Karen Smaw’s efforts to brand Fairfax County as a home for minority business have helped her join the ranks of congressmen, broadcasters and other A-list luminaries.
Ms. Smaw, director of small and minority business development for the Fairfax County Economic Development Authority (FCEDA), was named last month as one of the “Fifty Most Influential Minorities in Business” by the Minority Business & Professionals Network Inc.
The network is a national organization that recognizes minority men and women based on their commitment to business, community and professional excellence.
The honor has put Ms. Smaw in the same company as recent honorees Rep. Jesse L. Jackson Jr., CNN White House correspondent Suzanne Mal-veaux and Industrial Bank President B. Doyle Mitchell Jr.
Ms. Smaw was featured in Minority Enterprise Advocate magazine, which listed the network’s award winners in its May-June issue.
At the FCEDA, Ms. Smaw is responsible for helping small businesses owned by women and minorities succeed in Fairfax County, where the number of minority- and women-owned businesses have grown along with the county’s booming population.
Fairfax County has become home to 1,800 new minority-owned businesses since 2002, said FCEDA spokesman Alan Fogg.
“This dramatic change in the demographics of the business community has led to the creation of some very innovative programs,” Ms. Smaw said. “However, the most important work has been in the establishment of strategic alliances and partnerships with various organizations that service the small and minority business community.”
Some of these relationships include a partnership with the Fairfax County Office of Small Business and monthly workshops on entrepreneurship that combine the resources of the county, state and federal governments.
Ms. Smaw also implemented the Emerging Business Forum, a program that places minority business owners face to face with potential buyers and business partners in a one-day conference.
Dennis Powell, marketing and communications vice president for Filnet Inc., an Alexandria software company, is one of the entrepreneurs who found business partners with help from Ms. Smaw.
“We’re a small, fairly successful IT business and it is in our interest to build strategic alliances with other strong business, regardless of their size, to help us grow, and Karen is definitely an important part of that,” Mr. Powell said.
Ms. Smaw also has scheduled a series of workshops for people who either want to start a business or who need to make their business grow, said Gerald L. Gordon, president of the FCEDA.
For those sessions, she brings in representatives from the U.S. Small Business Administration, various state programs and the county procurement staff.
“Every resource that’s out there — public and private,” Mr. Gordon said.
Before joining the FCEDA, Ms. Smaw was a regional account manager for D&B (formerly Dun & Bradstreet Corp.), a global business information company.
She earned a marketing degree from Troy University in Alabama in 1987 and a master’s degree in business administration at the university’s Fort Myer campus in 2001.
She is a member of the George Mason University Life Advisory Board, the Herndon Dulles Chamber of Commerce and the Community Business Partnership. She also is active in the Northern Virginia Technology Council.