Sixth business diversity symposium continues to form successful professional relationships

The University of Chicago’s Office of Business Diversity welcomed 25 new businesses this year to its sixth annual Business Diversity Professional Services Symposium, which helps connect minority- and women-owned professional service providers with potential UChicago partners.

Two hundred fifty leaders from the University and local and national professional service companies gathered for the two-day event on Nov. 11 and 12 to spark new business relationships. From its roots in 2009 as one of the first such efforts in Illinois, the symposium has become a much-admired and imitated model for fostering business diversity and calling upon untapped potential in the business community.

The symposium also extends the University’s long-held tradition of inclusion and opportunity, which is critical to achieving its goals.

“Diversity is not an add-on at the University of Chicago. It’s actually something we need in order to fulfill our highest mission,” said President Robert J. Zimmer, at the Business Diversity symposium’s closing reception at the Quadrangle Club. “We are a place that’s dedicated to research and education of a particularly intense approach, which is driven by multiple voices coming together. There’s no way to do that without a diverse community and bringing all those things to the table.”

Zimmer spoke of how that commitment to diversity is reflected in the University’s student body. He said over the past five years, there has been a 30 percent increase in the total number of both African American and Hispanic students matriculating to the College.

Rosie Rios, Treasurer of the United States, remembered a much smaller crowd that was gathered for one of the initial symposiums four years ago, as she praised how the event has grown. “It was a more intimate crowd, but the leadership was still there. Leadership isn’t just words, it’s physical, you have to be able to stand behind what you say,” said Rios.

Rios, who is in charge of 4,000 employees at the U.S. Mint and the Bureau of Engraving and Printing, is passionate about supporting small business and a diverse workforce. For the first time in its history, the Treasury has reached its small business goals. “This was not just an experiment,” said Rios, “it’s a success story. It makes a difference when you invest in your people. Human capital continues to be the best investment that we can make.”

Lorraine Tyson, a partner at Pugh, Jones and Johnson, said she benefited from the trust the University put in her work. “The University gave me a chance—a female, minority attorney at a minority-owned law firm—to serve as sole underwriters council on two of their recent tax-exempt bond transactions,” said Tyson. “You can have opportunities here at the University, I’m a testament to that.”

Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn also addressed the participants gathered at the Quad Club, noting that UChicago’s business diversity initiative is a model for other institutions. Quinn, an alumnus of Northwestern Law School, said UChicago “is the North Star that leads us on this issue. You’ve shown how well this can be done if there really is a commitment.”

University trustee John W. Rogers, Jr. praised the University for treating those gathered for the event as true partners and equals. “The spirit of the conversations we’ve had today is that they respect the work we do as entrepreneurs. We do great work and we’re respected for that great work, we’re not just put into the affirmative action bucket.”

The symposium has led to 48 new business relationships over six years. The 25 new businesses invited this year gave presentations across the fields of money management, legal, financial services, information technology, human resources and communications.

For the first time this year, the schedule was made available via a phone app, which was designed by SNtial, a minority-owned IT firm. Available on both iPhone and Android, the app allowed attendees to read up on the symposium participants and view a video from last year.

Pamela Wedgeworth, of Wedgeworth Business Communications, said she’s participated in other business diversity symposiums numerous times, but UChicago’s event has been impressive. “I find here, you do make a connection with individuals and can form relationships that will eventually lead to business.”

UChicago senior leaders began the two-day event at the Quadrangle Club on Tuesday, Nov. 11 with five-minute presentations about their current and potential future needs and then answered questions from business owners. The exchange also gave the businesses a chance to promote and present their services to each other.

Theresa Jamison, of Smart Technology Services, has attended the event for the past five years. Her participation has allowed her to partner with other small businesses on separate projects for the city of Chicago.

This year, it was the first time David Keen of World Wide Technology had attended. He remarked on how the event facilitated networking within the same and complementary industries, which could lead to potential partnerships down the road. “We’re having conversations, shaking hands, and seeing if we could partner with those in a similar space as us.”

The participants reconvened on Wednesday, Nov. 12, at the Gleacher Center, where the business representatives gave 45-minute presentations to University officials.

“It’s just lovely,” said Anne McGuire, of the architectural firm McGuire, Igleski and Associates. “Currently we’re a featured firm so we’re working with the University, but we’re hoping to meet more people. You just never know who you’re going to meet here!”