ChicagoMSDC gears up for 56th Business Opportunity Fair

By Monica Stavish Skaggs


The value of maintaining solid business connections will be a focal point of the Chicago Minority Supplier Development Council Inc.’s (ChicagoMSDC’s) 56th Annual Chicago Business Opportunity Fair April 18-19.

CBOF56’s theme is “Quality Connections: Building Business Together.” Between 400 and 500 participants are expected to attend.

“Every element of the conference will be intentional to connect [minority business enterprises] to information that will enhance their businesses and build relationships that will garner contracts,” said Debra Jennings-Johnson, interim president and CEO, ChicagoMSDC.

“I’m excited about the opportunity to host this 56th Business Opportunity Fair. I’ve been involved with the organization throughout my [30-year] corporate career, and what keeps us relevant is listening to our corporate members and minority businesses,” she added. “This event showcases how we really hear you. We are the premier organization in delivering quality connections with the intention of building business together.”


A win-win

In addition to networking opportunities and direct business connections, CBOF56 will feature workshops with practical information, speakers, a business trade fair and an awards dinner. Workshops include a summit with chief procurement officers who will share their companies’ best practices.

“Our corporate members are eager to connect with minority businesses who can compete on procurement opportunities, and CBOF56 creates the environment for those connections,” Jennings-Johnson said. “The output is an experience that will add value to all stakeholders through information, connections and advocacy, while celebrating best practices and successful relationships.

“In the virtual environment we operate in today, it helps to put names and faces to people and be able to shake their hands,” she continued. “Use this [fair] as an opportunity to get those organizations to get to know you.”

Now in its 56th year, ChicagoMSDC is the founding organization that gave birth to the nonprofit National Minority Supplier Development Council Inc. (NMSDC). Currently, it is one of 23 affiliates of NMSDC, which works with certified Asian, Black, Hispanic and Native American business enterprises and connects them with its corporate members.

ChicagoMSDC works with 250 private- and public-sector buying organizations and 1,000 certified minority businesses. Its buying members report more than $3 billion in annual purchases from minority firms, while its MBE membership employs 20,000 workers annually.

In the Chicago area

“I have worked with, for and in the ChicagoMSDC for over two decades and, the one common theme that I have witnessed is the enormous impact that CBOF has had on so many MBEs in the Chicago area,” said Rona Fourté, chairman, ChicagoMSDC, and vice president, global supplier diversity, CBRE Group Inc. “The programs that are delivered to connect, develop and advocate for MBEs to meaningfully engage with corporations are unparalleled, in my view. I am honored to serve as current board chair, as we memorialize our legacy and build for the future.”

The annual event is an “amazing opportunity for all MBEs,” said Brian Ortiz, founder, president and CEO, Trinidad Construction LLC. “The ChicagoMSDC is leading you to the waters of corporate America; it’s up to you to drink it.”

He advises attendees to prepare in advance and “come ready to work if you want to make the most of it.

“I come to CBOF every year with a hungry mindset,” Ortiz continued. “My goal is to walk away with three to four really solid contacts and to convert two of those companies into new clients each year. If you do the math, we’ve been able to make that happen.

“I first attended CBOF in 2011, just a few weeks after starting my business,” he continued. “At that first event, I met Rona Fourté, who was supplier diversity manager at Walgreens [Boots Alliance Inc.] at the time. She promised to give me my first big shot — and she did. We remodeled two stores within the first 12 months of meeting Rona and the Walgreens team. We have now worked in 2,500-plus stores in 13 states.

“My business has worked with 22 Fortune 500 clients since 2011,” Ortiz added. “I would attribute 90% of those relationships specifically to my participation in CBOF.”


CMSDC’s 56th Annual Chicago Business Opportunity Fair

CBOF56 will take place at Chicago Marriott Downtown Magnificent Mile, 540 N. Michigan Ave.

To learn more about CBOF56, visit


Chicago Chicago MSDC Minority Supplier Development Council 56th Business Opportunity Fair CBOF56 Debra Jennings-Johnson Rona Fourté Jackie Dyess

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