100 Women Who Inspire Us: Entrepreneur

Meeting Planning

Michelle Avery Murphy, founder and chief groovy officer, Avery Murphy

Inspiration: I love to create and watch the fruits of my labor grow. Whether getting my hands dirty gardening so I can later watch the flowers bloom, or looking at someone’s—especially Avery Murphy rock stars’ and clients’—raw potential and being a catalyst in their achievement. Creating and growing truly inspires me.

Superpower: Passion for living each moment fully. Being present fully for each person, conversation, environment and moment is special.

Action Item: To create an association of site-selection professionals who will elevate the hospitality industry to the next level—a network of individuals who share my superpower and remember that our industry is, first and foremost, about hospitality. In an age when so many are becoming more connected with their spiritual side, it is natural for me to see an organization, the Site Selection Professionals Association, consider doing the right thing, because it is the right thing to do.


Cindy Brewer, cofounder and principal, LEO Events

Inspiration: Passionate and kind people. People who take pride in themselves, their coworkers, their customers, their vendors and their stakeholders. People who love their job and do the best they can for themselves and for those around them, while exuding humility and genuine kindness to each person who crosses their path.

Superpower: My superpower is the collective strength of our team at LEO Events. Each and every one of them brings something to the table that is unique and important, and those strengths have molded us as a whole into who we are as people, and who we are as a brand. Without our team, I’d have no powers at all.

Action Item: As we watch the news together daily as a family, I’ve been teaching my kids that it only takes one stupid decision to change your life for good. A decision that could cost you your reputation, your job, your family or even your—or another’s—life. We’ve seen so much of that lately, so it’s always top of mind. Respect yourself and one another. And do the right thing, all the time, every time—even if it’s difficult.


Jennifer D. Collins, president and CEO, JDC Events

Inspiration: The courage, drive, dedication and resolve of small-business owners who put everything on the line to achieve their dreams.

Superpower: Delivering presentations and teaching others about industry-related topics, as a guest in college classrooms, or in sharing my spirituality and faith.

Action Item: I will continue to be kind to others and have the courage to speak out against injustices. As Martin Luther King, Jr. once said, “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”


Debby DuBose, CEO and event specialist, Conference Solutions International

Inspiration: Embracing change has always been one of my strongest attributes. As a meeting planner, most people think I prefer to have a routine; however I’m always looking for ways to adapt and evolve. I never want to get too comfortable. Every so often, I like to step out of my comfort zone and re-evaluate my goals and plans. Embracing new ideas for doing business has ultimately contributed to the growth and development of starting my own business.

Superpower: Relating to people from all industries, backgrounds and cultures. I attribute this to my upbringing in Montreal, Quebec, where I was surrounded by people from all nationalities and industries. I genuinely love meeting new people, which has been a huge asset to my business.

Action Item: I will change the world by teaching and mentoring the next wave of talent in the hospitality industry. My goal is to expose them to as many opportunities as I can, to help them use their talents, ambitions and fresh ideas to help the industry thrive and grow in the future.


Lucy Giovando Watts, founder and CEO, Lasso40

Inspiration: Super-creative and dynamic people inspire me. I love surrounding myself with industry colleagues with amazing backgrounds that come up with fun and clever ideas.

Superpower: Humor. Also, I tend to win baking competitions when I am the only person who enters.

Action Item: Encouraging more women to become entrepreneurs. My personal startup journey began with the simple phase, “There has to be a better way.” This idea became Lasso40 and has produced powerful results, in terms of efficiency for attendees at an event, improving the lives of event planners, and simplifying the jobs of sales and marketing staff. Ultimately, it’s about inspiring more women to take their idea and make it a reality. As a mentor, I also love motivating young industry professionals to think about their future and their impact on our industry and our society at large.


Victoria Matey, cofounder, Matey Events

Inspiration: I get inspired by the time I live in. With fascinating findings in science and developments in various fields, we are lucky to have so many more opportunities opened up—and there are so many examples of people building on these opportunities and achieving. It is a self-developing circle, and it creates an environment where more dreams are bound to come true.

Superpower: I achieve what I strive for and get required results, even under stress.

Action Item: I am going to keep sharing my expertise with those who would like to change the ways they do events but lack resources or education. I would also like to extend and offer my knowledge on how much value a business event can provide to our clients—attendees of conferences, forums and congresses. Events are a two-way street. Not only should the organizers further master their skills, but participants need to get a better understanding of meetings’ potential, and learn how to gain the most out of attendance.


Neema Mwasyeba, managing director, Secure Community Company

Inspiration: As a young women entrepreneur living in a country with a growing economy, I am faced with the challenge of helping my fellow women and youth find decent jobs and engage themselves in economic activities—especially in an environment where there are a lot of resources and opportunity, but not enough education and technology to make those opportunities generate income for households.

Superpower: Visionary and hard-working. I invest time in learning and self-improvement. I believe in my potential, which gives me confidence and influence in my society.

Action Item: This has been a golden time and chance of my life. I want to dedicate this time to women and youth, investing my talents and passion to help them to realize their dreams by offering transformational trainings and coaching.


Kelly Pallanti, founder and CEO, HR Nonprofit Consulting

Inspiration: Witnessing the rise of so many strong, diverse women who have become my role models in leading the change of our culture toward gender equality. I see them being vulnerable and brave by sharing their experiences—by revealing the truth about our need to advance our society to include more women in leadership positions across all industries. My hope is that my message resonates with someone else, and they in turn inspire others to support diversity and inclusion efforts, no matter how big or small, within their sphere of influence.

Superpower: Positive energy and humor. Whether I am talking to a large group or have a one-on-one discussion, I get very excited about the topics I’m passionate about, which often leads me to using a lot of hand gestures and talking extremely fast. I have learned that people are more open to learning something new and will pass on that knowledge if they obtain it in a fun and inviting environment.

Action Item: Make more global connections to advance my local community’s diversity and inclusion initiatives. Professional social media platforms have afforded us this amazing opportunity to share ideas with our industry counterparts all over the world.


Akande Monica Nicole Simons, CEO, Unforgettable M.E.

Inspiration: I am inspired by risk and relationships (happy ones, complicated ones, unusual ones) of all types. Starting a new project/inaugural event that has all the possibilities of both success and teachable moments gets my creative mind racing. It demands that I look at nontraditional ways to get attendees engaged. To do so effectively, I have to understand the attendees’ relationships (with each other, with the work or the cause, with the host organization) and manage them in a way that encourages optimal results. It’s exciting to witness people going for something new in those relationships, and to know I shaped the environment that has the potential to encourage change or growth in those relationships.

Superpower: I actually have two! I have the innate ability to see other peoples’ superpowers, and I use my second ability, the ability to impact people, to design spaces that provide the needed platform for the power and greatness I see in others to shine.

Action Item: I think the greatest gift we can give people is to let them know they are visible and they matter. I am dedicated to creating events that honor the voices of those that have been marginalized, silenced or otherwise disenfranchised. I may not change the world but, by creating a moment of change for marginalized people, I will build the stage for the ones that will change the world.


Jennafer Ross, founder and CEO, JR Global Events

Inspiraton: Walk your walk and talk your talk. There is no reason in this world that we, as women, cannot have everything we want.  Being flexible in how we accomplish that is the name of the game. Working from home, having babies, raising my kids all the while building a company, continues to inspire me daily. Showing other women that they do not have to make a choice – (career vs family) is very important to me and is my inspiration.

Superpower: Staying true to my core values. When I started my company from our dining room table I employed very simple virtues as this is how i wanted the business world to operate: honesty, candor, ethics and transparency. While some might say it was naive, still to this day, 15+ years later these are the core principles in what we carry through to all our client and colleague relationships. We truly love what we do and want to continue to do what we love for people we enjoy partnering with all across the world.

Action Item: Instilling in today’s youth, my kids, their friends, our village, that we MUST rely upon people, that our neighbors, friends community are pivotal in our lives and priority needs to be made on these connections, Fostering relationships, being kind, and looking out for one another are virtues that are being lost behind the screens and we need to get out in front and make those face to face connections.


Sandi Brewster-Walker, president and senior meeting planner, L&P International

Inspiration: Heritage, culture, and writing–Everything I have done in life gets back to a strong understanding of my indigenous heritage and culture, as well as being taught my place in history.  I am inspired by the history of a destination, and its people! Writing has been an important part of my life, when I’m curious about something, I am inspired to research it; then write about it.  This has led me to be a columnist for three newspapers and one magazine. I find inspiration in every aspect of global history!

Superpower: My love for history, writing, and the logistic skills learned as an engineer.

Action Item: In 2014, I wrote a proposal to New York State and within three months was awarded a provisional charter for the Long Island Indigenous People Museum & Research Center.


Christina Taylor, president and CEO, TaylorMade Experience

Inspiration: What inspires me is the amazing work of our clients in the nonprofit sector, my wonderful team and our ever-changing environment.  Watching our nonprofit clients do good every day  – in human rights, education, cancer research and the eradication of poverty – is so encouraging at a time in our world where so much negativity dominates the news.  The work of passionate people, like my all-female team of rockstars, who go above and beyond for our clients on a daily basis, is energizing.  And it is exciting to work in an environment,  where no client project or event is ever the same.

Superpower: My superpower would have to be problem solving.  I love providing great solutions to challenging problems – and, thankfully, I haven’t been stumped yet.  From getting someone in a wheelchair to the balcony of the NYSE, without an elevator, to seating a group of 20 who showed up to an event without RSVPing, to finding a contact number for the Dalai Lama, I am thrilled to say that I always find a way to deliver.   One of our company mantras is “Keep Calm and Carry On” and we live that every day.

Action Item: I will continue to lead in a positive way.  I treat my team like my family and focus on the good work and change we are helping to create for our clients, through their fundraising and events.  I will also work on elevating female voices, helping girls to become powerful women, through my board position with Community Bridges.

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