New, Woman-Owned Business is Taking on the Chicago Event Planning Industry with a Sustainable and Purpose-Driven Focus

The last year and a half has provided a new type of ambition for those in hospitality and events.  People have had the chance to re-evaluate what they want out of their whole lives, and meaningful work has come to the forefront as businesses and people alike are refocusing.  Michelle Castady Orlando is one such person who has chosen to start and lead the Chicago branch of a new Destination Management Company (DMC), ETHOS Event Collective. It’s a task that anyone in the events industry knows is not a small feat in regular times, but Michelle is more determined than ever.

“The pandemic has provided an opportunity to re-evaluate not only what we do, but how we do it,” Michelle explained. “We’ve been through a rough 19 months and counting, but I still believe whole-heartedly in the power of live experiences and in-person events. Chicagoans are known for our resilient spirit and inspiring comebacks, and I’m now in a unique position to help us get back to where we need to be – together!”

That unique position is what Michelle knows will set ETHOS, a purpose-focused DMC, apart.  This company aims to bring events into the 21st century with a focus on ethical and sustainable standards – something that has become more and more important to businesses and consumers, especially in the last few years.  Like those businesses and consumers, Michelle was drawn to work with a purpose when she was given the opportunity to launch ETHOS in Chicago.

“In early 2021, two former colleagues brought their teams together and founded ETHOS Event Collective. I was inspired by the purpose and intention on which the brand was built – helping planners and partners stay ahead of increasing demands while supporting the people and places that make our industry thrive. The opportunity to own and operate a Midwest office offered a chance to build something that directly benefits our local communities and creates impact for both clients and the city long after the program events have ended.”

Looking ahead is something that Michelle is used to as a DMC veteran.  While growing up in Michigan as a young girl, Michelle’s goal was to be a lawyer or therapist, however she ended up as an executive assistant for a local trade association in Naples, Florida, and fell in love with planning.

While that position included many responsibilities, I quickly came to love the planning elements the most. Organizing networking events, supporting awards galas, and arranging continuing education classes opened my eyes to the potential for this being a pursuable career path.  A few years later, at the advice of a friend, I interviewed with a local Destination Management Company and jumped into a fast-paced operations position at the height of the company’s busy season. The experience quickly showed me the hospitality space was exactly where I belonged, and I’ve spent the last 17 years growing and learning across several creative, business development, and leadership roles for DMCs big and small.”

That 17 years means Michelle understands exactly what it means to be successful. 

“As defined by our industry association, ADMEI, a DMC is a ‘professional services company possessing extensive local knowledge, expertise and resources, specializing in the design and implementation of events, activities, tours, transportation and program logistics.’  More simply put, we’re true local experts. Our teams have decades of experience working in each destination curating award-winning meetings and events.  We’re part of the community, and our knowledge of and experience within our cities is unmatched. 

There are literally thousands of venues to consider, and that’s just the actual space. Add in catering, transportation, lighting, decor, and entertainment, then the potential combination of vendors that could service your event escalates the options quickly. 

If even one of these elements falls flat or under performs, it can have a dramatic impact on the overall program. We ask the right questions, we align all the options with the client’s specific event objectives, and we produce customized proposals.  Once we determine which elements best fit the bill, we contract everything on the client’s behalf, providing a single point of contact for planning and a single contract to send through procurement.” 

Most people look to grow in their careers, but starting a new business, especially after the last two years seems incredibly daring, but Michelle believes that now is the time.

People’s priorities have shifted, both in their personal lives and in their businesses. As big, national DMC brands added pins to their map and navigated the pandemic, their focus shifted from the local community to the bottom line.”

And that understanding has made her excited for the journey of creating the Chicago branch of ETHOS.

“I’m most excited about the “ethos” of ETHOS – designing and delivering destination experiences that drive impact for both clients and communities.  I’m excited to build a team that cares about each other, cares about our community, and cares about what we do. I’m excited to expand on the definition of what a DMC does by building out new lines of services that deliver more strategic solutions, while also aligning event spending with a more diverse set of local supplier partners.”

As someone who loves planning, I asked Michelle what her biggest challenge as a business owner was, and the difference in going from being a top performer to business leader.

“I’ve built several successful companies for other people in my career but finding balance between what I love to do and what I have to do as a new business owner has been a bit of a challenge. It’s all new though, so I’m giving myself a little grace, and know I’ll get there. I’m also incredibly grateful for leaders of other woman-owned businesses who have reached out and offered guidance and mentorship. Their advice and support have been really motivating.” 

Despite the challenges, Michelle has high hopes, too.

“I hope to build an awesome team that supports one another and does amazing work. I hope to continue partnering with long-term clients who consider me a trusted ally and indispensable arm of their event team. And through those meetings and events, I hope to have a real and lasting impact on the city of Chicago, helping to build and support other woman-owned and diverse businesses around us.”

Part of building a great business is understanding that growth and learning are imperative to stay relevant.

“We deliver everything with true white-glove service. Good DMCs are also always learning. Whether it’s keeping up with continuing industry education, prepping emergency preparedness plans, or reviewing pandemic compliance procedures – planners rely on us to not only deliver on the big picture but also flawlessly execute a thousand tiny details.”

For Michelle, part of learning is not only hearing from fellow women business owners, but connecting locally and continually expanding that network. 

“I love the variety… as a DMC you’re truly the local expert on everything from transportation to team building, from restaurants to robot servers, and must intimately understand every venue and vendor partner’s strengths.  I also love the people in and around the industry – to excel, your heart truly has to be in hospitality. Working alongside others who dig what they do keeps me motivated. 

Lastly, I love the planning process. Diving into the strategy, understanding a client’s mission, brand, revenue goals, company culture, and philanthropic initiatives. Understanding the participants and why they attend, then collaborating with clients to design what we want people to experience, feel, and do both during and after the event.”

This love of events, and every part of the process is the heart of why Michelle has started ETHOS, and she is open to connecting with planners in a variety of ways. 

“Connect me with a local supplier you love, send us an RFP, or engage with us on social media. Let me know how I can support you. What goes around comes around, and I’m here to help!” 


Leave a Reply