Dina Proto needed a way to take her greeting card business to the next level.
And thanks to the certification and business connections she made through the National Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce, or NGLCC, Proto’s company, Teazled, gained access to mainstream, national stores.
Now Proto’s cards for the LGBT community are the first of their kind featured in Albertsons grocery stores.
Her successes with her business led her to starting a local affiliate, the Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce Nevada, or GLCCNV, which recently hosted chambers from across the U.S. and Canada at Caesars Palace for the 2014 NGLCC National Business and Leadership Conference.
“What this can do for the business community is paramount for our (LGBT) community,” said Proto, who started Teazled with her wife three years ago when she saw that mainstream greeting cards failed to address things like same-sex spouses and parents.
The sold out, four-day conference ended Friday and was the largest yet for the NGLCC and brought more than 700 visitors to Las Vegas.
Attendees had access to morning workouts, yoga and walk-and-talk sessions with corporate representative and suppliers. Panels included discussions on leadership, growing small businesses and gaining corporate contracts. Given the exceptional turnout for this year’s national conference, organizers announced intentions to bring the event back to Las Vegas in three-year intervals.
“We have a huge opportunity to teach our business community about this,” Proto said. “It just makes me so happy to have so many local comapnies here.”
Not only does joining a professional association like GLCCNV help small-business owners connect, but it is also advantageous for an LGBT-owned business to “come out,” according to co-founder and president of NGLCC, Justin Nelson.
“It’s about creating an entire economic ecosystem,” Nelson said. “It gets your foot in the door. It helps you identify the types of companies that use your product.”
Joining an affiliated chamber gives you a network of strategic partners, he explained. These strategic partners include major corporations who partner with NGLCC, such as MGM Resorts International, who signed on during the conference.
“We’re not just a social squeaky wheel,” Nelson said of the LGBT community. “We are business owners. We’re job creators. We offer health care. We’re a lot more like our neighbors than some of our neighbors think.”
Nelson said being in NGLCC, or an affiliated chamber, can benefit all LGBT business-owners, from the small-town business owners worried about bricks being thrown through their windows to the big-city business owners looking to expand or access new, diverse suppliers.
And it’s not an “us or them” mentality, Nelson said, because the NGLCC is all about inclusion. The organization celebrates businesses owned by straight “allies,” and they partner with national groups like the Small Business Administration. They work with other minority associations, and lobby legislators on behalf of the organization’s certified LGBT enterprises at the state level and in Washington D.C.
In June, NGLCC launched a multi-million dollar partnership with the U.S. Agency for International Development to bring their entrepreneurial message to developing nations, Nelson said.
“What we’re offering is the ability to make that connection to take your business to the next level,” said Sam McClure, NGLCC’s vice president of affiliate relations and external affairs.
McClure said that a company’s diversity and inclusion policies do have an economic impact.
“We select companies that support our (LGBT) community,” she said. “The return on the investment is there if companies are willing to step up to the plate.”
Proto and McClure said LGBT business owners should embrace their uniqueness and make their identity a business strength, even if they believe their product has nothing to do with being LGBT.
“Many, I think, are still in the closet,” Proto said. “I think the ownership and the power we have together speaks volumes.”
McClure said she was most excited to see outstanding local chambers get honored at the conference, because she is passionate about what membership in NGLCC can do for a business.
“The vision is to have a national organization that is laser-focused on the advancement of LGBT businesses,” she said. “The thing I’m most proud of is we’ve been able to change the landscape of what people think is possible.”
Contact Wesley Juhl at firstname.lastname@example.org and 702-383-0381. Find him on Twitter: @WesJuhl.