Betsy Cerulo already had certified her executive staffing and management consulting company as an LGBT-owned enterprise when she realized two years ago that Maryland could use a business group focused on lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender business owners and executives.
The group that Cerulo and marketing firm owner Dave Imre started in June, the Maryland LGBT Chamber of Commerce, has the LGBT business community at its core but is open to anyone who wants to join, Cerulo said. Besides the chamber’s president, Cerulo also is president of Catonsville-based AdNet/AccountNet Inc., which connects federal agencies and other employers with professionals in accounting, finance, human resources, legal and other specialties.
She began talking with Imre, CEO of Baltimore-based Imre, in early 2016, about forming a chamber to boost the presence of LGBT businesses. They quickly found about 30 business people interested in the idea.
“We wanted to know who the LGBT-owned companies were that we could connect with,” said Cerulo, 56. “We could give each other business. We could collaborate...We wanted to be connected and watch out for each other to make sure we have opportunities.”
That kind of support is needed especially within an LGBT community that still faces discrimination, she said.
“We’re used to being told no. We’re used to having doors slammed because someone has a bias,” she said. “The way we can interrupt it is to educate people and to bring our best selves forward.”
The group now has nearly 100 members. It offers educational programs and networking events and is preparing for its first business expo, scheduled for Wednesday at the Maryland Zoo.
Cerulo grew up in New Jersey, graduated from Catholic University of America in Washington with a business degree and worked for a national recruiting firm. After moving to Catonsville, she started her business, but she found it difficult as a 28-year-old woman to get financing and was turned down by five banks. Instead, she financed her start-up with savings and credit cards.
Today, her clients include large corporations as well as federal agencies such as the departments of Health and Human Services, Homeland Security, Commerce and Labor, and the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.
In 2012, Cerulo’s business, already certified as a women’s business enterprise, was certified by the National Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce.
“At the time, I had just turned 50, and I said I guess it’s really time to come out, for the business,” she said. “Once I got the certification, I made a conscious decision that I was going to recognize my company as LGBT-owned and as woman-owned. It is just part of who I am.”
She found corporations were aggressively seeking LGBT-owned businesses to satisfy diversity requirements.
“I made incredible contacts and started to win contracts,” she said.
Chamber contacts both at the state and national levels have helped open doors, she said.
But “what keeps you in the door is by being our best,” Cerulo said. “We will go above and beyond. That’s probably the case for a lot of diverse business owners. We are going to press through bias and work hard to be the very best.”