Boston Fed program connects diverse vendors with large buyers
Annual “Engage and Connect” event created to help open doors
In her first meeting with a potential new client at the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston, business owner Doreen Blades poured motor oil on the Bank’s garage floor.
Carole Sears, the Bank’s supplier diversity manager, worried as the oil spread in front of her and the Bank’s Director of Building Operations, Mike Gill – Blades’ would-be client. “In my mind, I was thinking ‘Doreen, what are you doing?!’” Sears recalled.
It was all part of Blades’ plan to show how easy it is to clean up petroleum-based spills using her company’s products. Doreen covered the motor oil with a bio-remedial absorbent called SpillAway+, and it was gone in minutes.
Gill was impressed. Shortly afterward, the Bank was doing business with another woman-owned enterprise.
Blades won the business as part of the Bank’s Engage and Connect program, which helps to build networks that connect diverse vendors with potential new clients.
“We want to provide diverse suppliers access and opportunity whenever possible,” Sears said.
Since Engage and Connect began in 2015, Sears has introduced a wide range of diverse suppliers to representatives from various Bank business areas and large organizations outside the Bank. Before, supplier diversity professionals were required to attend separate events geared toward minority-owned business, or women-owned businesses, etc., to do business.
“They were never all in one room,” Sears said.
The program’s goal is to invite every classification of diverse supplier to one event. It also aims to make large corporate partners available for otherwise hard-to-get meetings.
Engage and Connect started with 200 participants, but that number has since more than doubled. The day-long event gives diverse vendors access to procurement and supplier diversity professionals from the Boston Fed. It also brings in notable businesses like CVS Health, Blue Cross and Blue Shield, Boston Children’s Hospital, Jet Blue, Dunkin Donuts, and Iron Mountain.
A virtual format offered unique opportunities
Engage and Connect is typically in-person, but in 2020 – like most events – it was virtual due to COVID-19. Sears said that enabled organizers to host three days of technical assistance sessions. There were also five days of virtual matchmaking between suppliers and buyers instead of one, as the Bank partnered with the city, state, and certifying councils looking to support diverse suppliers.
Sears said the format provided unique opportunities. For instance, usually there are lines of people waiting to pitch individual vendors. But this year, vendors met corporations in virtual breakout rooms, with plenty of time for questions and follow-ups.
“Engage and Connect has allowed us to really grow our network,” said Mike Murphy, an account executive at Worldcom Exchange, a technology business solutions provider founded by Belisario Rosas, a Peruvian immigrant.
Murphy’s company provides server equipment and other technology used by the Bank, and he said the event has opened doors his company normally can’t unlock. Last year, for instance, he met with representatives from the Mass General Brigham hospital network.
“We probably wouldn’t even have a seat at the table if it weren’t for events like this,” he said.
The 2021 Engage and Connect will likely be a digital event in the fall. No matter the format, its mission will be to create an environment that fosters economic growth for all, Sears said.
“Many businesses have never given diversity in their supply chain a thought,” Blades said. “Carole and the Bank keep it top of mind and are encouraging other businesses to do the same. It’s truly making a difference.”