Women Entrepreneurs Forging Their Own Paths to Success

WBO’s 36th Annual Nellie Cashman Award spotlights the strengths of female leadership and recognizes Woman Business Owner of the Year

September 6, 2017

SEATTLE – The Nellie Cashman Award celebrates the strength of women as leaders and the progress we’ve made, even in the face of many obstacles that still exist. Women Business Owners (WBO), one of the Puget Sound's leading organizations for women entrepreneurs, will be awarding this honor to one of five finalists on Thursday, October 5 at a gala awards banquet held at the Four Seasons Hotel in Seattle. (Note that October is also Women’s Small Business Month.)

Nellie Cashman (ca. 1850 – 1925) was one of the Wild West’s most successful women entrepreneurs, parlaying her business savvy into a string of business enterprises from British Columbia to Arizona that made her financially independent and universally admired. Thirty-five years ago, the Nellie Cashman Award for Woman Business Owner of the Year (‘The Nellie’) was established, to honor the legacy of this Seattle pioneer and recognize the continuing achievement and leadership of female entrepreneurs in our region.

This year’s finalists are five top female entrepreneurs, each of whom shares Nellie’s spirit, drive, and individuality. Each a leader in her field, they all have 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

Vanessa Smith, Blue Ribbon Cooking

Lori Stutsman, Extra Mile Marketing

Candidates for the Nellie Cashman Business Owner of the Year award are judged based on their entrepreneurial spirit, ethics and community spirit, financial management skill, and the difficulty and risk they have endured to achieve their success.

Spotlighting Women’s Leadership Strength

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 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.

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. To paraphrase the question posed by Beyonce: “Who [should] run the world?” Clearly the answer at the Nellie Gala on October 5 will be: Women!

For more information about Nellie Cashman: https://womenbusinessowners.org/nellie-cashman-award/history/

For more information about WBO: https://womenbusinessowners.org/nellie-cashman-award/history/

For more information about this year’s Nellie Award: https://womenbusinessowners.org/nellie-cashman-award/current-year/


  • 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


Caption: The five 2017 Nellie finalists (L – R): Margo Engberg, Jody Hall, Diana Naramore, Vanessa Smith, Lori Stutsman


[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.