UChicago receives expanded funding to support community entrepreneurs

The University of Chicago is receiving an additional investment from JP Morgan Chase to expand a Polsky Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation’s program supporting minority-owned businesses on the south and west sides of Chicago.

Announced by Jamie Dimon, chairman and CEO of JP Morgan Chase, at a July 19 event held at the Polsky Exchange, the Ascend 2020 program at UChicago and Northwestern University is receiving an additional $1 million as part of JP Morgan Chase’s overall $6.5 million expanded investment to support minority entrepreneurs in Chicago. Ascend 2020 is a nationwide program in which top universities across the country connect minority entrepreneurs to mentoring, supplier networks and community partners to improve access to the 3-Ms: management strength, market and money.

In 2017, the University of Chicago and Northwestern University each received $200,000 through Ascend 2020 to launch new programs to support those living in underserved neighborhoods. With this funding, the Polsky Center, in partnership with the University of Chicago’s Office of Civic Engagement, launched the Polsky Small Business Growth Program. With this program, small teams of highly-skilled University of Chicago students provide hands-on consulting experience to these companies, helping them address key business challenges and determine new strategies for business growth.

“Providing education and preparation for entrepreneurs is an important part of the University’s positive impact in Chicago and beyond, and doing that effectively requires seeking out people of all backgrounds who can apply their talents toward venture creation and economic development,” said President Robert J. Zimmer at Thursday’s event. “We are grateful to JPMorgan Chase for its support of this partnership, which will enhance our existing commitment to supporting diversity and local economic growth, contributing to economic activity that benefits our communities.”

In the 2017-18 school year, the Polsky Small Business Growth Program served 18 companies from the South and West sides. Current clients have reported that they have already increased their revenue by about $700,000 and raised about $600,000 in capital and are expected to create 28 new jobs over the next year. With this new investment, the program will expand to serve 20 companies in 2018-19.

“South and West side neighborhoods hold tremendous economic opportunity, but we can do more to ensure that everyone has a chance to participate in Chicago’s continued growth,” said Dimon. “The Entrepreneurs of Color Fund has unlocked capital and created hundreds of jobs in Detroit, and now we’re excited that Chicago small businesses will have the same chance to grow and succeed.”

“Supporting and empowering entrepreneurs and small businesses on the South and West sides of Chicago creates jobs and strengthens communities for generations,” said Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel. “This investment complements our work with the Neighborhood Opportunity Fund and Retail Thrive Zones efforts, and we are grateful to JPMorgan Chase and Fifth Third for contributing their resources, energy and expertise to drive economic growth in all of Chicago’s communities.”

The Polsky Small Business Growth Program is just one component of the Polsky Center’s support for community entrepreneurs. The Polsky Exchange, the 34,000-square-foot coworking space in downtown Hyde Park, serves more than 3,500 members from the University of Chicago and the surrounding neighborhoods. Community members with no affiliation to the University can join the Polsky Exchange for a small monthly fee and have access to mentors, networking opportunities and more than 400 events annually.

This expanded investment in Ascend 2020 is part of JP Morgan Chase’s overall $40 million investment in creating economic opportunity in Chicago’s South and West sides, which also includes the Entrepreneurs of Color Fund.

The University of Chicago’s Ascend 2020 program supports entrepreneurs with annual revenues under $1 million, while Northwestern’s program supports minority-owned businesses with more than $1 million in annual revenues. Both Northwestern and the University of Chicago have participated in Ascend 2020 since June 2017, and have served a combined 43 entrepreneurs to date through the program.