Fall 2022 WomanUP Award Winners

November 9, 2022

At our Fall 2022 WomanUP Celebration on November 3, we celebrated the incredible work women in our community are doing every day. While every woman nominated is doing outstanding work, we recognized six individuals going above and beyond. Here are the recipients of the Fall 2022 WomanUP Awards:

Woman Entrepreneur of the Year Award, sponsored by Webb Investments – Laura Wagenknecht, Mosaic Business Consulting

Photo by Julieta Fumberg.

“Laura is a born leader who shares her business acumen with other entrepreneurs with transparency, grace and humor,” says Laura Webb of Webb Investments.

In her 30 years as a business consultant, Wagenknecht has helped hundreds of clients start, scale and sell their businesses. She has assisted in the launch more than 30 new businesses through work on their business plans, setting up their grand opening and developing strategies to build. And, she has helped clients secure more than one million dollars in funding.

Laura gives her time tirelessly. She is an Executive Team Member for Western Carolinas Coaches group and co-chair for SCORE Asheville. She has coached Black Wall Street members on how to write a business plan.

She provides coaching, training and resources for Mountain BizWorks and the Western Women’s Business Center, as well as for A-B Tech, Blue Ridge and Haywood Community Colleges. And, Laura hosts two weekly radio shows focused on women in business and business success.

Laura’s willingness to share her wisdom makes her a trustworthy,  and successful, business advocate.

Outstanding Woman in Nonprofit Leadership Award, sponsored by TD Bank – Teresa Stephens, Givens Communities

Photo by Julieta Fumberg.

“Teresa is a true pioneer of affordable senior housing. She has become a national leader, creating a sustainable affordable housing model that provides seniors with nice, safe homes, while also providing support services such as resident care coordinators and a community nurse,” says Charles Frederick of TD Bank.

During her tenure at Givens, Teresa supported the development and financing of Givens Great Laurels in Waynesville which created 100 HUD- tax credit apartments for seniors ages 55 and older. She also worked tirelessly with HUD to get tax credit application approvals for the development and creation of Givens Gerber Park, in South Asheville, which has 260 apartments for HUD-tax credit and middle market homes.

Currently, Teresa is working alongside the Dogwood Health Trust to develop more affordable housing for seniors in Western North Carolina, providing leadership and guidance to others working in this arena.

Teresa’s work impacts the lives of many each day.  She is mission-driven and is striving to serve the needs of so many more with the effort and determination she puts in each day, while envisioning the future she will create.

Woman Executive of the Year Award, sponsored by MAHEC – Carol Steen, Biltmore Farms

Photo by Julieta Fumberg.

As a workforce development professional, Carol serves as a connector of people, sponsoring the growth and development of women in the workplace and addressing system barriers impacting the advancement of women and BIPOC communities. 

For example, while serving as President of the WNC Human Resources Association, Carol backed the creation of certification scholarships and a new mentorship program to support the growth of HR professionals in the region.

At Biltmore Farms, Carol led creation of an intentional and serene lactation space to support new moms and expanded health plan coverage to support infertility services and gender affirming care.

Carol uses her HR and business acumen to volunteer and engage in leadership for a number of local non‐profits in the community, including Buncombe County’s Early Childhood Education and Development Fund, the Land of Sky Council, Pisgah Legal Services and United Way of Asheville and Buncombe County.

“Truly, Carol strives to create a fulfilling work experience for employees and freely share her wisdom, skills and talent to help others grow and succeed,” says Dr. Bill Hathaway of MAHEC.

Impact Award, sponsored by ID.ology  – Heather Johnson, Kudzu Brands

Photo by Julieta Fumberg.

Under Heather’s leadership, Kudzu Brands has built a reputation as a premier marketing and branding agency and has grown by over 30% in 2022. She believes in democracy of process and ideas, which means all her employees can affect real change to improve the company. She also places significant focus on professional development and works to make sure her team has every opportunity to excel.

Thinking of others in our community, Heather shares opportunities to mentor and support women’s professional development in Asheville and Buncombe County. For example, Heather has served as a mentor for the Next AVL program since its inception, helping young women find their strengths, and offering professional connections and resources.

Heather and her company annually award free marketing services to a non-profit organization or local business. And, Heather is well respected for her business expertise and invited to sit on panels and boards, such as the Western Women’s Business Center and All Souls Counseling Center.

“Heather is a shining example of how every female professional could impact women in the workplace and surrounding community,” says Laura Sullivan of ID.ology Interiors & Design.

Rising Star Award, sponsored by Western Carolina University – Gwendolyn Hageman, Dare Vegan Cheese

Photo by Julieta Fumberg.

Gwendolyn took a love of cheese and a clever name written on a napkin and transformed it into a household name among Asheville vegans, vegetarians and people who love cheese. She has grown her business from a small stand at the local farmer’s market to seven employees and 150+ accounts over 22 states. Along the way, Gwendolyn has taken every opportunity to collaborate with local companies and be part of the Asheville community – from product donations to taking part in round tables and conferences.

“Gwendolyn exudes a quiet confidence. Her determination and drive are contagious. She cares deeply about the people around her and wants to see everyone in her radius succeed. Her peers seek her out for advice and counsel,” shares Dr. AJ Grube of Western Carolina University.

For example, Gwendolyn has mentored other vegan cheese makers, and she offered space in the Dare-ee Vegan Cheese facility to another young woman entrepreneur expanding her business. Sharing space has allowed Gwendolyn to offer advice, bounce ideas and commiserate with a fellow small business owner in a way that is mutually beneficial.

Suzanne DeFerie Lifetime Achievement Award, sponsored by First Bank – Janet Cone, UNC Asheville

Photo by Julieta Fumberg.

Janet serves as Senior Administrator for University Enterprises and Director of Athletics for UNC Asheville. In her time at UNC Asheville, Janet has elevated the Bulldogs in every way possible.

Janet is one of the very first women to lead on the national stage in collegiate athletics. She has exceled in a male-dominated field and pioneered a path for women to be leaders in athletic administration. Her expertise is sought after from both men and women leaders in athletics and higher education.

Janet’s longstanding commitment to student-athlete welfare and academic excellence have guided the UNC Asheville Bulldogs to numerous accolades. She has also worked rigorously to improve gender and racial equity and inclusion in UNC Asheville athletics and the college community at large. Janet also helped create the Asheville Buncombe Regional Sports Commission.

Not only is Janet a skilled and remarkable administrator, but her passion for coaching, teaching and mentoring are hallmarks of her professional and personal success. 

“Janet knows very well the challenges and opportunities women face in the professional world, and she is passionate to mentor, support and provide opportunities for women to grow.  She leads by example, and her insight and constructive feedback are invaluable to the many women who have sought her insight and advice,” says Jessica Juergens, Area Retail Manager for First Bank.