Twelve Innovative Partnerships to Help Businesses of Color Grow

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Small business owners drive economic empowerment, both through their direct economic impact and as anchors and job-creators for the communities they serve. We know that small businesses comprise 58% of Chicago jobs as a whole and a full 70% in disinvested neighborhoods, according to a report by the Initiative for a Competitive Inner City. We also know that self-employed business owners, specifically people of color, experience faster earnings growth than wage and salary and that the overall wealth gap between white and Black households narrows significantly for entrepreneurs as compared to the general population.

However, entrepreneurs of color—despite incredible tenacity, vision and passion—face more significant hurdles. For instance, the JPMorgan Chase Institute found that small businesses in many South and West Side neighborhoods have more limited cash reserves than their counterparts on the North side. Small businesses in Englewood, for example, are operating with less than a week of cash reserves in their deposit accounts, compared to 17 days for small businesses in Buena Park—three times the cash liquidity of their Englewood peers.

For all of these reasons, The Chicago Community Trust, The Coleman Foundation, JPMorgan Chase and Robert R. McCormick Foundation are pleased to announce our collective support for twelve promising new partnerships designed to improve and expand access to capital, high quality and specialized business service consultation, networks and industry specific supports for businesses in Chicagoland owned by people of color.

This initiative follows research findings in the recent study Assessing Chicago’s Small Business Ecosystem, which found that while Chicago enjoys a large number of organizations serving small businesses, those organizations are not connected nor coordinated enough, and often provide generalized and sometimes duplicative services.

Small businesses in Englewood are operating with less than a week of cash reserves in their deposit accounts, compared to 17 days for small businesses in Buena Park—three times the cash liquidity.

The 12 new partnerships are supported as a result of a recent call for proposals from the Chicago-Area Businesses of Color Partnerships Fund, a new partnership between the four foundations. The goal of the Fund is to help entrepreneurs of color access highly skilled, coordinated and trusted services with the ultimate goal of better creating a network of organizations towards ensuring the success and growth of businesses of color—a key ingredient to a thriving, equitable and inclusive local economy.

We received 70 letters of intent, totaling $8.9M in requests, to support efforts on the South and West sides of Chicago in industries like construction, food, arts and technology. The vast majority of applications were geared towards improving access to capital, expanding markets and expanding business partnerships. Below are the 12 partnerships that received funding to expand their offerings to small businesses on the South and West sides.

Over the next year, we look forward to learning from and with grant recipients and have hired an evaluator, Tiffany McDowell, to work with grant recipients individually and together as a group, providing the opportunity to learn from each other.

This funding initiative was made possible with additional generous support from Leslie Bluhm and David Helfand, and from the Peter and Lucy Ascoli Family Fund and the Liz and Don Thompson Family Fund at The Chicago Community Trust.


1. Centro de Trabajadores Unidos Immigrant Workers Project

Southeast Chicago Cooperative Businesses Partnership

A new 12-week business bootcamp on the southeast side of Chicago and south suburbs that will provide comprehensive business development services for low-income, immigrant and Latinx-owned worker cooperatives. The Partnership, which includes United Workers’ Center (CTU), Adelante Center for Entrepreneurship, John Marshall Law School and Chicago Food Policy Action Council, aims to increase the number of immigrant and Latinx cooperative firms on the Southeast side of Chicago to address the unique needs, vulnerabilities and aspirations of low-income Latinx workers and support them in creating collective worker-run enterprises.


2. Elevate Energy

Light Bulb

A pilot to reduce barriers for minority contractors through shared back office services. Elevate Energy, Sustainable Options for Urban Living (SOUL) and Business Services Collective will launch a pilot to provide operational capacity and back office services for people of color-owned solar construction businesses. It will leverage new opportunities that have resulted from the Future Energy Jobs Act, which requires participation of minority contractors in the emerging solar industry. The project will focus on businesses who have been receiving technical training from Elevate Energy and SOUL on energy efficiency and solar installations and will start initially with helping these companies set up the systems they need to bid for contracts. The goal is to ultimately build out a suite of back office business services.


3. Emerald South Economic Development Collaborative

Franchise Initiative Training and Tracking 2.0

A partnership to outline the opportunity, process and level of commitment needed to successfully launch and operate a franchise business for local businesses on Chicago’s South side. Project partners would include Far South Community Development Corporation, Chicago TREND, Sunshine Enterprises and Illinois Restaurant Association and would leverage relationships with a range of franchise brands to gain and apply an understanding of their franchisee selection criteria and expectations to share with entrepreneurs of color in the program. This program leverages Chicago Trends’ last year of work to recruit, develop and finance new franchise owners of color and help these entrepreneurs start businesses in communities of color with less risk, due to the power of franchise brands.


4. Greater Chatham Initiative

FoodLab Chicago

A partnership to provide integrated services to mature food businesses owned by people of color in the South Shore and Chatham communities by addressing acute barriers that hamper their growth. FoodLab Detroit has created an effective model for developing cohorts of industry-specialized food entrepreneurs to provide not only technical support, but also strong network ties between food businesses of color facing similar growth opportunities and challenges. Through this work, they will establish a new FoodLab Chicago to provide in-person technical assistance to the 25 food businesses that are the nucleus of Restaurant Row and 71st Street. Greater Chatham Initiative will work with FoodLab Detroit, Association for Enterprise Opportunity and South Shore Chamber of Commerce.


5. Greater Southwest Development Corporation

Basic Financials for Business

Greater Southwest Development Corporation will partner with Greater Englewood Chamber of Commerce, Emerald South Economic Development Collaborative and Rogers Park Business Alliance to train and connect businesses of color and of dual language to each other and the partnership’s collective array of resources, with a focus on increasing access to capital. They will expand their financial readiness curriculum to additional neighborhoods and increase the number of entrepreneurs successfully obtaining financing. This partnership will also establish an alumni network that will gather three times over the course of the year to connect and collaborate.


6. Latin Women In Action / Mujeres Latinas en Acción

Empresarias del Futuro

In recognition of a growing market in Brighton Park, from their headquarters in Pilsen Latin Women in Action will partner with the Brighton Park Neighborhood Council to expand their successful Empresarias del Futuro entrepreneur program. Empresarias del Futuro is an adult-learning entrepreneurship model that services low- and moderate-income women, particularly Spanish-speaking and immigrant women. A long-standing and trusted community organizing group, coalition leader and service provider, Brighton Park Neighborhood Council will play an important role in referrals and relationship-building with the community.


7. Little Village Community Foundation

Xquina Incubator

Xquina Incubator will create an open, accessible and inclusive learning environment that provides bilingual, adaptable training and coaching for current and emerging businesses, working-class residents, media professionals and local youth. The Foundation has identified several core partners, including the Illinois Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, State of Illinois Procurement Technical Assistance Center and FourStar Branding, as well as local universities, to provide technical business support, branding, entrepreneurial training and a bilingual, immigrant-focused, cohort-based program.


8. Local Initiatives Support Corporation

A Model for Increasing the Pipeline of Minority Business Participation in Public Infrastructure

A partnership that leverages the Chicago Transit Authority’s $1.2 billion Red/Purple modernization construction contract to lower barriers and to increase success of participation for business owners of color. The program will develop qualified bidders using LISC’s flexible capital, network of partners, CTA and the prime contractor to not only help the CTA meet its 20% minority business (DBE) requirement, but to ensure that smaller, often unsuccessful bidders are prepared and supported to compete for the various components of this three- to five-year construction procurement process.


9. New Covenant Community Development Corporation

Financial Literacy Dash Board for Small Business Project

New Covenant CDC, Sunshine Enterprises and the North Lawndale Chamber will work together to provide specific training for small and micro-businesses in the area of financial management. These partners, who have a strong working relationship, work with entrepreneurs to start or grow businesses. Support from this project will allow them to serve 75-100 entrepreneurs by expanding from three to five cohorts and expanding to serve both the South and West sides of Chicago.


10. Northwest Side Housing Center

Creating and Supporting Businesses of Color: Belmont Cragin Business Collaborative (BCBC)

The BCBC will partner with the Women’s Business Development Center, Chicago Police Department (25th), CIBC Bank, Local Initiatives Support Corporation Chicago and Associated Bank to provide personalized business capacity building and access to new, flexible and patient capital, and to promote safe, beautiful streets along the commercial corridor in the Belmont Cragin neighborhood.


11. Small Business Majority

Coordinating Services to Support Chicago’s Entrepreneurs of Color

Three Chicagoland organizations—Small Business Majority, Rogers Park Business Alliance and Working Credit—will partner to offer in-depth business education for local entrepreneurs of color. Partnering will increase the capacity and effectiveness of each organization, increasing entrepreneurs’ access to capital, business resources and credit-building strategies. Through this partnership, they will enhance an already successful business curriculum, while also creating a new curriculum emphasizing financial capacity, by integrating the three partners’ expertise.


12. Women’s Business Development Center

Expanding Minority Business Access (EMBA)—Connections, Contracts and Capital

A collaboration between the Women’s Business Development Center and the Chicago Minority Supplier Development Council that will increase exposure to private/public sector contracting/procurement opportunities for business owners of color. The partnership has a three-part focus: advancing and deepening business development curriculum through a train-the-trainer curriculum for neighborhood business service organizations; expanding markets/mentorship networks; and access to capital.