UChicago partners with Sunshine Enterprises to support neighborhood-based entrepreneurs

The University of Chicago is expanding its UChicago Local initiative to include a partnership with Woodlawn-based Sunshine Gospel Ministries’ Sunshine Enterprises, which provides business education and coaching specifically tailored to small, neighborhood-based entrepreneurs.

UChicago Local, launched in March 2014, supports mid-South Side businesses and job seekers looking to work with the University or University of Chicago Medicine. The new partnership will help Sunshine Enterprises, which currently serves about 50 small businesses, increase its reach to as many as 100 businesses in the first year and 200 by 2016. It also will help better connect the businesses Sunshine Enterprises serves to resources within the University, including the Chicago Innovation Exchange, Chicago Booth’s Social Enterprise Initiative and the Institute for Justice Clinic on Entrepreneurship at the Law School.


“The University is pursuing creative ways that we can have a positive impact on the communities and neighborhoods around us,” said Derek Douglas, vice president for Civic Engagement. “Since the launch of UChicago Local a year ago, nearly 30 South Side businesses have benefitted from capacity-building training through the University or our partnership with Chicago Anchors for a Strong Economy, and others have formed new vendor relationships with the University and UChicago Medicine.”

Douglas added, “As we continue those efforts, working with new partners like Sunshine Enterprises will allow us to support even more local business owners, including those whose size or focus might not match our buying needs.”

The University announced the new partnership on April 29, at a reception at Black Cinema House, 7200 S. Kimbark Ave., to celebrate the new relationship and recognize the work of the UChicago Local initiative over the past year. Kurt Summers, Chicago city treasurer, joined University officials to note the important role small businesses play in the local economy.

“Small business owners create jobs and economic growth in every corner of our city,” Summers said. “However, without support or resources in our neighborhoods, many great business ideas are unable to reach their full potential. This new partnership with UChicago Local and Sunshine Enterprises will provide critical training to help many small business owners achieve success, leading to a greater citywide impact.”

Sunshine Enterprises operates the Community Business Academy, a 12-week, 36-hour training course covering the basic mechanics of running a business; and Business Accelerator Services, which provides specialized workshops and coaching to address individual business needs. Since 2012, 50 South Side businesses have completed the Community Business Academy, and another 30 have accessed the Business Accelerator Services.

“Most often, we’re working with neighborhood residents who are experimenting with business ideas that could be as simple as watching children, doing hair, painting murals or planning parties,” said Joel Hamernick, executive director of Sunshine Gospel Ministries. “We help those businesses where they are and aim to help them grow in the hopes that one day they will be able to engage with a large institution like the University of Chicago.”

Some of Sunshine’s business clients are specifically looking for ways to work with UChicago. Former Chicago Bears wide receiver and Bronzeville resident Wendell Davis is a graduate of the Community Business Academy. After completing Sunshine’s program, Davis decided a medical supply firm had the most potential to interest the University. So, he signed up for UChicago Local’s three-day training, which is designed to prepare companies to work with the University. He eventually launched Trywen Medical LLC.

“You look at these big institutions as a business owner and entrepreneur and say, ‘I want to do business with them, I know I can do business with them, I’m prepared to do it. I have product, I have some type of service, all I have to do is go pitch them.’ In actuality, you’re not ready,” Davis admitted. His participation in the UChicago Local class gave him important insight on how a small company can do business with a large institution. “It gave me a better understanding of the whole procurement process,” Davis said.

Davis represents one of 20 businesses that have completed the UChicago Local training over the past year. As a result, most of them have begun or expanded their relationships with the University. For example, seven businesses were featured at an April 14 Supplier Expo hosted by Procurement Services, and are listed in Business Diversity’s vendor directory. In fiscal 2015 UChicago Medicine has spent more than $400,000 for products and purchased services with local suppliers. This includes UChicago Local graduate Inter-City Supply, which has continued to grow its book of business, and a local supplier that in January alone accounted for 12 percent of food spending. In addition, the University has begun to increase its spending with other UChicago Local-trained businesses through discretionary purchases such as catering, flowers and printing services.

As part of local workforce development efforts, UChicago Medicine has hired nearly a dozen unemployed South Side residents through a partnership with Skills for Chicagoland’s Future, a nonprofit that matches employers that have unmet hiring needs with qualified unemployed or underemployed job seekers. UChicago now plans to expand that partnership to help match more South Side residents with jobs at the University, building on similar efforts begun last fall with the Chicago Jobs Council and the 741 Collaborative.

The Office of Civic Engagement leads the UChicago Local initiative as part of a strategy to strengthen mid-South Side neighborhoods. However, UChicago’s commitment to local economic opportunity extends across the University. It includes Commercial Real Estate Operations, which actively recruits and supports local businesses in its properties, and encourages local spending by the University community; the Office of Business Diversity, which creates contract opportunities for women and minority-owned businesses and promotes their services to the University community; and Procurement and Payment Services, which regularly hosts vendor fairs and forums for local businesses to showcase their products and services to UChicago students, faculty and staff.

Through their respective procurement departments, the University and UChicago Medicine are working to realign their combined purchasing activity—everything from consulting and professional services to food supplies and shop equipment—to transfer business to competitive local vendors and, as a result, have a greater impact in local communities.

“To better integrate complementary programs and expand UChicago Local’s impact, we have an internal task force of stakeholders who are involved in all levels of procurement, business diversity and hiring,” said William Towns, assistant vice president of Neighborhood Initiatives in the Office of Civic Engagement. “They understand the benefits to the University’s doing business with local vendors and are committed to working together to further local business development and local hiring practices.”

UChicago Local also taps into related programming offered by a variety of cross-campus partners. These include the Social Enterprise Initiative.

“An important asset the University can leverage is the variety of students who are interested in engaging with the local entrepreneurial community,” said Christina Hachikian, director of the Social Enterprise Initiative. “Working with the entrepreneurs in Sunshine’s program presents a great experiential learning opportunity and a chance for Chicago Booth students to give back.”

Through the Institute for Justice Clinic on Entrepreneurship, University Law School students may provide legal assistance to Sunshine clients. Sunshine also has a reciprocal relationship with the Chicago Innovation Exchange, which is more focused on scalable businesses, than neighborhood services.

The Community Business Academy/Business Accelerator Services model that Sunshine uses was pioneered by Rising Tide Capital in Jersey City, N.J., whose Community Business Academy has graduated more than 1,000 entrepreneurs from its since 2004. In 2009, after President Barack Obama praised Rising Tide Capital for changing lives, boosting livelihoods and helping to bring struggling communities back to life, the nonprofit organization determined it would seek partners in other cities to replicate its model. Rising Tide Capital’s first national replication is with Sunshine Enterprises.