Spotlight

Sunshine Enterprises (SE) launched in 2012 to train and equip neighborhood-based entrepreneurs in business management and development to transform their communities. Sunshine believes the greatest potential for economic development lies within the fabric of the neighborhood itself. As such, Sunshine Enterprises recognizes entrepreneurship as a key pathway to economic growth. The organization provides training, coaching and mentoring for businesses in Woodlawn, the South and West Sides of Chicago and Evanston. 

Sunshine Enterprises has its roots in an over 110-year history when in 1905, Moody Bible Church started a rescue mission, known as Moody Mission. Within a few years, this inner-city ministry became known as Sunshine Gospel Mission, which later became Sunshine Gospel Ministries. This became the basis to support Sunshine Enterprises, a non-sectarian economic development initiative.

The organization offers a variety of programs and services focused on economic development such as the Community Business Academy, Business Acceleration Services program, co-working and networking opportunities and much more. A core element of Sunshine Enterprises is education, and its team provides training on budgeting, marketing, credit building and other critical areas. Business owners also have the opportunity to take part in a yearlong program, which focuses on taking a business to the next level through specialized coaching and personalized workshops.

Sunshine Enterprises also provides access to capital, which made them the perfect fit for signing on as a SimpleGrowth business assistance partner. The Sunshine Enterprises team works one-on-one with small business owners to identify their specific needs and connect them to micro lenders and financial institutions. 

“Partnering with SimpleGrowth has been such a meaningful experience for our organization,” said Robin Simmons, Program Manager of Sunshine Enterprises. “Increased business growth and entrepreneurship is essential to community development, and being part of the SimpleGrowth network brings us one step closer to accomplishing our mission of establishing a vibrant and revitalized community.”

To learn more about Sunshine Enterprises, apply for a loan or accept support for your small business, visit simplegrowth.biz.

Last month the nation celebrated Women’s History Month, an ode to all of the phenomenal contributions made by women throughout time. There’s been significant progress, but women still face disadvantages in the business environment; particularly those who own their own business. That’s where SimpleGrowth comes into play – we want to strengthen the ability of small business owners to receive access to capital and financing, particularly for women-owned businesses.

Still, the fight to level the playing field for women entrepreneurs takes more than one month. That’s why we are taking a moment to recognize some of the powerful women we partner with at SimpleGrowth about their influences and the biggest issues they see for the female business owners they work with every day.

 

Janice Lopez, Director of Women’s Business Center at the Women’s Business Development Center

Janice LopezIs there a female entrepreneur/business owner/leader who you look up to? If so, why?

There are actually two people I look up to: Elizabeth Colón from Metaphrasis and Laritza Lopez from the Purple Group. I particularly looked up to Laritza when I first started in this industry. It’s few and far in between to see Latinas speaking at the forefront, and she had just started her business but was already so accomplished and successful at the time. For Elizabeth, it’s been her passion in the business and her commitment to work/life balance. She prioritizes taking care of oneself, and I think that as an entrepreneur, that’s something that tends to be overlooked because you’re so busy building up your business. It was very rare to see someone who looked like me in this industry – both as a woman and as a Latina. 

What’s the best piece of leadership advice you’ve received?

The best advice has been to not lose yourself when you’re in a leadership role; don’t be afraid to speak your mind and remain true to who you are. People often think that to be a leader you have to change yourself, and I don’t think that’s the case. I think a leader is confident in who they are, knows who is on their team, and understands that they do not always have the answer to everything.

What do you think will be the biggest challenge for the rising generation of female business owners?

The biggest challenge has always and will continue to be having that access to capital. It’s a huge issue for entrepreneurs, but particularly for females. However, I think this generation is at an advantage because the Internet provides access to so many different resources that can help launch and grow a business, and there are a ton of organizations out there that offer mentoring and networking opportunities. 

 

Jennie Motto Mesterharm, Director of Risk and Loan Operations at Accion

Is there a female entrepreneur/business owner/leader who you look up to? If so, why?

It is hard to choose just one. Virginia McGannis one female entrepreneur who comes to mind. She is the founder and CEO of Value Management Resources, a firm in Chicago that provides everything from bookkeeping services to CFO services to her small business clients. Two of the reasons I look up to Virginia are because she is very competent and is a direct communicator. Her ability to objectively identify strengths and weaknesses has helped her business—and her clients’ businesses—to thrive.

What’s the best piece of leadership advice you’ve received?

Robin Lee Greiner, the COO of Accion Chicago from 2012 through 2018, once told me that “the perfect is the enemy of the good.” In her view, it is much better to make 10 “good” decisions in the time you have than to spend the same amount of time making two “perfect” decisions, and I tend to agree. Strong leaders are able to make the most of the resources available to them, and they often face the challenge of having to make good decisions with imperfect or incomplete information.

What do you think will be the biggest challenge for the rising generation of female business owners?

One of the biggest challenges for the rising generation of business owners (regardless of gender) is knowing how to evaluate financing options. The growth of the fintech industry means entrepreneurs have more ways to access capital than ever before, which is a game changer. However, it can be hard to compare the various financing options, especially since terminology and debt structure can vary widely among industries and lenders. Business owners should prepare themselves before taking on debt by doing their homework, researching lenders, and ensuring they know what effect the debt will have on their business’ cash flow.

 

Robin Simmons, Program Manager at Sunshine Enterprises

Is there a female entrepreneur/business owner/leader who you look up to? If so, why?

The person who I look up to is someone in my community, and her name is Lenice Levy. She is an entrepreneur and is the owner of Good to Go Jamaican Cuisine and Catering. I admire her because I’ve watched her manage a supplemental income business with her own successful career, and I appreciate that she does it consistently while being a leader in the community. She never appears taxed or overwhelmed, and is a very humble person always on the pursuit to learn more. In the process, she’s also created jobs with her business and provided other opportunities for entrepreneurs.

What’s the best piece of leadership advice you’ve received?

I would have to say it’s to lead by example. I work alongside those I’m looking to lead, and that’s something that has made a difference. I haven’t had to raise my hand to be a leader, but rather I’ve been able to emerge as one through the work I’ve done and the influence I’ve been able to have. I always strive to actively practice the messages that I give my entrepreneurs when coaching or teaching and that’s to evaluate my actions and look for ways to improve; it holds me more accountable. 

What do you think will be the biggest challenge for the rising generation of female business owners?

First, I want to say that I’m really encouraged by the opportunity for female business owners right now. We are the fastest growing population of entrepreneurs, and I think that women are becoming more conscious and empowered, which allows for more opportunities of capacity building. However, access to capital continues to be a challenge – particularly due to inequities of income and salary with the gender divide. I think it will continue to be a barrier, so it’s important that we’re intentional about consumer habits and our spending, so that our financial profile will be strong enough to compete in the credit markets. 

LISC Small Business provides financing options and free advisory services to underserved entrepreneurs – with the goal to help them become drivers of economic opportunity in their communities. As part of a Chicago-based wholly-owned subsidiary of the Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC), LISC Small Business is a mission-oriented lender that primarily serves minority, women, and veteran-owned businesses, and those in low and moderate-income neighborhoods.

LISC Small Business recognizes that small businesses in local communities are the backbone of our economy, and help increase jobs, as well as the standard of living for local residents. Many of its customers have been turned down from conventional financing, so LISC Small Business provides loans from $10,000 to $5 million – with flexible credit requirements, lower debt service coverage ratio, fewer collateral requirements and a lower minimum credit score. Available loans range from community advantage loans to 504 real estate loans. The organization also provides digital advisory services to its clients for free.

LISC Small Business jumped at the opportunity to partner with SimpleGrowth as a Chicago-based lender, as both share the same goal: to provide small business owners with more flexible terms and support than traditional large commercial banks.

“Our organization hopes to connect people with the right resources to build their businesses and improve their quality of life,” said Steve Hall, Vice President of LISC Small Business. “Our partnership with SimpleGrowth makes that process even easier with its easy-to-use application and its strong arsenal of lenders and business assistance providers.”

To learn more about LISC Small Business, apply for a loan or accept support for your small business, visit simplegrowth.biz

Greater Southwest Development Corporation (GSDC) has served as a resource for southwest Chicago since 1974, and works to improve the quality of life in southwest Chicago through entrepreneurial, commercial and residential development. Over the past 44 years, GSDC initiatives have spurred more than $500 million in development activity, generated $100 million in retail development and transformed key community facilities, such as a local Chicago Police Department Station.

As a longtime supporter of the Chicagoland business community, GSDC understands how critical small businesses are to the city’s economy and the vibrancy of its neighborhoods. Unfortunately, many small businesses run into serious challenges finding financing when they need it most—throttling their growth potential and for many, forcing them to close. In fact, research found 90% of business owners identify inability to access capital as a problem.

GSDC partnered with SimpleGrowth as a business assistance partner, because the mission of the lending platform lined up perfectly with theirs: to not only provide capital, but to support and help Chicagoland small businesses grow. As businesses apply for financing, they can also connect with GSDC and other business assistance partners to receive business coaching, credit counseling and other services – often free of charge.

GSDC specializes in many different areas – such as business, residential and real estate services, but particularly in supporting new and established commercial or manufacturing businesses on Chicago’s southwest side.

“We understand how difficult it can be for small businesses to receive access to financing and capital – Greater Southwest Development Corporation’s mission is to help improve entrepreneurial pursuits for southwest Chicago residents,” said Christine James, Director of Operations. “We want to be a catalyst for creating a vital community, and we can do that by partnering with the SimpleGrowth platform.”

To learn more about GSDC’s work, or to apply for a loan or to access support for your small business, visit simplegrowth.biz.

Since 1986, the Women’s Business Development Center’s (WBDC) mission has been to support and accelerate business development and growth, targeting women and serving all diverse business owners, in order to strengthen their participation in, and impact on, the economy. The WBDC carries out these various initiatives through its two Women’s Business Centers (WBC), Small Business Development Center (SBDC), Procurement Technical Assistance Center (PTAC), Veterans Business Outreach Center (VBOC) and InventIllinois.

The WBDC’s mission is to increase awareness of entrepreneurship as a viable means of economic self-sufficiency, and stimulate public policy and system changes to support and strengthen economic empowerment of women and other diverse business owners. The organization also works to accelerate the growth rate of minority-owned enterprises. 

The WBDC is a participating lender and business assistance provider for SimpleGrowth, motivated by a shared mission to grow the small business ecosystem across Chicagoland. As a lender, the WBDC provides loans to SimpleGrowth applicants ranging from $1,000 to $75,000. Loans are available for new and existing small businesses in the state of Illinois, with an emphasis in low-to-moderate income communities. Start-up businesses – regardless of size or time in operation – are eligible for funding, as well. Loans can last up to five years, and may be used for a variety of reasons, such as for leasehold improvements, inventory, supplies, and machinery, or equipment purchases.

“The WBDC knows that access to capital is critical in today’s economy for small business owners – particularly those that are female-owned – and we want to do our part in making these businesses a success,” said Emilia DiMenco, President & Chief Executive Officer of the WBDC.

The WBDC team also provides hands-on support with its professional team of business advisors, and can answer questions on every aspect of starting and growing your business.

To learn more about the WBDC, or to apply for a loan or access support for your small business, visit SimpleGrowth.biz.

Accion is a global nonprofit – with a local branch in Chicago, Illinois – and is committed to creating a financially inclusive world, through the focus of microfinance and fintech impact investing. The company assembles financial service providers to deliver high-quality, affordable solutions for the nearly three billion individuals who are underserved in the financial sector, and provides business coaching services for free, as well. Throughout Illinois alone, Accion has distributed more than 5,000 loans, and disbursed nearly $40 million to local entrepreneurs.

Accion is a participating lender with SimpleGrowth, because of the platform’s focus on growing the Chicagoland business ecosystem through both financing and education. Like SimpleGrowth, part of Accion’s core focus is education – specifically targeting financial literacy and business training. In addition to financing, Accion offers programming for businesses across industries.

Accion loans – which are tailored to meet specific needs, and range from $500-$100,000 – come with access to business experts, special events, networking and exclusive online resources to take businesses to the next level. SimpleGrowth applicants are also matched with a knowledgeable loan expert to guide you through the loan process and beyond.

“Accion is a leader in the responsible lending movement and dedicated to advancing local and national initiatives that support and empower entrepreneurs,” said Brad McConnell, chief executive officer of Accion Chicago.

Loans are available to a variety of entrepreneurs, such as women-owned businesses, veteran-owned businesses, start-ups, business in the restaurant and food industry, and more.

To apply for an Accion loan and options from other mission-driven lenders, find out if you qualify today at SimpleGrowth.biz.