City Treasurer Melissa Conyears-Ervin’s first Women’s Small Business and Entrepreneur Expo was a huge success over the weekend, Saturday Nov. 16th. The UIC Dorin Forum was packed with small business vendors, banks, government experts on certification, women leaders from corporate boardrooms, and entrepreneurs in the making. During her welcome address, City Treasurer Melissa Conyears-Ervin told the crowd, “Women make up 50% of the population, but only own a fraction of the country’s businesses. Not so great, huh? Let’s make this a great day. Starting now, today, let’s change those stats. Let’s change the narrative!”
Energized, the attendees packed the vendors’ marketplace. The businesses were diverse. They ranged from insurance companies, to craft jewelry makers, to an entrepreneur with a draft for a cell phone prototype. Conyears-Ervin’s vision for the free expo was to inform and educate women small business owners and entrepreneurs about important resources and programs available to help create, grow and sustain their business.
In addition to the vendors’ marketplace, there were 12 break-out sessions focusing on where to get business financing, how to land government contracts, and more. “I couldn’t wait to come,” said Shanara Carter of Bronzeville. “This is one stop shopping. I need all the help I can get to grow my business.” Women business owners are less likely to apply for, or receive, funding from financial institutions to get the assistance needed to grow their businesses.
“Where’s the procurement panel?” many attendees asked. It’s a fact that despite the number of companies that are qualified as women owned business enterprises, very few of these businesses are awarded significant government contracts. The City of Chicago Department of Procurement conducted a panel and there was standing room only. The other break-out sessions were also well attended and their subjects ranged from Finding City Funding, How to Start a Business, Using Social Media to Brand and more.
The Women’s Small Business Expo distinguished itself from other expos by providing for free, a vendors marketplace, break-out sessions, a leadership panel and a fireside chat. “Finding financing to start a business is tough. Women get a fragment of what men get to start their businesses and that needs to change,” said Marianne Markowitz. She is the CEO and one of the founders of the Women’s Bank of Chicago. The financial institution is the first bank in the United States to be founded and run by women. Markowitz was a respected member of the Obama Administration. She spoke candidly about wanting to close the opportunity gap when it comes to women and small businesses, as well as her White House years.
City Treasurer Conyears-Ervin visited vendors in the marketplace, and took photos as the six hour event began to wind down. “I hope you have this again next year,” an attendee said as she pulled out her camera and asked to take a selfie. “Absolutely!” Conyears-Ervin promised. “And it will be bigger and better!”