OFN's sixth Small Business Finance Forum brings 300+ mission-driven lenders and their partners and allies together in Chicago starting today. This two-day event is the only one of its kind to focus on the unique needs and challenges of this important lending sector.

OFN President and CEO Lisa Mensah addresses 2017 Small Business Finance Forum.

Opening Plenary: Serving Entrepreneurs of Color

The opening plenary approached its topic from three different perspectives in a series of panel discussions. The first, moderated by JP Morgan Chase's Ted Archer, discussed the lending situation on the ground. Connie Evans of Association for Enterprise Opportunity (AEO) discussed findings in a recent AEO report, The Tapestry of Black Business Ownership in America: Untapped Opportunities for Success, including the effects of the wealth gap on new business started by entrepreneurs of color and how encouraging these businesses to hire from within their communities will positively affect unemployment levels. Joyce Klein of FIELD at the Aspen Institute discussed the impact of small businesses on communities and findings in the recent FIELD report Bridging the Divide: How Business Ownership Can Help Close the Racial Wealth Gap

Moderated by SBA's Manny Hidalgo, the second panel included two entrepreneurs, Citlali Mendieta of Antigua Latin Restaurant, and Rashaad Washington of Pro Painter MKE and Pro Trade Job Development. They discussed how they came to be funded by OFN Member Wisconsin Women's Business Initiative Corporation (WWBIC) and provided insights into their individual experiences partnering with a CDFI.

The third and final panel focused on CDFIs and their role in the small business ecosystem. Moderated by OFN's Pam Porter, the panel featured Lenwood Long of Carolina Small Business Development Fund and Gary Cunningham of Meda sharing thoughts on how to improve the impact of mission-driven lenders on entrepreneurs of color through innovative products and TA offerings. They also spoke about the benefits of creating coalitions of CDFIs to address larger ecosystem issues.

Listen to a recording below:

Keynote Address

Mae Whiteside, President and CEO of CKL Engineers shared her story of a small businesswoman with a dream to lead her own civil engineering firm. She recounted her struggle to secure startup capital as well as the relationship with OFN Ally CNI Micro Finance Group that changed the course of her life.

Listen to a recording below:


More than 300 attendees from 40 states convened to learn from nearly two dozen sessions. Topics varied, from underwriting essentials to innovative lending models to the role of CDFIs in responsible lending. Here are highlights:


Networking opportunities are the highlight of any OFN convening. SBFF in Chicago gave attendees plenty of opportunities, from breakfast sessions to role-specific round tables to the evening reception.

Small Business Partner Showcase

Now in its second year, the Small Business Partner Showcase featured nine solution providers focused on the unique needs of mission-driven lenders.





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