An Interview with Vanessa Wagner from Loudoun Economic Development
March is Women’s History Month. Pan Asia Resources decided to take this time to interview some of Loudoun County’s most influential women. For one of our first interviews, we got to sit down with Loudoun Economic Development’s Small Business & Entrepreneurial Manager, Vanessa Wagner, to discuss her role with Loudoun Small Biz, how she got here and her thoughts on women-owned small businesses.
We love the title you have on your LinkedIn profile – Entrepreneurship Advocate/Startup Catalyst – Can you tell us more about what you do?
I focus on supporting small businesses and growing the entrepreneur ecosystem in Loudoun County. It is all about providing the right resources at the right time. This includes providing programs, business introductions, referrals, investment opportunities and working with partner organizations. If an opportunity does not exist, we (Loudoun Economic Development) try to create it. My overarching mission at Loudoun Economic Development is to create a vibrant entrepreneurial system.
Can you tell us more about your team and how you work with the community?
We have 23 positions in our department. Our team comprises of people with different specializations and personalities. We promote transparency in not just our office layout but also in our work and interactions. Each member of our team is a brand ambassador representing different areas of expertise – small business, mid-sized business, international development and many more. We are involved with the community through networking events, social media, sponsorship’s, partner organizations and promotional events.
What motivated you to take this career path?
Growing up, I was surrounded by small business owners in my family. Despite facing challenges, my father was involved in setting up multiple entrepreneurial ventures. Even at the age of 63, he still comes up with exciting ideas for new ventures. My family has certainly influenced my decision to work with small businesses. Also, I have always enjoyed helping small businesses and working with them. It is great to be a part of an organization that helps so many small businesses grow and flourish.
Why did you choose to work in Loudoun County Economic Development?
With Loudoun Economic Development, I get to do what I love every single day – which is not only working with small businesses but also meeting new people. I love Loudoun because it is half way between petting a goat on one side and enjoying DC city life on the other. It remains an area where businesses help one another even as we grow at a rapid pace.
What challenges have you faced, as a woman, in becoming successful in your field?
Commercial real estate is a field dominated by gentlemen and there is certainly a pressure to prove yourself when you are a young woman. I think that being authentic to yourself and recognizing your skills help you build your reputation. You also need to identify areas of improvement and focus on improving them as well. I believe if you are true to your personality and draw from your past experiences, you can create opportunities to stand out.
From a career perspective, what do you think has been your biggest achievement or what gives you satisfaction and joy?
There are two paths that I am most proud of.
One, I am incredibly proud of the value of the programs Loudoun Economic Development offers. Last year we grew our annual Small Business Week and it was a huge success.
Second, I am proud of the great customer service I offer my clients. One of the first small businesses I worked from cradle to launch was “The Crate Xscape.” I was able to support them in identifying a location and completing the permitting process, up to their ribbon-cutting. And we continue supporting them even after their launch. It feels incredible to know that my position allows me to play a role in helping businesses start in Loudoun.
Based on your own experience, what advice would you give to women considering pursuing a career in marketing?
From a sales perspective, I would say that you have to be passionate about the product that you are selling. It is easy to sell something if you believe in it. I sell the community that I live, work and play in – Loudoun. I help businesses get excited because I’m excited about growing businesses here. By being true and authentic to yourself, people will come to respect and appreciate that.
Who is your biggest influence (s)?
My biggest influence I would have to say is my mom – Nancy Jozwiak. She read and related to every audience she was in front of and accepted everyone for who they are. When I’m doubting myself I can still hear her voice in my head saying, “Who the heck cares what they think? Go for it!” She is with me in spirit every day.
From an entrepreneurial standpoint, I would say Martha Stewart. She has a dedication to providing quality in her work while not wavering in her passion. She became a subject-matter expert on anything she dealt with and that’s reflected in her successful media empire.
I am sure you have had the opportunity to meet several women entrepreneurs. What are your thoughts on women leaders in Loudoun County and challenges they encounter?
One of the biggest challenges I have observed is how women balance their work, personal lives and providing for their community. These are amazing women who are running their businesses while volunteering and still having time to attend their kid’s soccer games. They want to be a superstar in everything that they do and live up to that expectation.
In regards to the challenges, I recommend that if you are an entrepreneur, don’t try to do it all on your own. There are so many great resources out there to help you achieve your dreams.
You had mentioned in your portfolio video that more than 87% of business in Loudoun are managed by small business owners. What are the resources available to help these budding entrepreneurs?
I always recommend going to our site, LoudounSmallBiz.org. The site provides 24-hour access to over 70 resource providers, a calendar of events, startup checklists, resources if you are hiring and so much more. We also offer ways to promote your business by sending out monthly newsletters, social media initiatives such as our Instagram “Takeover Tuesday” and our “1 Million Cups” program.
The theme for International Women’s day this year is “Be Bold for Change.” What does this mean to you?
You can’t be afraid to try something new. One aspect of my job was to build relationships with investors. Initially, I felt out of place at an annual investor event as I didn’t understand their world. I now have a role in that event because I made a change and stood out. I am respected and appreciated for my inputs at the investors’ meetup now. Don’t be afraid to try something new if it’s going to help your mission. Sometimes you just have to dive in. It may be icky at first but it gets easier as you stick with it. 😊
Entrepreneurs have the opportunity to seek help and find resources through the dedicated team at Loudoun Economic Development. For more information on what Vanessa does and how her and the team at Loudoun Economic Development can help you visit their website today!
We thank Vanessa for her valuable time.
Pan Asia Resources is a women-owned marketing boutique firm located in Ashburn, VA. We specialize in Brand Outreach and Social Media Marketing Services. For more information on how we can help you visit our website today!