Building Connections Among Supplier Accelerator Alums

Small business owners expand their networks and gain new insights

OPR_Aljeri_4134763_DEI Cohort Photos_8-17-23_LDJ

The 2023 cohort, from left: Chelsea Treboniak, Rhoni Thompson, Gabrielle Chrisman, Naushay Adams and Andre Bryan.


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The 2023 cohort of the DEI Supplier Accelerator mentorship program, presented by Cleveland Clinic and University Hospitals, run businesses focused on trucking, recruiting and staffing, operations and logistics. While their fields varied, these small-business leaders share common challenges: hiring and employee retention, marketing, and improving their ability to craft successful bid proposals.

During their six months of mentorship, they received expert guidance with all of that – as well as connections to each other, to industry leaders, and to the program’s inaugural cohort.

“The 2023 cohort was a charismatic group that was immediately supportive of one another, continually sharing best practices and having insightful discussions inside and outside of our scheduled workshop time,” says Justin Algeri, Supplier Diversity program manager at Cleveland Clinic. “Having business leaders with this level of engagement adds to the overall benefit of the program.”

Cleveland Clinic and University Hospitals launched DEI Supplier Accelerator in 2022 with the goal of investing in small, diverse-owned businesses in the region while strengthening their ability to meet the needs of healthcare and other organizations that might need their goods and services.

“Subject matter experts from both organizations enthusiastically function as one team to provide informative workshops,” says Algeri.

The framework of the program remained the same in its second year, but Algeri says program planners were ready to flex as needed.

“The business needs of our cohort will change year over year, both because of the companies that participate and because of the market environment,” says Algeri. “This means we must continuously evaluate our programming and provide customized content where it’s applicable.”

For example, 2023 participants all expressed difficulty in finding and hiring qualified employees.

“This prompted us to modify the human resources workshop to expand the focus on candidate sourcing and hiring best practices,” Algeri says. “That had a transformative impact on the cohort members’ hiring processes.”

Guidance in marketing, procurement and more

Over the course of the program, participants received:

  • Insight into the sourcing practices of large corporations.
  • individual meetings with experts in finance, marketing, procurement and human resources.
  • networking with decision makers, community partners and Tier 1 supply vendors (who often use subcontractors).
  • a review of their businesses to help them grow.
  • a $10,000 cash prize for completing the program.

During the graduation celebration at the end of the program, Naushay Adams, owner of Educare Medical Staffing, says that when she first applied to participate, she wasn’t sure what to expect from the program “besides knowledge – and I love knowledge.”

But because Cleveland Clinic and University Hospitals were involved, she trusted her time would be well spent. It was.

“There was a lot of information, and all of it will help me further my business – the HR tools, the marketing tools… I’m here right now living out one of my fears, which is public speaking. It’s things like that that I can take from to grow and learn,” she says.

Cohort member Andre Bryan is Managing Partner of Bridgeport Group, a global supply chain company that manages inventory for clients in the industrial sector. The business is headquartered in Cleveland and soon is expected to have distribution centers in Michigan, Kentucky, California and Florida. Bridgeport has provided consulting services to Cleveland Clinic in the past; Bryan was eager to participate in the mentorship program to better his chances of expanding that business in the future.

“I want to really understand the operations of healthcare inventory management,” Bryan says. “I know it’s critical and sensitive, so it’s important to really understand where they are spending money, how it works and how we can make our company fit the hospital’s needs.”

Chelsea Treboniak is owner of Critical Ops, a business integration services company based in Westlake, Ohio. During the closing event of the Supplier Accelerator program, she described the program as “an invaluable opportunity to share and grow a company that’s here to stay. I’ve got pages and pages of notes that I’ve shared with our team.”

Even small lessons can have a positive impact. Treboniak learned tips for using parentheses for improving searches on LinkedIn.

“It was amazing,” she says. “I came back and we hired six people on the spot for a contract we had. Truly enabling your company through technology with just a basic addition was fantastic.”

In 2006, Gabrielle Chrisman was the solopreneur who founded Hunter International, a STEM-focused staffing and recruiting firm. Now the company has 450 employees. “We fill the toughest jobs for our customers all over the world, primarily in science, technology, engineering and mathematics.”

Chrisman’s interest in participating in the DEI Supplier Accelerator program stemmed in part from her confidence that she would make strong peer connections.


“I knew that because of the criteria used for selecting the cohort, there would be a wonderful group of likeminded local business owners,” she says. “The cohort is inspiring for what they’re doing every day. I know how hard it is to be an entrepreneur, and so we have so much respect for one another.”

Although Hunter International’s business is staffing and recruiting, Chrisman gained valuable insights about employee retention.

“We learned so much about current employee engagement with real tools that we can implement for our employees,” she says. “So much focus tends to be on new employees.”

For Rhoni Thompson of R.L. Cole Enterprise, a trucking company, one of the most important takeaways from the program was a better understanding of how to market her business.

“I haven’t done a lot of marketing, and not because I didn’t want to, but because I didn’t know what to market or how,” she says. “I also wondered who was going to pay attention. So the big takeaway for me was that I learned that if I’m working for you, you, directly, are my customer. How do I market to you? And more than just you. I need to market to different people inside a company.”

As the DEI Supplier Accelerator program moves forward, Algeri says leaders will be looking for ways to build on what participants have learned.

“One area of opportunity we will explore is how we can continue to add value for our alumni network, including opportunities for further education, networking and other opportunities,” he says. “We will also be looking at ways to expand the impact of our program.”

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