Our Disabled Owned Business Liaison shares why she’s placing her bets on the Derby Diversity & Business Summit


Cyndi Masters recognizes that in the world of diverse business, the ways we come together within our niches can prevent cross-pollination. The opportunity to join forces as a diverse business community, with multiple, intersecting identities, excites her.

As the disabled business liaison for the Derby Diversity & Business Summit, Masters is putting one particular aspect of her diverse perspective front and center. She is also a LGBTBE- and WBE-certified business leader.

The mainstreaming of Disabled Owned Businesses within the world of corporate diversity is relatively new. For years, what we now know as Disabled Owned Business Enterprise certification (DOBE) was branded US Business Leadership Network (USBLN). “Who even knows what that means?” she asked. The certification didn’t include the word “disability.”

Part of it, said Masters, is that there is a fear of coming out as disabled. Concern about being seen as untrustworthy because of a disability is not unfounded. There is a tendency to mask disabilities or minimize them in order to gain credibility. 

“I’ve never broadcast who I am, and I’ve never hidden who I am,” she said about leading with her sexual orientation when joining the National LGBT Chamber of Commerce (NGLCC).  “To put that right out there changed my life.”

“To actually have people talk to me and want to do business with me, not in spite of it, but because of it?” It was a game changer. 

Masters, along with LGBTBE business liaison, Erica Fields, and DDBS founder and chair, Tawana Bain, are in the process of founding an Ohio Valley NGLCC chamber. DDBS has played a big part in that.

Masters started her firm, DBS Interactive, with $1700 to her name in the wake of a serious motorcycle accident that caused a traumatic brain injury and damage to her spinal cord. No one was sure how much mobility she might regain. She lost her home and business and went on disability.

Nearly 20 years later, DBS Interactive has gone beyond the digital realm, where Masters was already making an impact way back when “Google was barely a thought.” The company has evolved into an agency that develops custom strategy, design, development, and marketing that pull other businesses to the next level and beyond.

Masters regained her ability to walk, and later, an understanding of what a delicate balance her chronic injuries demand, when a fall immobilized her from the chest down for three months. This time, she had the trustworthy team she’d built to keep DBS Interactive going strong. “I’m very lucky,” she said.

“Everything can become an opportunity if you allow it to. Ultimately, I’m a better human being, which makes me a better business owner.”

It’s taxing to downplay our differences. There is a momentum unleashed when we lead with how those differences inform and motivate us. We broaden perspectives, we deepen our own and others’ understanding of inclusion.

Business leaders from DOBE-certified businesses who attend DDBS will expand their community. While the pool of DOBEs, especially within the region, is small in comparison to more networked certifications, like WBEs and MBEs, DDBS’ emphasis on coming together represents a unique opportunity for DOBEs to connect with corporations and diverse business owners of all stripes.

Masters notes that in comparison to other conferences, it’s smaller, but exclusively focused on widening diversity, with Fortune 500s like Delta, Nestlé, and Procter & Gamble actively looking to create pathways for access. “You get more audience, more opportunity to share your story and what you can do with a really elite group of buyers.”

That happens because of DDBS’ mission of inclusion, with events that make conversation inevitable by design. The Kentucky Derby is a world-class event, an adventure to share -- one that creates bonds. Those connections expand possibilities inside the business world, but also help attendees reach an ever-evolving and more diverse customer base through a richer understanding of inclusion.

Laurel Kemper