Penn’s Supplier Diversity Forum & Expo offered networking and resources to area businesses

The annual event showcased Penn’s commitment to community. The University spent approximately $170 million with diverse suppliers in 2023 and is on track to exceed that number in 2024.

A group of people standing in front of a woman giving out popsicles. In the background, a large sign reading "BOX OFFICE" and advertisements for Annenberg performances.
At the expo, lil Pop Shop passes out popsicles to guests. 

With more than 500 people in attendance, the seventh annual Penn Supplier Diversity Forum & Expo included construction firms, suppliers, local agencies and organizations, and Penn buyers, who met to discuss field-wide issues, showcase the resources available to businesses, and celebrate supplier diversity.

The purpose of the event is to promote economic inclusion and diversity business growth in the Philadelphia and the surrounding region, said Colleen Reardon, senior director of Strategic Sourcing & Sustainability at Penn Procurement Services. Reardon, who has been with the University for 33 years, has seen the number of diversity-owned businesses that Penn works with grow significantly.

“Penn’s commitment to supporting diverse small businesses isn’t simple altruism,” said Provost John L. Jackson Jr., who introduced the event. “We invest in diverse and small businesses because they are a critical part of the fabric of this region. And that’s more than just economics. It’s what defines us: a rich tapestry of people from around the world who make Philadelphia the vibrant, inclusive, tolerant, culturally, ethnically, and racially diverse place we all want it to be.”

Vice President for Finance & Treasurer Mark F. Dingfield announced that Penn spent approximately $170 million with diverse suppliers in fiscal year 2023, and is on track to exceed that number in 2024.

Rachel Branson, the inaugural director of the city’s Office of Minority Business Success, shared City Hall updates about procurement and services. In her position, a new cabinet appointment, Branson helps minority businesses launch and thrive in Philadelphia in collaboration with the Office of Economic Opportunity and the Department of Commerce.

“This is an opportunity for all of us to examine old patterns, patterns that no longer serve us, so that we may innovate and be better,” Branson said. “I look forward to working with all of you as we embrace change and create fresh starts and new opportunities for minority businesses in our beloved city.”

The audience at the Penn Supplier Diversity Forum
Rachel Branson, the inaugural director of the city’s Office of Minority Business Success, takes questions at the Supplier Diversity Forum.

Reardon announced this year’s winner of the fourth annual Supplier Diversity Impact Award: Carol Lerner, director of finance and accounting at WXPN for her intentional work to include diverse business in support of the Black Opry Residency.

The forum continued with two panels. The first centered around construction, a new addition to this year’s event, which was moderated by Senior Vice President for Facilities and Real Estate Services Anne Papageorge. This panel included Patricia Thomas-LaRoche, CEO of Cameron & Associates 8; Angelina Perryman of Perryman Building and Construction Services Inc.; and Randy Washington, president and CEO of LSN Contractors & Construction Managers.

The second panel, moderated by Kenyatta James, deputy director of the economy league of Philadelphia, included Nikisha Bailey, CEO of Win Win Coffee; Michelle Gumbs, senior director of capacity building for the Office of Economic Opportunity in Philadelphia’s commerce department; Jabari Jones, the founding CEO of the West Philadelphia Corridor Collaborative; and Corinne Low, associate professor of business economics and public policy at the Wharton School.

As the forum concluded, participants headed to the expo portion of the event, where 30 exhibitors and 17 construction businesses discussed their products and services.

Among the exhibitors was Andrew Magnus of BTC Envelopes and Printing, who started the business in 2007 after working as a sales rep for another printing company when he saw an opportunity to create a business as a minority entrepreneur. Printing was a strong industry without many people of color at the top, Magnus said. He wanted to “create a presence, show other people that this is a great opportunity.” 

Even after getting a big contract, “you still have to earn it,” said Magnus, who frequently works with Penn Procurement. “You still have to prove that you can handle the business; you have to prove that you can deliver the goods.”