Businesses are the cornerstone of any neighborhood, providing stability, growth, and a sense of community investment. Local businesses often rely on each other, so when businesses close or shut down, that often results in community deterioration. Sunshine Enterprises, a Chicago-area non-profit, is looking to make a positive impact matters in Chicago's Woodlawn neighborhood.
Located in a small retail strip along 61st Street between King Drive and Champlain Avenue, Sunshine Enterprises is planning to open a small business incubator in August to revive the south side neighborhood. Starting with a small coffee shop (appropriately named Greenline Coffee), a recent news article stated that Sunshine Enterprises may be receiving funding by Madison Dearborn Partners to drive its efforts. (Plans include possibly expanding to the Austin or West Garfield Park neighborhoods, followed by possible expansion into the southwest side or far south side in the fall of 2015). Sunshine Enterprises hopes to create 45 new businesses and 60 new jobs each year, and works on a sliding-scale fee for potential entrepreneurs and "microenterprises". (A free informational session will be held on Tuesday, August 5th, and further details and RSVP information can be found via Eventbrite.)
Modeled on a successful New Jersey program that has graduated 750 small business owners, Sunshine Enterprises articipants engage in a two-phase process starting with an initial 12-week Business Leadership Academy. Sessions focus on building basic business skills, including capital management, business planning, managing cash flow, technology management, and identifying potential growth opportunities. Participants are then provided complimentary “accelerator services”, focusing on mentoring and coaching, and are connected with potential microlenders. A third round of participants will be graduating on Thursday, and past participants have created a variety of home businesses focusing on everything from e-mail marketing to home decor.
With its focus on small business development and entrepreneurship, Sunshine Enterprises is moving in a direction much different than typical non-profits. As Executive Director Joel Hamerick stated in a recent article:
We were giving away services that people were using again and again, but we weren’t changing the circumstances of the people using the services...We decided we need to work more in the direction of development and less in charity.”
Chicago has always seen a divide between the north and south sides that extends beyond baseball - and that divide includes a huge split in perception around socioeconomic status. With increasing disparities in expanding neighborhood businesses throughout the city, Sunshine Enterprises is taking a much more assertive and proactive stance. Recognizing that local businesses can often spur strong economic growth (especially in the Woodlawn area, where entrepreneurs can engage with potential anchor organizations like the University of Chicago), Sunshine Enterprises is providing business incubation and acceleration opportunities for a typically underserved population. With efforts to bring broadband as a way to foster economic development, Sunshine Enterprises is now part of a greater trend to spur economic development throughout the entire city. With many north side incubators (namely 1871 at the Merchandise Mart) the focus of attention, it is extremely heartening to see efforts begin on the city's south side.
As stated before, Sunshine Enteprises is holding a free informational session on August 5th. It's close to the CTA Green Line, and is part of overall efforts to revive south side neighborhoods. If you have an interest in seeing efforts to drive enterpreneurship, this is definitely a must-attend event.
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