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Programs assist successful 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.

Two of this year’s Breedlove Entrepreneurship Center businesswomen were from Gary, Indiana—Joslyn Kelly, Founder of J’s Breakfast Club and Takia Smith, Owner and Founder of Smart Smoothie. 

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.

“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.

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.

Upon 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 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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