Chicago is proving itself as a hotbed for entrepreneurs, especially for women and other minorities. // Photo: Monkey Business Images/Shutterstock

Accion Chicago Helps Women, Minorities in Small Business

Among the many groups in Chicago that help small businesses, Accion Chicago aims to represent the “under-represented, including women, minorities and low-to-moderate-income entrepreneurs,” says Betsy Neely Sikma, manager of Accion’s development and communications.

The nonprofit provides customized business support, credit repair counseling and — for those who qualify — small-business loans ranging from $500 to $50,000, Neely Sikma says. Last year alone it made 430 loans that created or maintained 1,631 jobs and generated $27 million in local payroll funds, she adds.

“One of our goals is to create jobs,” she says.

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One business owner who received an Accion loan was Demetria Hayden, owner of Altogether Lovely Inc., a beauty salon and training center on Chicago’s South Side. A little over a year ago, she received $5,000 to revamp her store.

“Although the loan I received was a small amount, it helped to further my business in so many ways,” she says. “I was able to do some much needed remodeling, allowing me to hire more employees. Accion has truly been a blessing to me and to the life of my business.”

Loan Prescreening Process

Business entrepreneurs who choose to apply for a loan from Accion must first undergo a prescreening. Accion takes into consideration factors like credit history, collateral, character, cash flow, capitalization and condition before offering a loan, Neely Sikma says.

“However, we only need a combination of some of the six — not all six like a bank,” she adds. “For example, if you don’t have good credit but have decent cash flow, we may be able to put a package together for you to build credit. We are a nonprofit. That’s the difference between us and the banks. We expect that [business owners] won’t have all the pieces to get traditional financing.”

Accion helps businesses in Illinois and northwest Indiana. Neely Sikma says the largest number of business owners it helps are those in the food and beverage industry.

One of Accion’s clients is Turon Cummings. He received a $7,000 loan to purchase his Conewich Breadcones food cart, from which he serves sweet and savory food fillings in bread cones. Before Accion officials would grant him a loan, they first needed to see his business plan and resume to confirm his understanding of the food industry, Cummings says.

“The process was easy with Accion,” he adds. “I had to understand the business I wanted the loan for. I also had to have an understanding of how I was going to pay back the loan.”

Small business entrepreneurs interested in learning how Accion can help them can visit or call (312) 275-3000.

Other Area Small Business Resources

Some other programs available for small business entrepreneurs who seek financial and business advice include:

Small Business Improvement Fund Grant — This program by the City of Chicago uses tax increment financing (TIF) revenues to help owners of commercial and industrial properties repair and remodel their facilities.

Women’s Business Development Center — Offers microloans of up to $25,000.

Jewish Vocational Service (JVS) Chicago — Offers resources to entrepreneurs, including credit building workshops and help with getting loans.

World Business Chicago Incentive Programs —The City of Chicago, Cook County and the State of Illinois offer assistance depending on the size and location of the project, and the number of jobs created or retained.

Chicago Neighborhood Initiatives — Arranges loans to new and existing small businesses in low- and moderate-income communities throughout Chicago.