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2019 Annual Statewide Spring Luncheon Conference & Expo

NJAWBO Herstory
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NJAWBO Beginnings
Excerpts from an interview with Elizabeth Lyons Simonetti, First NJAWBO President

Life is not a senior prom.  You cannot wait to be invited.  You have to put yourself where you want to be.  Opportunity will not cut through barbed wire to find you!

These are the words of wisdom from NJAWBO’s first State President, Elizabeth (Betty) Lyons Simonetti.  She described the NJAWBO beginnings as 10 women who met at a hotel off the Parkway for breakfast each month. But because the organization had no money (some things never change) they stayed for 2 hours after eating to hold their meetings.

The organization was formed in 1978 while the first Expo was being planned. The women were brought together by Adele Kaplan who was then Director of the Women’s Division of Rutgers Business School at Newark and Bette Benedict.   Some of the early sponsors of EXPO were the SBA, the New Jersey Division on Women, and the New Jersey Department of Labor & Industry.  The Business Expo was the first women’s event held at Giant Stadium.  It caused a lot of attention and they received good press coverage because it was a "first”.  This one day event was the beginning of today’s NJAWBO Annual Conference which has evolved over the years into 1 ½ or 2 days.  NJAWBO still has the Business Expo where members can highlight their company’s services and products.  In the early years the display tables were very creative, such as a painter bringing her paint buckets and ladder to illustrate her services.  NJAWBO was the first and is still the only state-wide WBO organization.

In 1979 about 10 NJAWBO members Walked to Washington on the NJ Chamber of Commerce’s annual train ride.  This was another first since the only other women on the train were elected officials!  They were so much of an oddity that an article on women business owners was written in one of the Washington DC newspapers which also quoted Adrienne Zoble, another founding member.  While in Washington, they met with Senator Harrison Williams, Representative Millicent Fenwick and Bill Bradley’s chief of staff.

Betty became the first NJAWBO state President in 1981.  As Past President of the Raritan Valley Regional Chamber of Commerce, Betty encouraged NJAWBO members to join their local chambers.   Building relationships of trust as we develop our networks has been an integral part of the NJAWBO experience from its very beginnings.

Asked how she decided to become a business owner, Betty said from the skills she had gained working as an assistant administrator in a hospital, she decided to open a consulting business in 1970 to help women become managers in a changing society that was creating more opportunities for women.    In 1981 she was appointed by then Governor Thomas Keanu's administration to lead the new Office of Small Business Enterprise.   Prior activities had been at the will of the director of Economic Development so Senator Wynona Lipman was successful in formalizing the activity through legislation.  Later, as the state’s outreach to SBO’s expanded with an office for Minority Business Enterprise, Hispanic and procurement activities, a law was enacted which established the Division of Development for Small, Women and Minority Businesses.  Betty was then appointed Director of that Division within the New Jersey Department of Commerce.

To this day NJAWBO still collaborates with the State of New Jersey to develop business opportunities for women, minorities and small business.