Business People

Women SEEN: Making an Impact 2018 Speaker Line-Up

March 21, 2018

Read more about the inaugural Women SEEN: Making an Impact 2018 speakers.

Learn more about the incredibly diverse and successful women who will be speaking at the inaugural Women SEEN: Making an Impact conference on Friday, May 11, 2018. The event includes breakfast, networking and empowering connections with women dedicated to helping other women.

Keynote Speaker: Denise Ilitch

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The first of seven children and the first in her family to go to college, Denise Ilitch is a University of Michigan graduate from Bingham Farms. She received her B.A. degree in 1977 and her J.D. degree from the University of Detroit in 1980.  A tireless advocate for education, women, and children, Ilitch has dedicated her time on the University of Michigan board advocating for affordable, accessible education for all.

Denise Ilitch has been an integral part of Detroit’s business and philanthropic communities for 30 years as a dedicated business leader, devoted community servant, and supporter of many charitable causes. She is president of Ilitch Enterprises, LLC, and co-owner of 220 Restaurant Hospitality and previously served as President of Ilitch Holdings, Inc., a privately held business that manages such entities as Little Caesar Enterprises, The Detroit Red Wings, The Detroit Tigers, and Olympia entertainment.

Seeing the need for greater diversity in our education and business worlds, Ms. Ilitch has endowed a scholarship at Walsh College in 2010 to make sure that more women get advanced degrees, and a LEAD diversity scholarship at the University of Michigan in 2015.

She is Co-Chair of the Horizon Global Board. She now serves as a trustee of the Skillman Foundation and has also served as a Board Member of Major League Baseball and as an Alternate Governor for the National Hockey League. She currently serves as an ACLU advisory committee member and has served on the Board of Directors of the Detroit Branch NAACP. As a panelist on Michigan Matters, a talk show revolving around Michigan politics, Denise Ilitch is a strong voice for the students and people of Michigan. As a regent, Denise has served as chair of the board, vice chair of the board, chair of the personnel committee, and on the health affairs committee and finance committee.

Among her numerous awards and commendations are the B’nai B’rith International Great American Traditions Award, the Clara Barton Award from the American Red Cross, Alumnus of the Year 2007 from University of Detroit Mercy Law School, and is a recent honoree at Michigan Children’s Heroes Night for her lifetime of service to women and children. Denise Ilitch’s passion for affordable, accessible, quality education comes not only from her own experience as a first generation student, but also her children. Ms. Ilitch is the proud mother of two, one of whom graduated as a Wolverine.

Anya Babbitt: Founder and CEO of SPLT

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Anya Babbitt is the Founder and CEO of SPLT, a transportation management platform used by Fortune 500 enterprises, universities, hospitals, and cities throughout the U.S., Latin America and Europe to align integrated services and expand the use of smart technology. With a background in sustainability, Anya and her team have been recognized for more than 40 awards, including the Clinton Global Initiative, Clean Energy Trust and Google Demo Day. SPLT has been recently acquired by Bosch to further the future of smart and connected mobility.

Nia Batts: Co-founder & CEO of Detroit Blows

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Nia Batts is currently the co-founder and CEO of Detroit Blows, a non-toxic blow-dry salon in Detroit. She is also the chair of its affiliated philanthropic arm, Detroit Grows, which makes microgrants to Detroit-based female entrepreneurs, and to programs helping women enter or reenter the workforce. Previously she was the Senior Director of Social Innovation and Strategic Partnerships at Viacom, Inc. In her position, she worked with all of the Viacom brands on division priorities and cross-promotional, marketing and pro-social campaigns for key corporate, nonprofit and talent partners including: General Motors, AT&T, Capital One, Taco Bell, The White House, The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, The United Way, Lady Gaga, Kendrick Lamar, Big Sean, Mariska Hargitay, LeBron James, Kelly Clarkson and Sophia Bush. Nia earned a B.A. in Film Studies from Columbia University, an Executive Education Certificate in Corporate Social Responsibility from Harvard Business School and a professional certificate in Film Producing from New York University. She continues to produce content and manage partnerships at the intersection of entertainment and impact.

Carolyn Cassin: President & CEO of Michigan Women’s Foundation,  General Partner at The Belle Michigan Fund

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In 2009, Carolyn Cassin accepted the leadership of the Michigan Women Forward (previously known as Michigan Women’s Foundation), Michigan’s only public statewide Foundation dedicated solely to helping women and girls realize economic self-sufficiency and social equality. She shaped an innovative, strategic direction for the Foundation through the creation and support of high-impact programs aimed at Advancing the State’s Women’s Agenda, Developing the Next Generation of Young Women Leaders and Empowering Women Entrepreneurs.

Highlights of her accomplishments at MWF include the development of a microloan fund for women-owned and managed businesses and a venture capital fund for women – Belle Michigan, of which she is the General Partner.  Her leadership of the Foundation has resulted in exponential growth, financial stability, innovative programming and measurable results.

Carolyn is considered a national expert in end of life care, a highly-regarded organizational development and operations expert, and is an accomplished healthcare entrepreneur. In addition to her work with the Foundation, Carolyn started and held leadership positions with the National Hospice Work Group, a professional coalition of CEO’s from the nation’s largest and most innovative hospices.

Her professional successes include 10 years as CEO of Hospice of Michigan and the COO of VistaCare, the first venture capital-backed national hospice, which became a publically traded company in 2005.  She also oversaw the development of Michigan’s $1.5 billion Medicaid Managed Care Program and led Continuum Hospice Care in New York City to become NYC’s largest hospice program.

In 2016 Carolyn was selected to the Board of Directors of the Detroit Economic Club and named by Crain’s Business Detroit as one of “The 100 Most Influential Women in Michigan”. Most recently, Carolyn was named News/Talk 760’s 2017 class of “Women Who Lead.”

Carolyn earned her Master of Public Administration degree from Western Michigan University, her BA from Miami University, and the esteemed three-year National Leadership Fellowship, from the W. K. Kellogg Foundation.


Katy Cockrel: Co-founder of Detroit Blows and Vice President at Finn Partners

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Katy Cockrel serves as co-founder of Detroit Blows. Along with partner and co-founder, Nia Batts, Cockrel developed the concept for the city’s first-ever single service, dual process, socially conscious blowdry salon. She also helms integrated communications efforts for the business, taking the lead on PR and marketing efforts designed to garner awareness and drive traffic to the salon’s downtown Detroit storefront.

In addition to her role at Detroit Blows, she currently serves as Vice President at Finn Partners, a New York-headquartered agency with a Detroit-based office. In her role, Katy oversees communication strategy and day-to-day account management for clients including but not limited to Olympia Development of Michigan, Develop Detroit, and City Year Detroit. Prior to joining Finn Partners, she was the Director of Strategic Communications at Ignition Media Group (IMG), a boutique integrated marketing agency in downtown Detroit.

She holds a dual B.A. in political science and public relations from Wayne State University where she was a member of the David Mackenzie Honors Society. In October 2015, the university named Katy its 2015 Recent Alumni award recipient.

Alyonka Larionov: Founder of Wo/Men Workshop, Host, Producer, Podcaster and Social Engineer

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Russian-American, Alyonka Larionov launched her platform after stepping into recovery for an eating disorder she battled for 10 years. Through her TELL YOUR STORY podcast, social media, writing and her Wo/Men Workshop, Alyonka speaks her truths and her lessons-learned, both from personal experiences and the people she meets along the way in order to empower others to do the same. She believes in authenticity, transparency, empathy, and vulnerability. She practices in empowering emotional intelligence through the power of sharing stories and she builds community through connection and conversation. She believes the antidote to the human condition is to live in love.


Melissa Price: Founder and CEO, dPOP Studio

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As head of the dPOP studio, a women-owned and led commercial interior design firm based in Detroit, Melissa Price has accomplished the mission she set for herself at the very beginning of her career: to become a CEO.

Her fascinating journey has been featured in Crain’s Detroit Business 40 under 40 2016 and “Dare Mighty Things: A Field Guide for Millenial Entrepreneurs” to explore the unique path she took and skills she exercised to stand out as a leader in the male-dominated IT, construction and architecture industries.

Melissa’s expertise, acquired from 16 years of working in tech + facilities, has distinctly shaped her entrepreneurial approach to design. This drives her team to develop purposeful, data-centric workspaces that serve each client’s specific needs. With ultra-custom designs, dPOP’s portforlio has grown to showcase a diverse array of projects for major companies such as Quicken Loans, General Motors, Slalom Consulting, and Delta.

Utilizing the latest methods + tools, dPOP measures the ways people collaborate and interact with their environment to strategize design that not only delivers an immersive brand experience, but also optimizes employee effectiveness. Melissa compels her team to exercise an elevated understanding of workplace function and its role in business success, enhanced by continuous pursuit of leading industry research + advancements.

As a local business leader, Melissa is dedicated to investing in the Detroit community and creative economy through contributions to equitable design efforts and pro bono work with City Year to revamp educational spaces.

Anqunette Sarfoh: Multiple Sclerosis Advocate and former Fox 2 Detroit Morning Anchor

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Anqunette Sarfoh spent 20 years as a TV journalist and anchor in Indiana, Las Vegas, Boston and Detroit.  After eight years as the morning anchor for Fox 2 Detroit, Anqunette retired due to the effects of multiple sclerosis. Through changes in diet and using cannabis, Anqunette went from taking nine medications a day to taking none and is an advocate for teaching others how to lessen their dependency on pharmaceuticals.  Working with a prominent, Colorado-based edibles company, Anqunette is developing a line of cannabis-infused food products to address the needs of non-smokers and is studying nutrition at the Institute for Integrative Nutrition. Anqunette volunteers with the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, serving as a District Activist Leader and a member of its Government Relations Advisory Committee.

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