Carefully honed business pitches, keen questions and casual conversations were all part of the 11th annual Professional Services Symposium, recently hosted by the University of Chicago’s Office of Business Diversity.
The two-day event, held Nov. 19 and 20, brought together women- and minority-owned businesses with leaders from the University and UChicago Medical Center to network, discuss business opportunities, and pitch professional service offerings.
Over the last 11 years, leaders from the University and medical center have engaged with more than 350 women- and minority-owned businesses in the professional services industry, resulting in contracts with more than 90 companies. The services include legal, communications, financial services, human resources, information technology and engineering.
Advancing business diversity is integral to the University’s commitment to building on its position as the South Side’s leading economic anchor and to making a strong, lasting contribution to Chicago's economic health.
“Business diversity goes to the core of who we are—find talent and give it an opportunity to flourish,” said President Robert J. Zimmer to a crowd of 300 people at the symposium’s closing reception at Gordon Parks Arts Hall.
While the professional services industry is the fastest growing sector of the U.S. economy and a major contributor to high-wage employment and economic development, winning contracts can be a challenge for women and minorities. At many corporations, foundations and educational institutions, professional services contracts are awarded through long-standing relationships with senior leaders within a company, not traditional bidding and purchasing channels. As a result, minority firms are often excluded.
Nadia M. Quarles, UChicago’s assistant vice president for business diversity, who organizes the symposium, said fundamental changes were needed to ensure that the University has access to the most qualified talent.
Quarles has found no shortage of qualified minority- and women-owned businesses in Chicago and elsewhere. “They simply need a seat at the table to show their capabilities. And that’s really what this symposium is about: It’s about building relationships that ultimately create great opportunities.”
‘The right time, at the right place’
Participants attended a pre-symposium meeting, in which UChicago vice presidents in areas with professional services needs gave departmental overviews and talked about potential areas of opportunity. The next day, the business owners met privately with vice presidents and members of their leadership teams.
Anna Ninoyu and Kris Gorospe of METIS Design left their meeting excited about the potential opportunities with UChicago. METIS Design is a woman-owned and minority-owned architecture firm based in Chicago that provides full architectural design and construction management consultant services.
“I believe the interest and opportunity is there, and we feel we are with the right people, at the right time, at the right place,” said Gorospe, business development and project manager of the seven-employee firm. “We’d like to be someone they think of whenever there are opportunities and projects, and we want to plug in our consultants and colleagues into the University of Chicago community.”