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Making the Most of the Small Business Conference

May 11, 2011 - 5:05pm


Business cards on hand. A list of contacts in mind. Copy of a conference agenda. Prospective partners scouted out. Expo map in pocket. Jonathan Blackwell knows what it takes to navigate a conference.

As a business development manager for Chickasaw Nation Industries, a network of 15 companies owned by the Chickasaw Nation, Jonathan has attended the Department of Energy Annual Small Business Conference for eight out of his 10 years on the job. After following the suggestion of the staff at the Office of the Small and Disadvantaged Business Utilization (the OSDBU), Jonathan and his team went to their first Department of Energy Small Business Conference, bringing home a stack of business cards of prospective partners.

In 2004 Chickasaw Nation Industries picked up a contract from the Chief Information Officer. Having gotten its foot in the door with a job well done, it now works with six different program offices, holding at least 11 current contracts with the Department. Last week, Chickasaw Nation Industries ran the operations for the 2011 Tribal Summit Conference, taking it from a Department of Energy conference attendee to a Department of Energy conference manager.

Networking opportunities keep Chickasaw Nation Industries coming back to the Small Business Conference each year. “We’re here looking for prospective teaming partners,” Jonathan said. “We are in search of companies for our acquisition model.” This model includes companies that are nearing or have completed the Small Business Administration’s 8(a) development program, designed to help small and disadvantaged business compete in the marketplace through mentoring, procurement assistance, and more. Seven out of the 15 companies that compose Chickasaw Nation Industries are 8(a) companies.

When small businesses, minority educational institutions, contractors, and government representatives arrive in Kansas City, Missouri, for the 12th Annual Small Business Conference & Expo (running May 10 – 12), Jonathan has some advice for them. “Be prepared to not win a contract right away, but pick up as many business cards as you can, build relationships, look to be part of a team, and follow up,” he says. “Get your foot in the door. The Department of Energy is so diverse from the labs to the field offices, so examine what they are buying and get to know your customer.”

For more information about this year’s conference visit

Bill Valdez, Acting Director, Office of Economic Impact and Diversity.