Four years ago, when Tiffany Williams started her coffee and restaurant business Exquisite 501, she was unable to access capital through a bank.
Williams instead completed an entrepreneurs program at Sunshine Enterprises and received funding from Greenwood Archer Capital. And now she’s hoping that a new community micro-investment fund will provide her with the money to grow her business even further.
“Our business has the opportunity to expand into larger venues where we compete with some of the largest caterers in the city of Chicago,” said Williams. “But we need people to be able to compete, we need more technical advancements in our business and we need new vehicles to be able to do that.”
The Community Micro Equity Fund was launched Wednesday at a press conference at Sunshine Enterprises, which is next to Williams’ business in Chicago’s Woodlawn neighborhood.
The PNC Foundation, part of the PNC Financial Services Group, provided $ 1.5 million in grants, which will be administered by Sunshine Enterprises and Greenwood Archer Capital, formerly known as Chicago Neighborhood Initiatives Micro Finance Group.
Thurman Smith said the fund will complete the city’s existing Invest South / West initiative.
“This is how we promote sustainable wealth creation and equity in our city,” said Smith.
The fund will provide entrepreneurs, mainly on the south and west sides of the city, up to $ 25,000 which will not have to be repaid in the first two years. In the third year, business owners will start repaying the principal amount, according to the PNC Foundation. After the third year, the amount can be fully repaid or turned into a loan.
“Without access to all forms of capital, this path may not be realized for some black entrepreneurs and other underserved entrepreneurs,” said Erica King, president of Greenwood Archer Capital. “We believe that equity means continuous progress towards equality by giving disadvantaged people different treatment so that the opportunities are the same as others. ”
King said applications for the fund opened on Wednesday and most applicants will be required to complete a 12-week program run by Sunshine Enterprises that will focus on providing business owners with information on marketing, accounting, legal aid and other matters related to running a business.
Mayor Lori Lightfoot on Wednesday called the fund a tool to disrupt trends in social and economic inequality.
“We need to make sure that people in communities like this have the opportunity not only to help themselves, but to help their families, to help their employees and to build generational wealth that really fundamentally default because of systemic racism and discrimination and a lack of investment, ”said Lightfoot.
Williams opened her business in Woodlawn because that’s where she’s from, and she wanted to create a shared kitchen space where area chefs can host pop-up events to test their recipes.
Javon Nicholas, owner of Egg Rolls Etc., attended Wednesday’s event and plans to apply for funds to expand his business of frozen egg rolls containing non-traditional fillings like spicy jerk cabbage, collard greens or sweet buffalo chicken.
Over the past four years, she has been able to sell some of her products in grocery stores, but she still has not been able to access more capital. If she gets money from the Community Micro Equity Fund, she said it would allow her to hire more employees and build up her inventory.
“There is no inheritance for me when it comes to money,” Nicholas said. “I used my savings, presented and got grants, then got small loans from the banks and paid them back. And yet, that appears to be a cap on what they allow.
Elvia Malagón’s reporting on social justice and income inequality is made possible by a grant from the Chicago Community Trust.