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Trainings Help Business Owners Up Their Game

It was a busy morning for Laura Arellano, owner of Blue Betties Boutique. First she gave a presentation on her business plan to her classmates in the Entrepreneurship Training Program, showing some of her hand-made clothing and jewelry available at her Pilsen storefront. It was her chance to practice talking points about her business, and a dry run for speaking to investors, customers or reporters in the future. 

Laura Arellano in front of Blue Betties Boutique, on West 21st Street in Pilsen. She recently completed the Entrepreneurship Training Program organized by The Resurrection Project.

Photos by Gordon Walek

Then she packed up her displays in the computer lab at the Union League Boys and Girls Club, where class met this spring, and went upstairs to the gym/auditorium, where rows of folding chairs were set up for the graduation ceremony. Arellano and her peers, who run restaurants, tech repair shops, a bakery, clothing stores, a recording studio, a daycare center and more, were ready to celebrate their completion of the program. 

“They really pushed us, because they know we can do more and really be the best,” says Arellano, who opened her store at 1626 W. 21st St. in 2012. “They’ve given us so many good resources and tools.” 

More classes, more partners

This is the third year that The Resurrection Project (TRP) has worked with Dr. Monica Gavino, associate professor at Saint Xavier University, and sponsors such as LISC Chicago, First Midwest Bank, MB Financial, Groupon, the City of Chicago and BMO Harris to boost skills of local entrepreneurs. This year’s set of weekly workshops was longer and deeper than before, expanded from four to six weeks, and covered more ground. 

Entrepreneurs in the training program ranged from bakers to restaurateurs to jewelry makers and photographers.

The sessions focused on developing viable business plans and using technology. Lupito’s Juice Bar owner Jose Torres provided Quickbooks training during one of the sessions. Groupon sent several teams from its writing staff to help owners bring their business plans to life. Lending experts from MB Financial, BMO Harris, First Midwest Bank The PrivateBank, Fifth Third Bank, Accion, and SCORE answered questions regarding financing requirements. Owners who successfully complete the program are eligible to apply for a loan with The PrivateBank. 

During the graduation ceremony, speakers talked about how important small businesses are to communities and to the economy. 

“I admire the tenacity and courage of these entrepreneurs,” said Dr. Gavino. Their commitment will pay off, she said, because “having a business plan and participating in trainings” is linked to success. 

“Our role is to provide technical assistance and support to neighborhood groups that are dedicated to helping their small businesses,” says LISC Program Officer Dionne Baux. “We work to make sure that the folks giving the support have the tools and resources they need.” 

Tricks of the trades

To the business owners who enrolled, the benefits are obvious. Laura Neira, who opened Azúcar Rococo Cake Studio two years ago as the next step in a career of making outrageous delights for everyone from Lady Gaga to Mike Ditka, said that she found the insights on how to promote her business online to be the most helpful. 

"I admire the tenacity and courage of these entrepreneurs," said Dr. Monica Gavino, the Saint Xavier University professor who supervised the program.

Cesar Pineda has been serving Italian cuisine for five years at Ciao Amore Ristorante, 1134 W. 18th St. He says that the session on credit for businesses – particularly what kinds of loans fit best for different business situations – was great. Yvette Dudley, owner of Soultry Shoes, who represented the graduates at the podium, praised the variety of the curriculum, the focus on creating a business plan, and the opportunity to network and learn from her peers at the weekly luncheons. 

“I’ve been in business for 11 months, and this has been a huge eye opener,” said Linda Mota, owner of Vista Hermosa Restaurant at 4248 S. Ashland Ave. “I loved it and I’m completely grateful that it was available.” 

Mota started her restaurant with the notion that the Back of the Yards neighborhood could use a new twist on Mexican cuisine, serving options like supersized sopes and mini-Mexican pizzas alongside a more traditional menu. She says the most exciting class was when representatives from Google came out and taught a lesson about using Google Plus. Perhaps the most useful was when the The Law Project gave advice and answered questions about legal issues. “Really, there was so much of everything,” she said. 

With its emphasis on hands-on support and ongoing mentorship, the program shows how a neighborhood-based partner can be a crucial resource for local small businesses. 

“Financial literacy, access to capital, using tools like Quickbooks, taking advantage of online marketing—these are the kind of factors that make a huge difference in whether a small business can stay afloat and raise its profits,” Baux says. 

Business Resource Network

LISC recently expanded its Business Resource Network (BRN), which began as a Smart Communities program to help small businesses become more tech savvy. With support from The Polk Bros. Foundation and PNC Bank, the program now incorporates regular professional development sessions for commercial corridor managers, support for Special Service Area taxing districts, and assistance in fundraising. 

Linda Mota, who recently opened Vista Hermosa Restaurant at 4248 S. Ashland Ave., said the training was particularly helpful for the legal advice it offered.

In April, staff from LISC, local business corridors, and the City of Chicago’s Department of Business Affairs and Consumer Protection visited New York to learn how that city promotes and supports neighborhood businesses. The BRN helped three longtime partners successfully apply for Mayor Emanuel’s Neighborhood Small Business Challenge, which is building a network of peer organizations around the city. Another set of six local groups received $10,000 grants for tech workshops in their communities. 

“We’re bringing intensive technical assistance to these groups and keeping our eyes out for government grants that can help them become more sustainable,” Baux says. “The business corridor managers from different communities come in with very different skill sets and experience. We want to help them find what each needs to help revitalize their commercial corridors.” 

In Pilsen, for example, Elizabeth Rosas-Landa, TRP’s director of economic development, says that the trainings are one part of TRP’s portfolio of business supports. Her team is also working with the Greater Pilsen Economic Development Association to promote the local business corridor, including a new version of its 2012 map and guide for local shoppers, and doing outreach to let entrepreneurs know that Pilsen is open for business. They’re also starting stand-alone workshops on topics like what stores and restaurants need to do to be accessible for people with disabilities. 

“LISC has always been very supportive, providing connections and relationships we can use and, when funds are available, building our different initiatives,” says Rosas-Landa. 

Graduation isn’t the end of the work with Arellano and her classmates, either. TRP sees the six weeks with the business owners as the start of an ongoing relationship that will include one-on-one counseling, connections to lenders, guidance on finishing the business plan, and more. Pineda says that a representative from Google that he met at a workshop has already stopped by Ciao Amore to help him think through how the restaurant can improve its online presence. 

“This doesn’t finish here,” Rosas-Landa told the crowd when it was her turn at the podium at graduation. “We will always support you and your dreams. We will get them done.”

Posted in Economic Development, Pilsen

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Local Initiatives Support Corporation Chicago connects neighborhoods to the resources they need to become stronger and healthier.

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