Thursday, August 8, 2019

Insights on NGLCC’s International Conference From Last Year’s Biz Pitch Winner

The 2019 NGLCC Conference is almost upon us, and this year, we will be meeting in sunny Tampa Bay, Florida at the beautiful Tampa Convention Center! Known as the “largest LGBT business event on the planet,” the annual conference is a globally recognized professional development event that delivers innovative leadership programming, networking, and engagement opportunities for more than 1,400 LGBT and allied business leaders. This week, we spoke with Kevin Schiesz, CEO and Co-Founder of eParel, L.L.C., and winner of last year’s National Biz Pitch competition.

Kevin and his business partner, Matthew Wilson, have been members of nglccNY for two years.

Invented at Columbia University, an Ivy League-member university, eParel administers a web-first SaaS platform where service businesses outfit their staff for free. Their fashion brand Bib & Tucker provides a curated selection of shirts, pants, shoes, and accessories. Business managers and owners assemble the pieces into outfits, then share those outfits with their employees (e.g. the uniform wearers). Employees declare their gender, choose their size, and mix and match styles—customizing their look. The team at eParel then ships direct to the employees at home, off-the-clock. This makes uniform outfitting especially easy and seamless for everyone involved.

Current customers include Moxy Hotels, Marriott International’s newest, “disruptive” hotel brand.

The message behind eParel, in addition to convenience for vendors and employees, is one of support and acceptance. “I wanted to start a company where I felt comfortable being,” Schiesz explained, after recapping his experience working his way up in the service industry. “I know what it’s like to be in that position [of having to wear a uniform],” Schiesz said. “As a gay man, [the eParel model] cuts to the core of who I am. It’s about identity, creativity, and self-expression.”

22.5 million people in the U.S. wear uniforms every day. “We spend most of our waking time at work,” Kevin points out. “This platform liberates the tens of millions of people who wear uniforms.”

The scalability of eParel’s business model eventually led Kevin to participate in local and regional business pitch competitions, including those within nglccNY. In 2018, eParel won the esteemed nglccNY Biz Pitch competition after several preliminary rounds. Winning came with a free ticket to the 2018 NGLCC National Conference, where Kevin and Matthew were finally able to pitch in front of a national audience.

Since winning the national competition last year, eParel has seen exponentially positive results. “Sales have more than doubled,” Kevin shared. “We’ve gone from local to national, and now attract global brands.”

A new partner and co-founder has joined eParel’s team: Jeff Bryson, as COO. 2019 will be Jeff’s first year at the NGLCC Conference.

For those that are planning to attend this year’s NGLCC Conference, Kevin suggests a plan. “Be strategic, but also try to relax and enjoy it,” he says. With an extensive list of programs, workshops, socials, and networking events, the Conference can be a boundless source of personal and professional growth. “There’s a lot on offer” Kevin concludes, reflecting on his own experience.

The NGLCC National Conference will be held in Tampa Bay, Florida, August 13 to August 16, 2019. You can find more information and register here.

Written by Michael Venturiello, the founder of Christopher Street Tours, an LGBTQ history walking tour company. He is a proud member of nglccNY and sits on the Media and Communications committee.

Corporate Spotlight: TD Bank

Corporate Spotlight: TD Bank

This month we are pleased to shine a spotlight on one of our outstanding corporate partners, TD Bank, which goes out of its way to support the work of nglccNY and uplift the LGBT owned businesses in our network. It is one of the 10 largest banks in the U.S., with more than 27,000 employees and deep roots in the community dating back more than 150 years.TD Bank offers a wide range of consumer, small business and commercial lending and deposit products and services at its more than 1,200 locations along the East Coast. Steven Garibell is Vice President of LGBTQ2+ Business Development at TD Bank and nglccNY Media & Communications Chair Cindi Creager recently spoke with him to learn more about his role at TD Bank and why the company is so committed to working with the chamber.

Tell me a little bit about who you are, your title and your position at TD Bank.

I run our LGBTQ2+ Business Development Group, which currently is the only role of this type at TD in the U.S. My position is also unique in U.S. banking.

Traditionally, financial institutions have looked at customer segments based on product needs – do you need a loan of a certain dollar amount or a specific type of account?  In developing this position, the bank took a different view and  said, "Let's look at a community." And every community enters their financial life at a different time and there are different challenges for each community. When we take a look at the LGBT community, I would say we've lacked some of the professionals that the community needed to help us through certain milestones. And a lot of times it was because we weren't comfortable with the person sitting on the other side of the table.

In my position, I have the goal of helping to make us the employer of choice and the bank of choice in the community. We do that by understanding our customers and their needs so we can have really good conversations and create a plan for their businesses. That includes making sure we discuss cash flow strategies, planning for retirement, planning for home buying, and having kids. These are all the milestones that we should be celebrating just as much as our straight counterparts do.

Give me an example of how your role plays out on a day to day basis.

A big part of it is working with organizations like yours. I sit on the certification committee for national, and we have a lot of employees that are involved and ambassadors, and members. My days are about going out in the community and connecting with them. With the number of LGBT-owned businesses in the U.S., NY is really our starting ground.  As a financial institution, TD believes we can add the most value by working with small business owners. It involves helping them find ways to manage their cash flows, whether that's through access to capital, better products and services such as those that will help them collect money from their customers faster or send their payments out quicker. Above all it's about connecting. Connecting with the community and helping them achieve financial success.

How does your work impact the company?

There are many different ways that my work impacts the company. One is having colleagues who feel comfortable being their true selves at work; helping them self identify and be open and out at work. It helps them with their career path. When someone looks at my title and sees LGBTQ+ in it, it's eye opening to them and it helps to start a conversation. They realize, “I can actually have a career being who I am.” It helps our company meet suppliers and achieve our supplier diversity goals because we want our customers and our colleagues to mirror each other. I’m helping to connect our customers, colleagues, and communities together so that we can be the bank and employer of choice for the community.

Wonderful. And why has TD chosen to work with nglccNY and help us to advance our work?

Connecting communities is so important for us. One of the best ways to connect community is to work with organizations like yours. TD has found that this gives us many different ways to help including getting employees involved through volunteer work such as being ambassadors. I get to volunteer time and sit on the certification committee and really help those businesses get ready so they can go and get contracts.

We have a group of employees who do site visits in our metro New York area to meet with business owners and we're expanding to other areas. So, all of these things help our employees feel connected to the community.

We are a big proponent of small business and finding ways to offer them financial advice. By working with organizations like yours, we're able to provide the right financial tools to help those small businesses succeed.

We’re grateful to you for all of your support. Now let’s switch gears a bit and talk about Pride. How was Pride season for you this year?

TD had the honor of being the sponsor of World Pride in Toronto in 2014 and we took World Pride in 2014 and in 2019 as a way to help engage our employees a little bit more. We organized a three-day summit for employees across North America that focused on talking about our customers, colleagues and our communities and how we can, as LGBT employees, go and help connect to communities. We had outside organizations come in to speak as well. The New York City Historic Project came and did a great piece on LGBT history, and Carl Siciliano talked about his organization (The Ali Forney Center) and the impact it has on the community. We learned a lot about Trans Rights and how we as an organization can really help our customers in that space.

It was just a great time for our employees to see our senior executives, work with them, understand our common goals and how we can make a bigger impact. We love pride festivals because they're a great time to celebrate, but I feel like  companies must always ask how can we continue that support? We sponsored 83 Pride Festivals throughout North America this year and helped 160 LGBT non-profit organizations, so Pride is really important for us. But we also focus on what we do after Pride to work with organizations and have an even greater impact. We're not just giving money. We're really making sure that we're helping organizations find ways to succeed.

What's ahead in the coming year? What programs are you working on?

We’re working to continue the momentum we started with nglccNY. TD is taking what we've done in New York City and working to bring that to more of your affiliates. We’re also building out my role. There’s such a great connection having someone out in the field. It’s not just marketing to the pink dollar, but really helping us learn how to spend it, save it and use it to manage cash flows of our businesses. We’re looking at finding ways to expand, and I hope to hire a team. That’s where we are right now, taking all things we learned at our summit and WorldPride and making sure that our employees are living our framework every day in the community and making an impact.

Is there anything else you want to add?

Our community is a great one because there's so much intersectionality. When a corporation is looking at doing the right thing, supporting the LGBTQ community is where we should start. There's still so much work left to do. Having strong corporate partnerships is very important. Volunteering is important. Money only goes a certain way. The power of knowledge and giving of one’s time is worth millions to organizations.

Cindi Creager is the Media & Communications Chair of the nglccNY Executive Committee and co-owner of CreagerCole Communications LLC, a New York City-based public relations firm experienced in LGBTQI issues.

Wednesday, August 7, 2019

A Look Ahead to NGLCC’s International Business & Leadership Conference; Expanding Business Opportunities For Newcomers And Longtime Attendees

NGLCC’s biggest event of the year is right around the corner and two business owners are approaching it with excitement and varying perspectives.

David Landgraf, Founder and Chief Experience Officer of Make It Happen Management, a full service events management and production firm, who thrives on the challenges of orchestrating exceptional events around the globe from inception to execution. His New York City-based full-service event planning firm has orchestrated high-level conferences, social events, fundraisers, executive summit meetings, webcasts, team building activities, summer outings, picnics, and one-of-a-kind destination retreats. Among the list of who's who at these well-crafted events are George W. Bush, Barack Obama and the men's No. 1 Tennis Champion Novak Djokovic, who is the celebrity sponsor of the watchmaker Seiko. (Follow the company on Instagram and Facebook @makeithappenmgmt). 

Landgraf has under his belt 20-plus years of experience in the corporate world working for such financial services brands as Blackstone, Goldman Sachs, Arthur Andersen, and Barclays Capital. Over a year ago, he decided to launch Make It Happen Management that would focus on full service events, conferences and client engagement events for corporations, associations, nonprofits and select private clients. In December 2018, Make Happen Management became an NGLCC certified LGBT Business Enterprise.

David Landgraf, Founder and CEO

Landgraf is among some 1,400 LGBT and allied business leaders expected to attend the  2019 NGLCC International Business & Leadership Conference in sunny Tampa Bay, Florida at the Tampa Convention Center. The globally recognized conference is the largest LGBTQ+ business event worldwide, delivering innovative leadership programming as well as networking and engagement opportunities. 

As a first time attendee, Landgraf is hoping to expand his brand recognition and build national and international business relationships for Make it Happen Management and its global capabilities. “Also, to get people to realize that events are more than just logistics, they’re creative, they're tactile, they’re experiential, they’re engaging,” he says. “I want to create experiences that people can walk away from and say, ‘that made a difference to me”

Landgraf adds that he is looking forward to the one-to-one matchmaking networking opportunities the most, where he looks to give testimonials as to how he can Make It Happen for them and his future clients. He understands building one’s professional network means expanding opportunities for mutual success.

NGLCC offers several matchmaking sessions to meet with corporations and fellow suppliers to help entrepreneurs make meaningful connections in the business world. Having endless peers to connect with is a great reason to attend this year’s conference says President and Co-Founder Justin Nelson. “Take advantage of everything you can, from pre-conference day to networking throughout the conference,” he encourages newcomers and past attendees alike.

Landgraf takes great pride in his work with NGLCC’s  Co-Founder and CEO Chance E. Mitchell and Jonathan D. Lovitz, Senior Vice President, making sure supply chain and procurement play an impactful role with his corporate clients, the LGBTQ+ community and the City of New York. He’s serious about impacting change. Landgraf calls his approach to events “Our four Es—Empower, Excite, Educate and Entertain”.

As a change agent, Landgraf sits on the advisory board of Transfernation, the first on-demand food rescue service which provides a unique opportunity where unused food from events can be picked up and delivered to the underserved at local shelters, pantries and food kitchens. It is a business close to his heart, because “I saw a lot of food going to waste at large events and buffets, and as well as decor. I would have the decor donated to local children's hospitals, Ronald McDonald House and the like. Giving Back and Doing Good, became a huge passion of mine,” he says.

Make It Happen Management is embarking on an expansion services program over the next year. The NGLCC International Business & Leadership Conference affords entrepreneurs like Landgraf the opportunity to develop their careers alongside other skilled LGBTQ+ business owners and affiliates who are paving the way for LGBTQ+ economic empowerment.

In addition to one-on-one Matchmaker meetings between suppliers and Fortune 500 companies, there are more than 40 sessions, workshops, and programs offered at the conference. Cutting-edge educational programs include inspiring keynote speakers, the annual B2B Boot Camp for certified LGBT Business Enterprises (LGBTBEs), a local chamber development track, and Marketplace Expo.

Joanne Balady, President
This is the sixth year that Joanne Balady, founder of Balady Promotions, has attended the national conference. She is looking forward to spending a great deal of time in the Expo hall, visiting with corporate partners and sponsors. “I really could spend hours in there meeting supplier diversity and  procurement professionals, reviewing my capabilities,” says Balady, who targets five companies that she wants to do business with. “I think meeting them year after year has helped my business. I've built visibility and credibility and now I believe we are reaping the benefits from all that investment. When our prospects see us year after year, relationships are built just like any type of networking. You have to be consistent in who you're connecting with.”

For over 25 years, Parsippany, New Jersey based Balady Promotions has been helping businesses elevate their brands by providing exceptional quality promotional products used as giveaways at events, booth displays for trade shows, and branded apparel. The most consistent products have been wearables. “Approximately 30% of our business has consistently come from our decorated apparel programs.  Our clients are consistently looking for walking billboards to advertise their brands—some examples include, T-shirts, jackets, and sweatshirts,” says Balady. What’s hot these days? “Anything related to technology—your computer or iPhone—is what sells.”

Balady began her career in promotions working for Pepsi-Cola Company and then working for one of Pepsi's largest promotional suppliers on such programs as the Pepsi Challenge, Pepsi Free, and the Michael Jackson Bad tour. After seven years at this promotional company, she spun off into her own business in 1989.

What started out as a one-woman show is now a team of eight. “We're still a small business, but we are a great creative team that has lots of promo experience,” Balady says. Initially, Balady Promotions began servicing liquor companies and beverage companies but then slowly moved into other industries, focusing on the education sector. “We love to work with schools, universities, and also now with the government.”

Balady concedes she was more of a spectator when she first joined NGLCC but since then she has attended lots of events. “I think the more I got involved, the more it helped me grow personally and professionally,” she says, noting that having a certified LGBT Business Enterprise opened a number of doors. To that end, she also participated in chamber’s Certified Superstar business pitch program.

The NGLCC conference veteran adds among those sessions she has an interest in is The Intersection of Personal Brand + Role and Importance of LGBTQ+ Employee Resource Groups. “At Balady, we are working with ERGs in many corporations - helping them with their promotional requests to increase awareness of their groups within their organizations, so it's important for me to meet new contacts in our community that are participating in LGBTQ ERGs to develop new business connections as well as get a better understanding of their goals to help them with their missions.” Adds Balady, another appealing session is Capturing the Rising Buying Power of Millennial and Gen Z Audiences. “It's so important to learn about the trends affecting the buying habits of the Next Gen and tips on how to reach them...we need to stand out!”

Written by Carolyn M. Brown, a journalist, author, playwright, producer, and founder of True Colors Project, a social enterprise that produces two annual events: My True Colors Excel Pride Awards and My True ColorsFestival, a multidisciplinary arts festival for and by LGBTQIAGNC+ storytellers. She is a member of the nglccNY Media and Communications Committee. @cmbrown_7