Attendees engaging during the 2024 Small Business Finance Forum

OFN Small Business Finance Forum Puts Spotlight on Climate Financing, AI, and More

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OFN’s Small Business Finance Forum convened 600 mission-driven small business lenders and partners to learn, network, and collaborate.

OFN’s 11th annual Small Business Finance Forum (SBFF) returned to downtown Chicago’s magnificent mile from June 12-14. For more than a decade, the forum has provided small business and microlending CDFIs with timely content, inspiration, and the chance to connect.

Marking the largest forum ever, this year’s event brought together 600 mission-driven small business lenders, partners, and advocates from communities across the country to support the shared goal of helping our nation’s small businesses succeed. 

Forum attendees gathered in Chicago to learn, exchange knowledge, network, innovate, and collaborate.

The forum featured 24 interactive breakout sessions across six distinct tracks; opportunities for peer learning, networking, and training; and a Small Business Partner Expo showcasing products and services to help CDFI small business lenders serve their clients most effectively.

The forum also included a tour of CDFI impact on the ground in the South Side’s Pullman neighborhood, led by local historian Sherman “Dilla” Thomas.

CDFIs Are Made for This Moment  

OFN President and CEO Harold Pettigrew set the stage for the forum with key challenges that CDFIs, our communities, and our world are facing, such as climate change, high interest rates, and a policy environment that threatens to eliminate programs intended to help historically underinvested entrepreneurs. Pettigrew also emphasized OFN and the CDFI industry’s incredible achievements with small businesses over the past 25 years and what we need to do to meet today’s challenges.

“Our accomplishments as an industry, our growing strength and impact in supporting small businesses show that we are made for this moment,” Pettigrew stated.

Small Business Administration (SBA) Administrator Isabel Casillas Guzman reinforced Pettigrew’s outlook, later joining him on stage to share updates about SBA resources, such as the Community Advantage program, and the SBA’s focus on helping small businesses transition to a clean, greener economy.

Administrator Guzman highlighted the SBA and other federal policymakers’ excitement about partnering with CDFIs to achieve the intended impact of the Biden-Harris Administration’s historic $27 billion Greenhouse Gas Reduction Fund, through which OFN received $2.3 billion.

“Everyone is very excited about these dollars and helping come up with solutions to ensure that they’re put into the right places, and we want to partner with you [CDFIs] on that,” Guzman said.

Isabel Casillas Guzman, SBA Administrator, and Harold Pettigrew, OFN’s President and CEO, during a conversation on supporting the small business ecosystem to ensure entrepreneurs have access to capital.

Additional plenary conversations also focused on state and federal programs for CDFIs and other mission lenders, including the State Small Business Credit Initiative and Greenhouse Gas Reduction Fund, as well as how CDFIs can leverage AI and other advancements in technology to strengthen their operations and deepen impact.

#SBFF24 Highlights

  • More than 150 CDFIs, 17 different funders and investors, six separate federal or state agencies, and 48 unique industry stakeholders in attendance
  • Three plenaries featuring distinguished speakers from the private and public sectors, including SBA Administrator Isabel Casillas Guzman
  • 24 breakout sessions across 6 distinct tracks, featuring over 100 subject matter experts
  • 10 networking by position sessions
  • Four OFN training sessions totaling 175 participants, with topics including CDFI 101, small business lending, financial management, and operationalizing racial equity and accessibility in lending
  • Tour of CDFI-funded small businesses in Chicago’s Pullman neighborhood
  • Expo featuring 17 exhibitors with products and services to help CDFIs best 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. Also, keep the #SBFF24 conversation going on social media and CDFI Connect!

Other Upcoming OFN and CDFI Industry Events

2024 OFN conference blog body

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