Equitable Small Business Financing Takes Center Stage in Chicago

Equitable Small Business Financing Takes Center Stage in Chicago 

Read time: 6 minutes

OFN’s 10th annual Small Business Finance Forum brought together 500 mission-driven small business lenders and partners to learn, network, and collaborate 

We know that when we support small businesses, we support sustainable futures for small business owners and their employees, their families, and their communities – the very communities that most of us live in. Today, small businesses account for 99.9% of all businesses in America, and they employ nearly half of the U.S. workforce. 

Every small business needs financing at some point, and community development financial institutions (CDFIs) fill a critical market gap for entrepreneurs perceived as too risky or unprofitable by traditional banks, particularly in challenging economic times. We also know that when traditional banks pull back, CDFIs lean in – and today’s environment is no different.  

Forum attendees visiting CDFI-funded small businesses in Chicago’s Bronzeville neighborhood

At the sold-out 2023 Small Business Finance Forum, nearly 500 CDFI industry practitioners, partners, and other supporters gathered in Chicago to explore how CDFIs can continue delivering equitable and affordable capital and other critical services to our nation’s smallest and most under-resourced businesses. From climate change to interest rates to technology, participants discussed the current small business landscape and how CDFIs can best help their clients respond to these challenges and opportunities. 

CDFIs Are Trusted Partners in Reaching Underinvested Communities  

OFN’s president and CEO, Harold Pettigrew

Marking his first public address as OFN’s president and CEO, Harold Pettigrew opened the forum by emphasizing climate change as the greatest threat to our communities and how critical CDFIs are to combatting its disastrous impacts, such as through the new Greenhouse Gas Reduction Fund. 

“The fact is that our climate isn’t changing, it’s changed, and unsurprisingly, the communities where CDFIs operate suffer disproportionately… OFN is making climate change and environmental justice a top priority. Environmental justice should forevermore be front and center in our work,” Pettigrew stated in his opening remarks.   

During a conversation between SBA Administrator Isabel Casillas Guzman and Pettigrew, Guzman underscored the importance of CDFIs as trusted partners and financial first responders in reaching communities that mainstream financial institutions typically do not, specifically highlighting the SBA’s Paycheck Protection program (PPP)

“Clearly CDFIs were tremendous in partnering with the SBA [on PPP] and ensuring especially towards the end that capital got deployed to the smallest of the small businesses, to the solopreneurs, as well as women and people of color, rural communities, veterans,” said Guzman.   

Isabel Casillas Guzman, SBA Administrator, and Harold Pettigrew, OFN’s president and CEO during a conversation on the role CDFI loan funds play in expanding access to capital for small businesses

Other key plenary topics included how to advance racial equity in small business lending* and how CDFIs can build on and sustain the industry’s momentum gained over the past few years. The forum also featured more than 20 interactive breakout sessions where participants had the opportunity to dive deeper into these topics and much more. 

Missed the in-person event or want to revisit content?  

*See OFN’s racial equity and accessibility in lending toolkit to learn more about the work discussed by OFN members during the forum. 

Check Out the Recap 
Attendees of OFN Small Business Finance Forum day two

The forum brought together attendees from more than 140 CDFIs, 11 different funders and investors, five separate federal or state agencies, and 40 unique industry stakeholders for learning, knowledge exchange, networking, innovating, and collaborating. 


  • Three plenaries featuring distinguished speakers from the private and public sectors, including SBA Administrator Isabel Casillas Guzman 
  • 22 breakout sessions across five distinct tracks, featuring 70+ subject matter experts 
  • Eight networking by position sessions  
  • Three OFN trainings on CDFI 101, CAMEL fundamentals, and climate lending 101 
  • Tour of CDFI-funded small businesses in Chicago’s Bronzeville neighborhood 
  • Expo featuring 12 exhibitors who shared information about products and services intended to help CDFIs better serve their small business clients 

Visit the recap page for plenary recordings and other content from the event, including photos, breakout session materials, and more. We also encourage you to keep the #SBFF23 conversation going on social media and CDFI Connect

Attend Upcoming OFN Events 
2023 OFN Conference in Washington, D.C. – October 15-18 
New England Regional Meeting in Boston – August 9 
See more details about these and other OFN events here.

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