher, “The Natural Leadership Talents of Women”, in Coughlin, Wingard and Hollihan (eds.) Enlightened Power: How Women are Transforming the Practice of Leadership, Wiley: August 2013.

[4] Ibid.