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Wonder Women

Excitement roared into Florida as women entrepreneurs took over the Miami Beach Convention Center for the second annual Women in Charge conference, hosted by Entrepreneur and OPEN from American Express.

The festivities began with an inspirational address from Adela Cepeda, a serial entrepreneur and the president of finance advisory firm AC Advisory Inc. Urging attendees to support one another in building their businesses, Cepeda praised women for their great instincts and encouraged them to increase their influence in the business world. "When you feel that what you've accomplished as a businesswoman could help somebody else, it gives meaning to your daily existence," she said.

Following Cepeda's address, the attendees headed off to one of eight different breakout sessions held throughout the day. Entrepreneur Jennifer Kushell taught women how to make networking a way of life; financial expert Rosalind Resnick explained how to get funding; internet marketing expert Catherine Seda taught sessions on low-cost marketing tactics and internet marketing; Marian Van Dyke, a representative from the Rich Dad Education team, revealed how to build wealth; and Entrepreneur's editorial director, Rieva Lesonsky, shared hot business trends for 2008. Attendees even had the chance to pitch their businesses to Entrepreneur editors one-on-one, while MSNBC camera crews from the show Your Business searched for exciting women entrepreneurs to interview.

During lunch, the ballroom was afire with women making connections, and attendees sat in rapt attention as Matti Herrera Bower, the first woman mayor of Miami Beach, spoke. The excitement grew to a fever pitch with the presentation of the Woman of the Year award to Katrina Markoff, founder of Vosges Haut-Chocolat. Though Markoff confessed to being nervous, her humility and humor shined through as she shared her tale of finding the inspiration to create exotic chocolates through her world travels and her experiences concocting delectable treats in her kitchen. Building her company to nearly $12 million in sales last year, Markoff explained her commitment to ending violence against women by contributing to charities, a story that moved many to tears. "I realized how important it is to follow your heart, and success will follow," she said. "I guess that's the power of chocolate."

Michelle Thompson-Dolberry, director of Advocacy Marketing for OPEN from American Express, presented the award. "Katrina Markoff embodies the passion and perseverance a woman entrepreneur needs to thrive," she said. "Her fascinating experiences and inspiring stories leading up to the founding of her company certainly resonated with the women entrepreneurs in the audience. It was a personal honor and professional pleasure to present Katrina with this very prestigious award. She's helping [women] believe in themselves and their own visions."

"I was in awe of the stories the women shared about their businesses," said Markoff, who, after giving her acceptance speech, met with dozens of attendees who were eager to pick her brain. After the evening cocktail party, attendees left armed with loads of new contacts and business advice, energized for the business challenges ahead. "Women have a tremendous amount of power to make the world a better place," said Markoff, 35. "And they're doing just that."

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This article was originally published in the May 2008 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Wonder Women.

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