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Monica C. Smith spoke from the dais as she accepted the Caren Franzini Leadership Award during the kickoff of NJBIA’s 7th Annual Women Business Leaders Forum on Wednesday night.

But her mind was on a particular table.

Smith, a successful investor, philanthropist, and entrepreneur who transformed the advertising world in her role as the founder and CEO of Marketsmith Inc., recalled a conversation from eight years ago when Tom Bergeron, then with NJBIZ and editor in chief of ROI-NJ since 2017, asked her if she knew or had met Caren Franizni.

She hadn’t.

“At that point in my career and my entrepreneurial journey I was really thinking how could Caren see me?” Smith said. “It was almost like the Thanksgiving table…. there was the adult table and then there was the kids’ table. In 2013, I kind of felt like I was at the kids’ table next to the kids’ table.”

But the truth is Smith was well on her way to a full harvest. She founded Marketsmith Inc. in 1999 and grew the agency to become a leader in data-driven direct marketing strategy using its proprietary analytics-based prediction platform i.Predictus, which can predict sales with over 90% accuracy.

For three straight years, Smith has driven over $1.5 billion in retail sales annually, and is now responsible for the management of $200 million of media spend a year.

Smith is also one of only a few women who have successfully raised capital in the tech arena. She and her wife of 25 years, Amy Allan Smith, teamed with Bergeron and Tom Hughes in 2017 to launch ROI-NJ, the state’s first women-owned business publication. She sold the publication to Bergeron and Hughes last year and it just celebrated its fourth anniversary this month.

But that initial connection to Franzini was not lost on Smith. The Leadership Award in her name honors her legacy of promoting entrepreneurship and economic growth as the longtime chief executive of the New Jersey Economic Development Authority. Franzini, who also served on NJBIA’s board of trustees, died in 2017 at age 57.

“To be here, to come full circle, to be getting this recognition…,” Smith said before her voiced trailed off with emotion.

Over the past two decades, Smith has contributed, built, and sponsored dozens of philanthropic organizations and causes. One More Smith, a 501(c)(3) organization, has provided permanent sanctuary for thousands of hard-to-home animals since its inception in 2004. Bring Dinner Home, an annual Thanksgiving event, provides holiday dinners, warm coats, books, and grocery store gift cards for hundreds of families of schoolchildren at Newark’s Camden Street Elementary School.

After many years of fostering and adoption, she and Amy Allan Smith have been recognized by the state of New Jersey for their dedication and approach to fostering, and by CASA Morris County for their support of Court Appointed Special Advocates for children in the foster system.

Smith told the crowd at the Palace at Somerset Park that the pandemic of the past 19 months has brought about an understanding that “life has a fragility to it, that it’s important we recognize the importance of today.”

“To the entrepreneurs of today, and those that are thinking about it, I believe so now more than ever that the entrepreneurial playing field is more level than it’s ever been,” Smith said. “For women. For minorities. Now, I’m not saying that it’s equal – but it is better than it’s ever been.”

And with that, she encouraged to the audience that now is the time to “lean in” to their aspirations and go for it.

“The table is big enough for everyone,” she said.