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South and West side minority small business fund gets $3.6M boost

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Chicago’s Entrepreneurs of Color Fund now exceeds $9 million

An overhead view of businesses and train tracks with a row of tall buildings in the distance.
An aerial view of Chicago’s West Side.
Getty Images/iStockphoto

An initiative to provide capital to minority-owned small business owners on Chicago’s South and West sides received a $3.6 million boost from six financial and charitable institutions, Mayor Lori Lightfoot announced at a Wednesday press conference held at The Hatchery, a food-oriented business incubator in East Garfield Park.

Launched last summer with support from JPMorgan Chase and Fifth Third Bank, Chicago’s Entrepreneurs of Color Fund works with local nonprofit organizations such as Accion Chicago and the Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC) to provide loans, business counseling services, and mentorship programs.

In its first year, the initiative created 130 loans totaling more than $1.7 million, resulting in roughly 400 new or preserved jobs. With the latest cash infusion from banks and other institutions, the small business fund now exceeds $9 million.

Wednesday’s contributions came from First Midwest Bank, U.S. Bank, and Providence Bank & Trust and charitable organizations of the McCormick Foundation, Coleman Foundation, and Chicago Community Trust.

Such collaboration is usual among rival banks, according to Crain’s, noting that competing financial institutions typically keep their charity actions separate for branding and marketing purposes.

“Small businesses are the backbone of our city’s economy, providing needed jobs, services, and opportunity to our families and residents in every neighborhood across Chicago,” said Lightfoot in a statement.

“The Entrepreneurs of Color Fund plays a critical role in driving small business growth in our communities, particularly those that have experienced generational disinvestment, and we are grateful to these newest funders for stepping up and doing their part as we expand access to capital, develop entrepreneurial skills, and truly unlock our city’s potential as a beacon of hope and opportunity for all.”

The privately funded initiative joins other city-led efforts to spur economic development in Chicago’s underserved communities. This includes Chicago’s Neighborhood Opportunity Fund which encourages activity along commercial corridors that have lacked new investment. Administered by the city, the program is funded by private developers that make payments in exchange for bonus height and density in downtown projects.