Allies for Community Business recently rebranded in order to better serve entrepreneurs of color from low-income communities. Formerly known as Accion Chicago, the nonprofit seeks to loan money to groups that often struggle to get traditional financing. Allies for Community Business also offers services that support local businesses in holistic ways.
This shift in strategic plan was the organization’s direct response to the pandemic, as already marginalized business owners have been hit hardest over the last year.
The pandemic has only exacerbated and further highlighted existing disparities between BIPOC and white business owners.
It’s a self-perpetuating cycle: people with less money or intergenerational resources are less able to fund their initiatives and may not have as robust of a network. These entrepreneurs may struggle to obtain funding or credit and build thriving businesses over a long term period. This means that people from those demographics—mostly Black and Latinx business owners—end up with less capital and, ultimately, fewer businesses than their white counterparts. Then the cycle continues with the next generation of entrepreneurs.
Add to that the confusion of navigating pandemic and associated government regulations, and you can see the challenges some business owners are up against. For example, figuring out if the SBA Paycheck Protection Program (commonly called PPP) loans are available to you and how to apply can be quite confusing—and the rules seem to be always changing.
Allies for Community Business doesn’t want anyone to get lost in the shuffle. They want to help everyone affected, but particularly those in underserved communities, Chicago’s South and West sides, Black and Latinx business owners, and women and people from low-income areas. According to the company, 76% of borrowers in 2019 were POC, 70% were Black or Latinx, and 54% were low-income borrowers.
Jackie Blair, director of Marketing and Communications for Allies for Community Business, hopes that government support for small businesses will continue. “Obviously small businesses are still working out how to respond to the pandemic, as it continues to hurt their bottom line,” she explains.
“A lot of what we did last year was work with the government to distribute funds through grant and loan programs. Now that the CARES Act funding is completely disbursed, we’re hoping for more federal aid, more grant and loan dollars for small businesses. I think there’s definitely still a huge need for capital, and we’ve seen that through our lending and our partnership with CRF to provide PPP loans to small businesses in Indiana and Illinois.”
Allies for Community Business recognizes that providing money—though critical—is just one part of making BIPOC businesses sustainable. As such, the nonprofit is more of an integrated, holistic experience than a traditional lender might be.
In addition to loans and grants, Allies for Community Business offers group coaching, educational classes, and 1:1 coaching. Last year, they provided 1:1 and group coaching to about 15,000 community business owners. They also offer specialized help and resources for food and beverage companies (for example, they have a kitchen space entrepreneurs can lease and a section on their website specific to licensing for these types of businesses).
Resources like coaching help ensure entrepreneurs have what they need to truly succeed and grow as business owners. An entrepreneur might take a class on managing finances and learn valuable tips they can use as they move forward, or they may want more info on obtaining their Minority Business Enterprise (MBE) or Women’s Business Enterprise (WBE) certifications to help set their businesses apart.
Partnerships allow Allies for Community Business to further its mission of investing in underserved communities. Through aligning with public entities like Cook County and the State of Illinois, the organization has been able to administer a tremendous amount of funding.
At the same time, private partnerships, like the one with the Neighborhood Entrepreneurship Lab (NEL) or Entrepreneurs of Color Fund, help Allies for Community Business expand not only funding opportunities but also networking and coaching support.
Ultimately, supporting and uplifting entrepreneurs of colors during the pandemic will take creative, thoughtful, and big-picture approaches like the one used by Allies for Community Business. Recognizing that solutions require more than just funding is a great place to start.