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Program Assists Black Women Entrepreneurs

YWCA Metropolitan Chicago’s Breedlove Entrepreneurship Center, with the support of global financial services boutique William Blair, is launching its second cohort to give successful Black women in the food industry the tools, mentorship, and access to capital to grow their businesses. Black women represent the fastest-growing segment of entrepreneurs, but they access just a fraction of the funding and support that white-owned businesses receive. The YWCA Metropolitan Chicago’s Breedlove Entrepreneurship Center, in partnership with Below the Line, Inc., is addressing the problem in the second year of this small business development initiative.

The women entrepreneurs of the 2022 Breedlove cohort are taking advantage of a unique accelerator program focusing on growing food-based businesses ranging from food service to consumer packaged goods. Thanks to a generous seed grant from William Blair, the program will arm these Black women entrepreneurs with tools and knowledge on finance, marketing, sales forecasting and strategy, and brand building & storytelling, with an end goal to scale, gain more funding, or grow through acquisition.

“Amidst the two years of crippling effects from the pandemic, Black women have faced continuing obstacles in growing their business,” said Nicole Robinson, CEO, YWCA Metropolitan Chicago. “For decades, the deck has been stacked against them, so helping them grow aligns with the YWCA Metropolitan Chicago’s core mission of eliminating racism and empowering women. Just as importantly, we know when you help Black women, you are helping families and the community at large,” Robinson added.

YWCA is among William Blair’s current 22 Global Community Partners, an employee-led program to expand the firm’s long-standing commitment to philanthropy worldwide. The Global Community Partners program also provides opportunities for employees to support nonprofits both financially and in volunteer time.

WOCEC Slide4“We are proud to support the second Breedlove cohort with a catalytic investment made possible by our Global Community Partners program,” said Nancy Bonges, William Blair’s director of community engagement.  “When we help lift up women of color entrepreneurs, our impact ripples locally and nationwide,” she added.

“Only three percent of business loans went to Black-led businesses in 2021 and 0.34 percent of Black-women founders received venture capital funding in 2018,” said Robert Johnson, Chief Economic Inclusion Officer and General Counsel at YWCA Metropolitan Chicago. “Through the help of our partners, we will support Black women entrepreneurs, who have the power to transform communities through job creation,” said Johnson.

Below the Line is behind the food industry-based curriculum of the second Breedlove Entrepreneurship Center cohort.  Below the Line is driving economic inclusion within the food sector by using a combined 15+ years of experience in all segments from packaging and  processing to sales and leadership.

“Barriers to entry in the food industry are high for women of color, and operating these businesses is capital intensive,” said Jill Miller, Co-Founder & CEO at Below the Line. “As a curriculum partner, we work collaboratively with industry to create opportunities for connection, innovation and growth. We are unique in that we augment the program with wealth building strategies like acquisition and employee ownership,” said Miller.  Russ McLeod, COO at Below the Line adds “Not only does the Breedlove curriculum offer excellent support, but it has gained attention from some of the world’s best and most creative minds in supply chain, finance and storytelling.”

This year’s Breedlove Entrepreneurship Center businesswomen include:

WOCEC Slide5Yazmin Curtis,  Founder and CEO of Two Fish Crab Shack. As a Southside native and a Bronzeville resident, Curtis opened the Crab Shack to provide one of the first high quality dining experiences in the area. Her menu offers seafood options such as whole lobster and tails, snow crab legs, shrimp, catfish, and perch. All seafood items can be paired with Two Fish Crab Shack’s selection of unique sauces such as 3 The Chi-Way, Garlic Butter, Lemon Pepper, Cajun, and Jerk. Curtis has expanded Two Fish Crab Shack’s offerings  to packaged goods, including their popular, Two Fish To-Go bags.

Regine T. Rousseau, Founder and CEO of Shall We Wine. An acclaimed wine & spirits personality and lifestyle adviser, Rousseau founded the virtual event company to celebrate and demystify wine, inspiring great drinkers everywhere. By offering corporate events and memberships to a community of wine and spirits lovers, Shall We Wine makes premier, international brands more accessible to Chicago-area consumers.

Joslyn Kelly, Founder of J’s Breakfast Club. Kelly founded the Gary-based restaurant on a mission to serve her community. J’s Breakfast Club has become a trusted staple in her community, and is among the few sit-down, dine-in establishments in the City of Gary. Kelly and J’s breakfast club received the 2020 Shift Entrepreneurship Grant courtesy of the NAACP and Shark Tank’s Daymond John, among a host of other accolades for their service to the community.

Terri Evans, Owner of Windy City Ribs & Whiskey. As the great-granddaughter of a whiskey entrepreneur, Evans founded Windy City Ribs & Whiskey to create a special dining experience, rich in its Chicago heritage. The restaurant is equally committed to volunteering, donating money, and – specifically in Chicago – developing partnerships with Urban Gardening Programs and High Roads Kitchen to address food insecurities throughout Chicago. Evans has advocated for restaurant workers’ rights and has committed to abolishing the subminimum wage by 2025.

WOCEC Slide8Takia Smith,  Owner, and Founder of Smart Smoothie. Smith founded the Gary, Indiana-based retailer to promote health awareness in her community. Smart Smoothie has grown into a hometown staple and opened its storefront location in the recently remodeled Gary Hudson Campbell Fitness Center. Smith seeks to continue expanding the menu to wellness beverages and items to curb unhealthy lifestyles in the surrounding community.

Pamela A. Jones, President and Chief Executive Officer of International House of Sauces & Seasonings, (IHSS) Inc., DBA Charboy’s. IHSS Inc., DBA Charboy’s originated in 2008 with the concept of providing customers with healthier condiment options to their favorite foods. International House of Sauces and Seasonings is a veteran-owned business and is certified as a Woman Business Enterprise (WBE) and Minority Business Enterprise (MBE).

Genesis Bencivenga Sr., Principal and Chief Executive Officer at Lorenzo’s Delectables, Lorenzo’s Frozen Pudding. The company was born on the South Side of Chicago by the #GirlDad team of Lorenzo and Genesis Bencivenga. The father-daughter duo launched the business to create an income option for upward financial mobility. They started by selling their pudding on the street. Lorenzo’s Frozen Pudding is available at local retailers, Jewel Osco and Mariano’s.

Michelle Wainwright, Founder and CEO of Cute as a Cupcake.  Wainwright founded the cupcakery to offer premier baking services to the area. In addition to offering baking goods through retail, the company also specializes in corporate events.  Wainright and her company are also alumni of the Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Business Chicago cohort.

Entrepreneurs attend the program free-of-charge, thanks to funding support from YWCA partners like William Blair. The members of the second Breedlove cohort will also benefit from the expertise of Chicago-based Compatibility. Compatibility fosters employee engagement and productivity in diverse and inclusive environments by matching professionals to mentors through cloud-based technology.

Unknown 1Upon completion of the second Breedlove cohort, participants will receive ongoing support from Below the Line and Compatibility to help them expand their businesses through scaling and acquiring other relevant companies.

YWCA Metropolitan Chicago encourages new partners and investors to support Black women-owned businesses. For more information please contact Cheryl Hudson-Jackson at ​​[email protected].

Entrepreneurs interested in the next Breedlove Entrepreneurship Center cohort can visit to apply and learn more about the program.

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