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Saint Sabina kicks off African-American History Month with Shark Tank Contest

THE COMMUNITY OF Saint Sabina is creating a new tradition for African American History Month. During a press conference, Father Michael L. Pfleger pictured above surrounded by supporters, members and political and community leaders announced the launch of their own Shark Tank-type contest on Feb. 1, 2023. (Photo by Joseph Saunders)

Known for more than 42 years of creating and fighting for Black generational wealth, Father Michael L. Pfleger launched the Saint Sabina African-American History Month Shark Tank on Wednesday, February 1 to seek one lucky winner with the best business plan for a prize of $150,000.

“I have been thinking for a long time on how to move forward on doing something beyond Black History Month. As I drive every day in and out of this community seeing stores that are boarded up, stores that have closed and moved away, I want to make an impact on this neighborhood,” Father Pfleger stated.

“This is where I have been living for the last 47 years. This neighborhood is my home, and I want to make sure long beyond Saint Sabina, there’s an impact of a business in this community,” he said.

Joining Father Pfleger were prominent businesspeople, including Stephanie Hart, owner of Brown Sugar Bakery; Carlos Nelson, CEO of the Greater Auburn Gresham Development Corporation; Jory Luster, president of the 65-year-old Luster Products; Montel Gayles, CEO of Business Leadership Council; and Norman Bolden, owner of Norman’s Bistro.

“These are the best business people in Chicago,” Father Pfleger said smiling. They will also be the judges evaluating which applicant wins the $150,000 for the best business plan.

Father Pfleger and the Faith Community of Saint Sabina are looking for entrepreneurs who want to start a business and need additional money to make their dream come true. If interested, they must submit their business concepts and business plans no later than midnight, Tuesday, February 28th.

Once applicants have submitted their business plan, they must present them in person and a winner will be chosen; however, the business must be opened in the Auburn Gresham community.

Father Pfleger’s concept is based on the television show, “Shark Tank,” where a panel of investors evaluate entrepreneurs’ products and either invest in their business or rule them out.

Wanting to do something more meaningful than having Black History Month speakers and programs, Father Pfleger said he wanted to go beyond February and with something that will be a fixture in the community and grow jobs at the same time. He has been thinking about this for six months. This contest will help open the window of opportunity for those wanting to open a business, expand an existing business or grow their franchise.

Since opening a business is difficult and securing capital and resources to make it successful when you are opening a brand new business, Father Pfleger said, “You can get $5,000 or $6,000 and that’s nice, but it won’t open up anything.

“We wanted to make sure this is substantial enough for people to open up a business and be successful,” he said. That is why during the month of February, we’re encouraging people around the city to send in business plans and business concepts from people who are ready and put in the work to open up a business.”

After February 28th, the judges will review the business plans and choose three top contenders. They will have a live, in-person Shark Tank to present their business plans to the judges in a location downtown in March, according to Father Pfleger. The judges will select the best plan.

 “We want to create wealth, have an African-American person fulfill or expand their dream, and investment in the community of Auburn Gresham.”

The winner will also receive legal work and mentoring as well as a check for $150,000.

Hart, who started her business 21 years ago, said, “This is an amazing opportunity, and I am totally honored to being a judge for this.” She said this is an opportunity for someone to open a second businesses and franchise to apply for this opportunity.

Nelson said, “Black communities have suffered from despair and disinvestment. We are investing in our own community. We look at vacant lots and vacant buildings as opportunities. It takes more than passion and desire and focus to launch these businesses. It takes capital.”

Gayles said, “If we want to see the face of Chicago change for the better, businesses must be involved in that change.” He said his organization will also give the winner a one year membership.

Luster, who is also a member of Saint Sabina, said, “Our community needs businesses that can employ and grow people, not to mention the wealth that is generated and send people’s kids to school.” He said this will give youth something to look too.”

Bolden, who is also manages Bistro, Room 43, the Haven Entertainment Center and this summer, a concession at the Rainbow Beach, said the winner will be making a “life changing decision, and I am excited to be a part of it.”

Deadline for submitting business plans is before midnight on Tuesday, February 28th.  Business plans may emailed to: [email protected] or by mail to: The Faith Community of Saint Sabina, 1210 West 78th Pl., Chicago, IL 60620.

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