Women-Owned Businesses Take Center Stage at the Women of Influence Summit

Published on March 6, 2024

In just a few days, United Way for Southeastern Michigan’s Women United affinity group will host its 8th annual Women of Influence Summit, presented by Stellantis. More than 700 women and allies will come together for a fun-filled morning of networking, conversation, learning, and more.

Since 2017, the sold-out event has raised more than $1.2 million for early childhood education and literacy. The summit will kick off with a Marketplace where guests can choose from dozens of items like candles, jewelry, custom crafts, clothing and spice blends from local women-owned businesses.

The Marketplace, sponsored by Rocket Companies, Walker-Miller Energy Services and Roush Enterprises, will feature Nave Aromatics, Konjo Me, Not Sorry Goods, Love Travel Imports, Inkcourage, MG Studios, Rosemarine Textiles, Serenityy The Brand, Astouri, Bath Savvy Naturals, Rebel Nell and Clear As Crystal.

United Way worked closely with Tech Town, an entrepreneurial hub in Detroit, to identify a diverse group of organizations to be included in the Marketplace. Tech Town provided support to the businesses in kind to make sure they were prepared for the large event— everything from branding to social media to how they should set up their table.

“At United Way, we not only support women, but we also make sure they feel supported financially and mentally,” said Tina Saad, director of corporate experience at United Way for Southeastern Michigan. “The Women-Owned Business Marketplace has been one of our favorite parts because we know that these businesses are amazing, and our guest will think so too!”

“It’s very exciting to see the conversations about the items attendees selected and the connections they form.”


In 2023, the US Small Business Administration reported that women own 43.5% and racially marginalized groups own 16.3% of the small businesses in Michigan. By supporting women and BIPOC-owned businesses, we help shape a more diverse economy. Our support means that in times of crisis, small businesses can survive and thrive.

For many small businesses, COVID was such a crisis. Shannon Reaves, founder and owner of Bath Savvy Naturals is grateful for the support. Bath Savvy started as a natural soap and lotion-making hobby of Shannon’s mother in the early 2000s. When Shannon returned from college with a marketing degree, she used her knowledge to help her mother sell her bath products at church and events.

Before long, Shannon was immersed in the selling and making of natural bath products. For the next seven years, Bath Savvy flourished at Rust Belt Market in Ferndale, but everything changed when the pandemic hit.

“I was enjoying being local and community-based when the 2019 pandemic hit,” said Shannon. “COVID closed everything and put small businesses out— we had to work from a makeshift lab at home.”

“During that time, we were able to keep going because we had a core of customers,” she added. “People were prioritizing black small businesses and seeking us out.”

Products offered during the summit are paid for in advance through the sponsorship, allowing owners to focus on building relationships during the event.

“It definitely relieves some of that pressure– I don’t have to worry about trying to close a deal.” said Yasin Sugufara, founder and owner of Serenityy The Brand. “My mind can be free to make meaningful connections with no end-all-be-all sales goal.”

“I’m going to be in a better space to absorb the knowledge and insight from the powerful and inspirational women there. I can really be present,” Yasin added.

The Marketplace is designed for human connection and network building. At the same time, small businesses are positively impacted by being able to sell their products in bulk. For many of the businesses, the Marketplace will represent their largest sale to date.

“The Women of Influence Marketplace is a really big opportunity, and the volume of this sale has a huge impact,” said Ange Zelenak, founder and owner of Inkcourage. “It’s really going to help me build my business. I’m already thinking about new products that I want to do with the funds from the sale.”

“With this support, I can look forward to a line of products for Mental Health Awareness Month in May,” Ange said.


There is a sense of empowerment and community among summit attendees from all walks of life as they share experiences and expertise.

“It’s such a wonderful opportunity to network with other businesses, different corporate leaders and community leaders,” said Ange. “Even if I’ve just met them once, I always follow them on Instagram and stay invested in their lives.”

Bath Savvy Naturals is returning to the marketplace for their third year in a row. Shannon shared that a range of new opportunities have been born from their presence at the summit.

“It is awesome to be in a room with so many community and corporate leaders, because you don’t always get the opportunity to get in front of these types of businesses,” said Shannon. “Getting connected with these companies can be a game changer.”

“So far, the exposure has been awesome for us and being in the room face to face, people are more apt to seek you out and remember you.”

Last year, Shannon received an offer from PwC to bring more products to their office in the days following the summit. She was also able to book several parties for Bath Savvy’s Scent Experience, a two to 20-person guided party experience in making a personalized bath product.


Several of the Marketplace businesses offer products to positively enhance the community. Inkcourage, for example, offers temporary tattoos to reinforce positive self-talk while Serenityy The Brand centers Black fashion trends that are often overlooked and offers sustainable gold jewelry.

“Integrity, affordability and inclusivity are all very important things,” said Yasin. “It’s about running a brand for the people, a mutual exchange.”

“I’m not just trying to make money; I’m trying to give back and make the world a better place,” said Yasin, who received financial support and business coaching as part of Tech Town’s first cohort of ecommerce/home-based businesses.

“Tech Town is an amazing resource for anyone in the city of Detroit who is looking to build their business,” said Yasin. “It was my business coach that notified me of this Women of Influence opportunity.”

By supporting small businesses, Tech Town is investing in the people of Detroit and empowering individuals to contribute positively through their passions.

“Local businesswomen keep our ecosystem afloat,” said Yasin. “Small shops shape our communities and build togetherness.”

Local businesswomen keep our ecosystem afloat. Small shops shape our communities and build togetherness.” – Yasin, Serenityy The Brand

Learn more about Women United and more upcoming events here.