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WBDC’s Connect & Celebrate: Chicago Conference to be hosted by Hyatt Regency O’Hare

Annual conference brings together local and regional business owners and corporate, government, community partners

information provided by the Women’s Business Development Center

CHICAGO, Ill. (September 14, 2018) – On Friday, September 14, the Women’s Business Development Center (WBDC) will host its annual signature event, WBDC Connect & Celebrate: Chicago Conference, at the Hyatt Regency O’Hare from 11:00am–8:00pm. The conference is an annual gathering of local and regional women business owners and corporate, government, and community partners for a day of learning, connecting, and celebrating success.

“2018 has certainly been the year for women,” said Emilia DiMenco, president and chief executive officer of the WBDC. “And while we have made many strides in areas such as policy and advocacy, and women business owners are playing a larger role in the business community, it’s important that we continue supporting and lifting up one another. That’s what Connect & Celebrate is all about, and we’re thrilled to continue assisting all business owners in their pursuit of success.”

One of the event highlights will be a powerhouse interview luncheon with Maria Contreras-Sweet, an expert on economic growth and job creation, former Administrator of the U.S. Small Business Administration under President Barack Obama, and former Secretary of California’s Business, Transportation and Housing Agency. She will be interviewed by Allison Rosati of NBC Chicago.

As an entrepreneur and business executive herself, Contreras-Sweet has been a longtime advocate for America’s business owners and entrepreneurs, and respected champion for diversity and inclusion, economic innovation, and equal opportunity. She has garnered international recognition for her insights on growth and innovation, and is renowned for her tactical insights for American businesses from a financial and economic standpoint.

“I’m thrilled to be part of such an impactful event, and admire the significant work that the Women’s Business Development Center has done for business owners from all backgrounds,” said Contreras-Sweet. “In order for businesses to survive they need not only access to capital, but also access to opportunities and information—and the WBDC is leading the way in providing both of those.”

The event will feature a Business Matchmaker session, where pre-matched WBENC-certified WBEs will pitch procurement representatives from large corporate and government buyers. Business owners and entrepreneurs will also have the opportunity to meet with large WBEs and prime contractors during B2B Connections to explore future business opportunities and collaborations. Attendees can also attend capacity-building workshops on innovations in marketing, business growth strategies, and business technology and industry meetups for the energy/utility and healthcare/pharmaceutical industries. At the Business Resource Center, attendees can make growth-enhancing connections with a range of small business program and service providers.

Local business leaders will also be honored for their steadfast commitment to the community and their outstanding achievements in business. Awardees include:

  • 2018 Corporate Champion Award: Debra Jennings-Johnson, BP America Inc.
  • 2018 Foundation Champion Award: Polk Bros. Foundation
  • 2018 Government Champion Award: Giraldo Gustavo, Illinois State Toll Highway Authority
  • 2018 Deborah Sawyer Rising Star Award: Jeanette Chavarria-Torres, DCH Construction & Hauling
  • 2018 WBE Award: Stephanie Hickman, Trice Construction Company
  • 2018 Future Forward Award: Jamie L. Rhee, City of Chicago Commissioner
  • 2018 Veteran Entrepreneur Award: Thomas Day, Invent2026
  • 2018 Hedy M. Ratner and S. Carol Dougal Legacy Award:
    • Debra Jennings-Johnson, BP America Inc.
    • Sandra Rand, Landmarks Illinois

About the WBDC

The mission of the Women’s Business Development Center (WBDC) is to support and accelerate business development and growth, targeting women and serving all diverse business owners, in order to strengthen their participation in, and impact on, the economy. For more information, visit


The Lansing Journal
The Lansing Journal
The Lansing Journal publishes news releases from state, county, and local officials who provide information that impacts local community life. The particular contributor of each post is indicated in the byline.