National Small Business Party

Giving Small Business a Voice in Congress.  We need to determine our own size standards.

About The NSBP Founder & Board Members

Karen Barbour

Karen Barbour


Karen Barbour, founder and president of The Barbour Group, LLC is a veteran of the surety bonding industry, starting her career in surety as a home office bond underwriter in 1985, where she is well known as an innovator and expert within the industry for 30 plus years. Karen is passionate, professional, a problem solver and an advocate. Performance excellence, expert surety knowledge, and record of building a powerful collaborative network of business and political ties are hallmarks of her career underscored by an indelible commitment to enabling the competitive positioning and growth of client companies—from start-ups and small businesses to Fortune 1000 firms. She is recognized throughout the industry for achieving results others believed to be impossible.

A definitive leader and recipient of numerous awards for outstanding leadership and entrepreneurial spirit including:

  • U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) Maryland Small Business Person of the Year, for pioneering work in breaking down surety bond barriers for minority and women-owned construction firms. First surety professional to receive SBA’s top honor – 2008
  • A Future 50 Company, acknowledgement in SmartCEO magazine as one of the fastest-growing companies in Greater Baltimore – 2008
  • The Daily Record Innovator of the Year Award, recognizing passion for change. The first surety professional to receive this award – 2010
  • The Greater Baltimore Committee’s Bridging the Gap Award, for contributions to expanding growth opportunities for small business, minority and women-owned construction companies – 2007
  • Maryland Hispanic Chamber of Commerce Business Achievement Award, recognizing contributions to the development of Maryland’s Hispanic business community – 2008
  • Graduate of Leadership Maryland; one of 50 accomplished leaders selected to participate in the program for demonstrating personal concern and commitment to helping shape Maryland’s future – Class of 2008
  • Muscular Dystrophy Association of Maryland Shining Star Award, for fundraising efforts on behalf of MDA children and families that exceeded $100,000 – 2010

Catalyst for driving passage of landmark legislation in Maryland and on Capitol Hill:

  • Initiated and successfully lobbied U.S. Senator Benjamin Cardin to sponsor an amendment to the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (2008) that removed prohibitive federal surety-bond program eligibility criteria, paving the way for start-up, small and minority-owned businesses around the country to compete for stimulus-funded contracts. This amendment more than doubled participation in the SBA surety bond program during the first six months
  • Instrumental in the passage and implementation of Maryland House Bill 169 (2006), landmark legislation that expanded surety availability for small businesses, enabling an increase in competition on government-funded contracts and minority business enterprise (MBE) goal fulfillment. The law’s sunset provision was granted in 2013.
  • Assisted in drafting and passage of two Maryland House Bills: 928: which reduced retention rates on state projects from 10% to 5%; and, 1226: which eliminated proprietary specifications in school construction projects
  • Initiated and successfully lobbied for Maryland House Bill 595 (2013), Subcontractor’s Equal Access to Bonding Act—Effective date of new law, July 1. 2013
  • Initiated and gave lead to Associated General Contractors of MD for HB Bill 403/SB826 (2016), The Change Order Fairness Act that passed the 2016 session-Effective date of new law July 1, 2016.

“Karen Barbour is one of Maryland’s most distinguished business leaders. I have worked with Karen on a number of public policy issues to help small businesses and to improve the overall economic climate and she has always brought keen insight and advice to every discussion. She clearly understands what businesses need to succeed and she is a strong and forceful advocate.”
~ U.S. Senator Benjamin L. Cardin; U.S. Senate Committee on Small Business & Entrepreneurship

“Dynamic. Groundbreaking. A force in the market. An influencer with a track-record of performance excellence, surety knowledge expert and hands-on builder of a powerful collaborative network of business ties. These are the hallmarks of a career underscored by a fierce commitment to enabling the competitive positioning and growth of client companies – and of a leader willing to go to Capitol Hill to drive legislation for the benefit of start-ups, small businesses and Fortune 1000 firms alike. She is the first bonding agent to win Maryland Small Business Person of the Year by the US Small Business Administration and the first to be inducted into the Ernst & Young Entrepreneurial Winning Women Program.” ~ (

Click here to see Karen’s entire resume:

Karen Barbour Leadership Resume’
Kara DiPietro

Kara DiPietro

Board Member

Kara DiPietro is President and CEO of HMC Incorporated, a full-service design/build and custom millwork firm. A certified Woman-Owned Small Business, HMC has offices in Columbia, MD and Los Angeles, CA.

Joining the family business in 2013 as Vice President, Kara acquired 100% of the company and assumed the role of CEO in 2015. In that role, Kara oversees all operations and business development functions, budget and company financials, and strategic decisions. In 2017, Kara was named the U.S. Small Business Administration’s 2017 Maryland Small Business Person of the Year.

Prior to joining HMC, Kara served as Director of Philanthropic Advancement at the Living Classrooms Foundation. She has also served as Director of Marketing and Public Relations for Baltimore’s Charmed Magazine, and spent time as a teacher for Montgomery County Public Schools.

Kara is a proud member of the Greater Baltimore Committee, Md. Washington Minority Companies Association, AIA Baltimore, and the ABC Baltimore Chapter. Kara is an alumnus of the University of Maryland, College Park, and holds certifications from the Baldridge Academy for Performance Excellence, as well as the Dale Carnegie Leadership Center. In addition to being named Maryland’s Small Business Person of the Year in 2017, Kara and HMC were honored in 2016 as the Md. Washington Minority Companies Association’s Woman Business Enterprise of the Year, and as a SmartCEO Circle of Excellence finalist.

For over 25 years, HMC has provided exemplary food service design & build, interior design, custom millwork, equipment specification and procurement, as well as construction services, offering clients end-to-end solutions. With the latest in Interior Design & 3D technology, HMC transforms ordinary spaces into extraordinary destinations.

Barbara Gassaway

Barbara Gassaway

Board Member

A 2017 Maryland’s Top 100 Women by The Daily Record, Top 100 State of Maryland MBE, and BRAVA! Award winner, Barbara is the principal of The Research Group. As a seasoned research consultant and RIVA trainer, she has earned the respect of both clients and peers. Considered one of the nation’s market research industry leaders, Barbara is an active lecturer on the topics of best practices, human behavior, physician access, and brand strategy.  She brings over 15 years of creative market research experience in the healthcare and pharmaceutical industries.  A differentiator appreciated by clients and colleagues is Barbara’s comprehensive understanding of strategic marketing principles along with current trends and practices in qualitative behavioral science.  She is expert in managing client teams, project priorities, and creatively implementing methodologies to discover intimate, underlying feelings from respondents.  A loyal client refers to Barbara as, the rock star of moderators.

Professional Honors

  • Contributing Author ~  Journal of Market Research & Quirk’s Market Research Review
  • Trainer ~  RIVA Moderator Training Institute
  • Chair ~  DC Metro Chapter, QRCA, 2009-Present
  • Mentor ~  University of Baltimore CEO Accelerator Program
  • Executive Board, Board of Governance, & Board of Directors ~ Y of Central Maryland
  • Advisory Board ~ Volunteering Untapped 
Christopher V. La Fiura

Christopher V. La Fiura

Board Member

A 25-year veteran in the enterprise software industry with a proven track record in sales leadership roles. Based in New York City, Mr. La Fiura has numerous years of ERP and IT technology experience with Fortune 1000 companies in financial services, process and discrete manufacturing, life sciences and the services industry. In addition, he has extensive experience in big data analytics, business intelligence, data warehousing, master data management and mobile applications.

Mr. La Fiura began his career as a COBOL programmer for Citibank. After several years of technical training, he moved into sales and sales leadership positions at ADP, PeopleSoft, Infor, Oracle and IBM Corporation.

Mr. La Fiura holds a Bachelor of Business Administration in Computer Science and Accounting from Nichols College. He received his military commission from the Worcester Polytechnic Institute ROTC program and served as a Captain in the United States Army Reserve.

Jennifer Lake

Jennifer Lake

Board Member

Jennifer is the President of Comprehensive Survival Arts Martial Arts & Wellness School, located at the Jewish Community Center of Greater Baltimore. At CSA she and her staff teach all ages, levels, and abilities: Karate, Self Defense, T’ai Chi, Meditation, Kickboxing, and more. It is her goal to educate students in how to live a healthy and safe life. During the summer she is the director of a very successful Martial Arts Day Camp where she sees hundreds of campers. Throughout the year Jennifer teaches and oversees 40 plus classes a week and volunteers in the community spreading the importance of movement and awareness. Her passion is working with children and adults with Autism Spectrum Disorder, ADD and ADHD.  “We all face limitations and I have found the Martial Arts to be a fun way to improve one’s overall health and wellbeing.”

Awards include: Top 100 Women – 2016, Certificate of Special Recognition for Dedicated Service to the Community at Large U.S. House of Representatives – 2015, Resolution from the City Council Fifth District of Baltimore for my service to the North West Citizen Patrol and Baltimore Community – 2015, Baltimore City Council Presidential Certificate for my Commitment and Dedication to my Community and the Citizens of Baltimore – 2015, North West Citizen Patrol Honorary Member for my work teaching safety and self defense in the Community – 2015, Executive Citation from Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz for 25 years of service and dedication – 2015, Best Martial Arts School in Maryland from Maryland Family Magazine – 2014

Jennifer’s certifications and skills include: Black Belt 4th Degree – Karate, Black Belt 3rd Degree – Bando, ACE-certified Personal Trainer, Nia certified instructor, CPR/AED First Aid certified, DHMH Licensed Summer Camp, Website Design, Business Start up Consultant, Marketing and Public Relations, Event Planning/Fundraising

Veronica Cool

Veronica Cool

Board Member

After 20 years in corporate banking, and serving as the unofficial Hispanic Liaison, Veronica saw a huge gap in connecting two worlds- She launched Cool & Associates, a management consulting firm to bridge the mainstream world to the Hispanic Market in the United States.  Specializing in an integrated model providing solutions including marketing, communications and training.

She has blended her operational experience with her nonprofit activities to drive engagement and growth. With expertise in commercial banking, lending, financial analysis and sales management, working with Wells Fargo and Bank of America, along with leading and operating the state-wide Maryland Hispanic Chamber of Commerce.

Veronica has presented internationally in various conferences addressing topics such as Diverse Segment Marketing, Minority/WBE, Entrepreneurship, Women in Business and Leadership.  She is a columnist for Huffington Post, The Daily Record and Mundo Latino.

She’s received various awards including the Baltimore Sun’s 25 Women to Watch in 2016, Top 100 MBE, Daily Record’s MD Top 100 Women-Circle of Excellence and the US Hispanic Chamber Ultimate Latina Award.  First Lady Michelle Obama recognized Veronica for her commitment to youth mentoring. Governor Larry Hogan appointed Cool to serve on the state-wide Governor’s Workforce Investment Board.

She is the founder of the Latino Innovators Pitch, an innovative program to showcase and empower Latino entrepreneurs to scale and grow their businesses profitably and sustainably.  In 2016, she also co-founded the Alliance for Hispanic Commercial Contractors to bridge the gap and foster economic development through education, access and procurements. Veronica founded the Facebook Groups Yo Quiero Trabajo and Emprendedores Exitosos, where she curates content, resources and opportunities for Latino jobseekers and entrepreneurs.

She holds a BS from Kutztown University in Business Administration, and a Master’s of Science in Finance from Loyola University of MD.  A native of Dominican Republic, she is the Past Board Chairman of the MD Hispanic Chamber of Commerce and co-chair of Martin O’Malley’s gubernatorial transition steering committee focusing on MBE and Small Business.  Cool currently serves on the boards of Open Society Institute, Life Lens and is a proud member of the Hispanic Leaders Association, Latino Providers Network, Latinas Think Big and SHIFT.

Living northwest of Baltimore, Maryland, she is married to Mr. Cool and is happily overwhelmed by her 15-year-old fashionista black-belt diva and 13-year-old athletic jokester.