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Handbag creator, tahini chef and Mindy Kaling converge at Pa. Conference for Women

Actress and author Mindy Kaling and professional soccer player Abby Wambach opened the 13th annual Pennsylvania Conference for Women on Thursday at the Convention Center, but it was small-business owners making their fevered pitches who were the highlights of the annual gathering.

Sherrill Mosee trained as an engineer and worked at GE for years before a layoff prompted her to start MinkeeBlue handbags in 2014. "I pitched QVC on my product here last year and ended up on the Today show with them also," the Northeast Philadelphia resident said while doing demonstrations and ringing up sales at her booth.

Mosee, 54, used her engineering degree to design a three-in-one bag that can carry workout clothes, a lunch container, and a laptop. With a removable compartment and flaps, the bag carried everything she needed.

"I started the company because I'm a working woman and I didn't want to have to carry more than one bag," she said. So far, she's sold about 1,300 of them.

Amy Zitelman and her two sisters founded Soom, a creamy tahini with regular and chocolate spread flavors (think Nutella, but healthier) after visiting Israel and importing high-quality sesame seeds from Ethiopia.

"Our tahini is great for baking, for smoothies, it's nutritious and it's creamy. It's not chalky and oily, like we used to think of tahini. We sell to restaurants like Zahav here in Philly, and customers love it because it goes with all kinds of diets -- vegan, paleo, and Mediterranean," Zitelman said on the sidelines of the QVC-Zulily stage, where she had just pitched her product to QVC and Zulily judges and conference attendees.

Zitelman, 27, and her siblings founded Soom in 2013 and are doubling their seed imports every year while renting space at Common Market. Sister Shelby Zitelman graduated from the Wharton School and persuaded her sisters to open the business in Philadelphia, "where it's affordable and start-ups have a lot of success," Amy said.

Wambach opened the celebrity portion of the conference's keynote luncheon with a reminder that Title IX "was the reason my soccer team was created, because the college where I went to school needed to comply. [The law] affects our lives directly," she said.

On tour to promote her new book, Forward: A Memoir, Wambach reiterated that she is voting for Hillary Clinton for president, and told the conference of women, "If you're called bitchy, you're doing something right."

She also advised women to "take things less personally -- don't be offended all the damn time. We're getting invited to the table now. Find other women to bring to the table."

Kaling wowed the crowd with news that she will direct two new all-female-cast movies, including a remake of Ocean's 11 and A Wrinkle In Time, based on the best-selling book. She said Fox's cancellation of her prime-time comedy The Mindy Project was "the best thing that could have happened. The show didn't die because our producer, a woman, didn't want it to disappear. Instead, we went over to Hulu."

The title of her latest book, Why Not Me?, has two meanings, Kaling said. One of them: "I'm vulnerable. I'm 37, I'm a godparent, and a bridesmaid in many weddings. But I've not been selected for marriage and a family, which I've fetishized since I was a girl."

The other meaning? "I'd never seen a person who looked like me on comedy TV shows" such as Saturday Night Live or on Comedy Central. "So why not me?"

Still, for women, there's a long way to go. Beneficial Bank's chief administrative officer, Joanne Ryder, reminded the crowd that women who work full time earn 80 cents for every dollar men earn. Compounded over 47 years of a career, that amounts to $700,000 in lost earnings per woman (for high school graduates), $1.2 million lost for college grads, and $2 million for those with professional degrees.