Eason, Gonzalez, Heisler to be awarded Parker Award for women leaders in innovation

Yia Eason, Jessica Gonzalez and Barbara Heisler will be honored by the New Jersey Chamber of Commerce with the 2020 Alice H. Parker Women Leaders in Innovation awards.

The Parker award is given to honorees who have used talent, hard work and “outside-the-box” thinking to create economic opportunities and help make New Jersey a better place to live and work. The award will be presented virtually Nov. 10 as part of the Weekly Women Entrepreneurship initiative of the Feliciano Center for Entrepreneurship & Innovation at Montclair State University.

“The three award recipients selected by the New Jersey Chamber have demonstrated that hard work, business acumen and desire can reap considerable rewards for themselves and their communities,” chamber CEO Tom Bracken said. “Each of our recipients embody the best of innovative thinking. They translated their new ideas into vibrant businesses that created jobs and expanded economic opportunities, and now they are using their leadership skills to help make New Jersey a better place.”

Here is a more detailed look at the honorees:

Yla Eason, entrepreneur — founder, Olmec Toys

Eason created Olmec Toys, a multicultural toy company, in 1985 after discovering there were no Black superhero dolls on the market. She was motivated by her son, who said that he could never be a superhero because all superheroes are white.

After securing investors and developing her product, Eason was able to grow the company to $5 million in sales, with worldwide distribution in major retailers. Olmec’s success remains a case study for business school classes teaching multicultural marketing.

Eason, an assistant professor of professional practice at Rutgers University, has earned numerous awards, including the Business Enterprise Trust Award from President Bill Clinton in 1996, and she received an honorary doctorate from Bloomfield College. Eason earned an MBA from Harvard Business School and a B.A. from Fitchburg State University.

Jessica Gonzalez, CEO and founder of InCharged Inc.

Gonzalez founded InCharged Inc., a manufacturer and distributor of custom cell phone charging stations, in 2009 by selling everything she had, moving in with her parents and working three jobs simultaneously. It paid off. Today, her company’s client roster includes the likes of Amazon, Audible, Coca-Cola, Facebook, Google and Verizon.

As a Latina woman and a mother, the path to building a business hasn’t been easy, but Gonzalez lives and works by a nothing-is-impossible attitude. Over the last decade, she’s grown InCharged into a fixture at corporate events and has partnered with major brands on campaigns and events. She is constantly innovating. Her company recently launched a new interactive vending machine called the VendX, which gives people prizes in exchange for a custom interaction like playing a game or sharing information.

Now, as the landscape changes, Gonzalez has redirected her efforts to deliver medical-grade sanitizing and disinfecting equipment for commercial, residential and medical spaces. Gonzalez was named a Leading Woman Entrepreneur in 2015; she was a SMART CEO Future 50 award recipient in 2016; and she was recently named to Gov. Phil Murphy’s Restart and Recovery Commission to advise the governor on plans for the state to emerge from the pandemic.

Barbara Heisler, CEO of GlassRoots

Heisler steers GlassRoots, which has hosted tens of thousands of Newark-area youth for field trips, lectures and “art-for-art’s sake” glassmaking classes. Kids gain hands-on experience in chemistry, physics and math. They experience the power of their own creativity and the discipline required to safely work with 2,200-degree fire and molten glass. In yearlong programs, they become young entrepreneurs as they develop and market their products. In 2019 alone, GlassRoots provided 5,000 hours of instruction to 2,000 students.

GlassRoots not only teaches entrepreneurship, it practices it. A third of its income is earned through a portion of each purchase of jewelry, dinnerware and glass art/awards created in its studio.

Heisler brings extensive leadership experience, having served as the executive director of Funding Exchange; the CEO of Fund for an Open Society; and as founding executive director for the South Orange/Maplewood Community Coalition on Race; as well as regional director of post-secondary education at the U.S. Department of Education. She earned a master’s degree in management from Cambridge College.

The Weekly Women Entrepreneurship initiative will take place at more than 240 universities in 32 countries. Dozens of businesses will participate in this initiative at Montclair State, were it will run from September through November and feature virtual talks, interviews, panel discussions and celebrations of women entrepreneurs.