Congresswoman Donna Edwards (D) visited the Clarion Hotel in Oxon Hill on Feb.10 to host a Women-Owned Business Roundtable in Maryland’s 4th Congressional District.

In June 2008, Edwards was sworn in as the first African-American woman to represent Maryland in the House of Representatives. In her tenure, she has introduced legislation to expand research and development, domestic manufacturing, and infrastructure spending to create jobs and grow the economy.

Attended by approximately 50 female entrepreneurs and future entrepreneurs, the event discussed keys to starting and running a successful business, from accessing capital and federal contracts to utilizing mentor programs.

Also in attendance were state Delegates Jolene Ivey and Aisha Braveboy, representing Maryland’s 47th and 25th districts, respectively.

Margot Dorfman, CEO of the U.S. Women’s Chamber of Commerce, provided the keynote speech, and discussed topics including how to obtain a federal contract.

“First thing is that you need to do your homework before you step on anyone’s doorstep,” Dorfman said.

Dorfman also offered advice about receiving loans.

“Never take a credit card over a loan,” Dorfman said.

Dorfman asked the audience whether any of them have considered running for office; only a handful of people raised their hands. She encouraged them to do so, noting that out of the 435 seats in the House of Representatives, only 171 women ran for one in the last election and 81 were elected.

“You have the power,” Dorfman said. “Now, it’s time to step up and take control.”

A group of panelists followed, fielding questions regarding accessing and maximizing capital, competing for and maintaining federal contracts.

The roundtable panelists featured Theresa Clark, director of the Small Business Program Office and Air Force District of Washington Joint Base Andrews, D.C.; Guylaine Sainte-Juste, senior vice president of Capitol One; Erin Andrews, assistant administrator of the U.S. Small Business Administration; and Julia Hudson, regional administrator of the National Capitol Region for the U.S. General Services Administration.

Many attendees had concerns about problems with their local banks.

“Establish a relationship, not only with your bank, but with your banker,” Sainte-Juste told the crowd. She said that relationship will help business owners learn more information about their banks

A second panel discussed the U.S. Small Business Administration’s mentor-protégé program.

The panel featured Stacy Trammell, president and CEO of Zavda Technologies, Inc. and Nancy H. Deskins, director of Category Management and Supplier Diversity for Lockheed Martin, along with Clark and Andrews.

Deskins described the program as “a relationship between a mentor and a socio-economic regulatory defined category of small business, with the intent of enhancing their technical capabilities and business infrastructure.”

It includes strict milestone schedules and reporting requirements and is treated like any other government contract.

“Be consistent and stick with your goals,” Trammell told the crowd. “Don’t get discouraged if you get declined the first time you try. It depends on the relationship you build with that business. Go out there and grow your business.”