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Entrepreneurs of Color Fund Expands its Footprint in Chicago

JP Morgan Chase and Fifth Third Bank announced on Wednesday that it will invest $9.1 million in minority-owned small businesses in Chicago neighborhood through its Entrepreneurs of Color Fund. LISC will continue to guide program mentorship, alongside our partner Acción Chicago. LISC senior director Steve Hall emphasized how the fund can help transform communities and forge opportunity: “It’s important for safety. It’s important for quality of life. And it really impacts the youth of those neighborhoods," he said. 

The excerpt below is from:
Entrepreneurs of Color Fund grows to $9.1 million, will create jobs on South, West sides
By Maudlyne Ihejirika, Chicago Sun Times

Homeless as a teen, Jimmie Williams said getting caught up in the gang life led him into a revolving door of prison stints.

All the while, there was his high school sweetheart, now his wife, who finally was fed up.

“That last time I was in jail, I asked God that if he just gave me one more chance, I’d never look back. I stuck to that but was having the hardest time trying to find employment,” said Williams, today CEO of Urban Roots, Inc., the landscaping firm he and his wife founded.

“I must have filled out 1,000 applications. No one would hire me. We purchased a pick-up truck and decided to start our own business,” said Williams. That was 11 years ago.

Entrepreneurs like Williams, whose firm has seven employees — two of them also ex-offenders — are targets of the Entrepreneurs of Color Fund launched last year by JPMorgan Chase and Fifth Third Bank.

With success stories like his among the 130 loans totaling $1.7 million made in the past year, three new banks and three foundations are joining its community-building mission, officials are set to announce Wednesday. New partners have anted up $3.6 million more, for a total of $9.1 million now available to such businesses in those struggling areas of the city.

The initiative comes as a renewed civic spotlight is turned to those neglected areas in the focus of philanthropic institutions like the Chicago Community Trust and campaign promises of Chicago’s new mayor, Lori Lightfoot.

The JPMorgan Chase model was launched in 2015 in Detroit, partnering with W.K. Kellogg Foundation and the Detroit Development Fund. Detroit’s fund has since tripled to $22 million, its success leading to expansion in San Francisco, South Bronx in New York City, the Greater Washington, D.C., region and Chicago, last July.

Seeded by $4 million from Chase and $2.5 million from Fifth Third last year, First Midwest, U.S. Bank and Providence Bank, along with Coleman and McCormick Foundations and Chicago Community Trust foundations, are kicking in the new money, buoyed by the impact to businesses like Urban Roots. In the first year, 400 jobs were created or saved.

“In essence, what we’re trying to do is help entrepreneurs of color get the capital, the services and support they need,” said Charlie Corrigan, head of Midwest philanthropy for JPMorgan Chase. The bank in 2017 committed $40 million over three years to create economic opportunity in disadvantaged neighborhoods here wracked by gun violence.

“We know when local businesses grow, it helps us in three ways: It creates jobs, it creates wealth, particularly among African American and Latino families, and it brings more commerce and activity back into neighborhoods where there are too many vacant storefronts.”

One focus of the bank’s commitment is employment for ex-offenders — a burgeoning challenge. Many entrepreneurs are creating jobs for that population.

The loans have been evenly split by gender — 53 percent went to businesses owned by minority women — and are accompanied by critical access to business mentorship, overseen by nonprofit partners Accion Chicago and Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC).

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