Showcasing small business success

By: Maggie Wilson Posted: 05/24/2019

Our Elevate NW Conference inspired and connected small businesses


Our 2019 Elevate NW conference was held in bright sunshine at Seattle Center at the end of April. Attendees followed green and black balloons to the Fisher Pavilion, where our CEO and president Marilyn Strickland opened the conference.

Marilyn shared her joy in bringing a Seattle Metro Chamber event that recognizes the critical role each attendee, as representatives of small and mid-sized businesses, play in creating a competitive regional economy.

She introduced keynote Brian Canlis, owner of Seattle’s Canlis restaurant, who spoke about how he and his family his family's restaurant’s history, his individual journey. 

“Our mission is to inspire all people to turn toward each other,” Brian said of Canlis. He projected photos of his family and their restaurant over the years. In the restaurant business, Brian said a challenge is that when you are 20 or 30 years old, you become about a nostalgic experience – a tribute to what you once were.

We are doing something different, he said – evolving and working to stay relevant.

There were two key pieces of advice Brian shared about keeping a business successful:

  1. Make your vision and mission matter
  2. Differentiate between rules and strategies

Brian shared his family's story that started with Nicholas Kanlis in Greece, touched California and Hawaii, and eventually brought them to Seattle to develop beloved Canlis restaurant. After Brian’s inspirational keynote, attendees moved into Seattle Center to choose from three professional development sessions.


PEOPLE: We learned strategies that business leaders can use to improve morale, employee engagement, retention, communication and productivity from our Creating a People-Centric Workplace panel, moderated by organizational development consultant with Archbright, Tina Janni.

Brook Nelson, project manager of global workplace strategies with OAC Services, defined a people-centric workplace as “believing in the unlimited potential of people” — and leadership recognizing that “people really are your most important asset.” Friction is often caused by lack of communication and lack of personal context, Brook observed. That friction can be reduced by team building – creating that context.

Importantly, Kim Sullivan, Vice President and Chief People Officer with Kaiser Permanente, highlighted the large amount of time we spend at work. How people feel there is important, said Kim. And when you invest in maintaining a healthy workforce, all aspects of your work benefit. Kim also encouraged using tools to solicit employee feedback – and then acting on feedback.

How do you keep people a priority? Stacy Klimek, Vice President of People at Payscale, said her company makes sure they are very intentional about where they are going. “And we look at HR departments as strategists,” she said. “We are always asking, ‘How does this impact the employee?’”


GROWTH: How can a business map a growth strategy, take calculated risks, recover from stumbles, track success and continue to grow? A panel, moderated by the Chamber's director of business expansion and retention,  Ashton Allison, answered these questions at our Smart Business Growth session.

Leverage technology to help you grow, Nikcole Sanner, Senior Vice President and Managing Director U.S., with SAP Concur, advised. Knowledge and data are so important to help make decisions quickly, she added.

Panelist Sue Sanford, CMO of Upstart Group, said that if you stumble, you should make a plan for recovery – and set specific goals so that you know when you are recovering.

One more important piece of the puzzle? The people you work with. Beto Yarce, executive director of Ventures, pointed out that investing in your team is essential. He urged attendees, "Think about what the culture is that you want to represent with your company." Panelist Monica Dimas, chef and owner of Milkwood & Co., advised getting different perspectives from a diverse crew who believe in you and who you believe in.


FINANCING: In the Financing 101 session, a panel discussed the most appropriate and helpful financing options available to small businesses at various stages, and how to navigate them.

Panelists agreed that it’s never too early to start the conversation around financing. Columbia Bank VP Kerin Patel noted that having that conversation, whether it is with a lender or prospective investors, gets you in the mindset of telling a compelling story about who you are and where you are going.

"Speed equals cost," pointed out Cathy Griffith, Lender Relations Specialist with the U.S. Small Business Administration. Another benefit of thinking early and often about financing is that by taking time to prepare yourself, you can better navigate the financing options out there - and are less likely to get rushed into making a decision that could have very high trade-offs. A good lender will help you think through options, even if they’re not the right fit, she noted.

Panelist Sunil Nair, SVP and chief credit officer with Business Impact NW, said that if you are weighing financing for your business, you should look at the complete picture, including equity and debt. You know you’re ready when you’ve raised around 10-20 percent equity.

The financing panel, moderated by assistant director of the Innovation and Entrepreneurship Center at Seattle University, Amelia Marckworth, also shared some of their favorite free and low-cost resources:



Looking for more programs tailored to small businesses? Join us at our Elevate NW series, a free quarterly workshop designed specifically to help startups and small to mid-size businesses with different challenges they face.