As part of our strategic plan learning agenda in entrepreneurship, Coleman co-hosted a virtual workshop for Business SupportOrganizations (BSOs) in February with the Fund for Equitable Business Growth (the Fund). The Fund, a collaboration between the Chicago Community Trust and several Chicago foundations including Coleman, is committed to building a more just, equitable and resilient society by creating a marketplace of services for entrepreneurs of color in the Chicago region. The workshop was attended by 75 participants, including the Coleman board and representatives from our funder peers JP Morgan, the Chicago Community Trust, and the Christopher Family Foundation.
We have often heard from our partner organizations that one of the added values of being a Coleman grantee is exposure to the scholarship of entrepreneurship, so we were excited to invite two entrepreneur academics to the panel, Mike Morris and Maija Renko, each of whom has been affiliated with our work for several years. Mike Morris is a Professor of Entrepreneurship and Social Innovation at the University of Notre Dame. His work is focused exclusively on poverty and entrepreneurship, and he also runs the annual Experiential Classroom program, on which the workshop was modeled. Maija Renko is a professor and serves as the Coleman Chair of Entrepreneurship at DePaul University. The panel also included Coleman grantees Laura Lane Taylor and Nadya Henriquez (Sunshine Enterprises), Rebeca Fernandez (Rogers Park Business Association) and Erika Gonzalez (Greater Southwest Community Development Corporation) who co-designed the sessions with our academic partners.
Highlighting the challenges entrepreneurs face when establishing businesses in low- and moderate-income neighborhoods, Professor Morris presented research showing that to be effective, community-based programs must tailor their tools, language and approach to the specific needs of business owners in underserved neighborhoods. He shared a model to guide program efforts that has proven useful in fostering entrepreneurship within these communities.
Professor Renko provided an overview of the findings from the Coleman-sponsored analysis of entrepreneurship training curricula from several Chicago-based business service organizations. She shared insights from the research team’s interviews with students and instructors and presented recommendations for how BSOs can improve the content and delivery of training programs.
We received positive feedback from participants who appreciated hearing directly from two panelists who are leaders working in the field. Panelists Nadya Henriquez and Erika Gonzalez both emphasized the importance of expanding networking opportunities for business owners. Laura Lane talked about the increased demand for BSO services during the pandemic and how organizations need to address their ability to scale to meet this growing need and continue to work together to “weave a support network for entrepreneurs.”
Another key takeaway was that entrepreneurship is empowering and transformative, not just for individual business owners but to their families, neighborhood economies and industries. Offering business services to entrepreneurs in underserved communities provides these individuals with the access to the tools required to employ themselves and their neighbors, provide goods and services in their community and achieve their business goals.
Coleman looks forward to our continued partnership with the Fund for Equitable Business Growth and working with our BSO grantees to positively contribute to Chicago’s entrepreneurship ecosystem.
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