Chicago’s Small Business Ecosystem Needs More Coordination

By January 24, 2019 October 15th, 2019 Street Smarts
Chicago Small Business Ecosystem

Chicago has roots as a transportation and agriculture hub. Today, the city has grown to include high-tech, service, finance and manufacturing sectors. It has always been a city of hard work and opportunity. With funding from the Chicago Community TrustPolk Bros. Foundation, and JPMorgan Chase, Next Street and Community Reinvestment Fund, USA (CRF USA) set out to determine how the city of Chicago can ensure equitable access to that opportunity for all small business owners. After months of research, we are pleased to present Assessing Chicago’s Small Business Ecosystem. 

How we analyzed the ecosystem

The report is a data driven analysis of small- and medium-sized businesses in Chicago. We carefully analyzed the city’s key players – including capital providers, foundations, investors, business support organizations, and businesses themselves. Through that analysis, we developed an understanding of their specific roles in Chicago’s small business ecosystem. We also explored how they can each elevate their effort to make Chicago’s economy more inclusive. In fact, the research uncovered significant disparities across racial, ethnic, gender, and geographic lines. For example, gaps exist for access to capital and critical support services, the number of business establishments, the relative performance and growth of SMBs, and employment opportunities.

What We Found

Next Street and CRF USA proposed a clear path forward for the city of Chicago and key stakeholders based on the findings. With these solutions, partners can make access to opportunity in the Windy City more inclusive. We recommend efforts to provide small business with:

  • Improved access to flexible capital
  • More industry-specific strategies & funding
  • Enhanced business service offerings

We created a baseline for understanding the capital needs, challenges, and assets Chicago’s small business ecosystem. The focus on Black and Latinx

business owners shows our stakeholders’ desire to put inclusivity at the forefront of any Chicago efforts. Our research ultimately culminated in a set of clear recommendations that informed a unique path forward. Therefore, these recommendations can bolster the small business ecosystem for years to come.

With the core research findings and priority recommendations coming out of this project, Chicago’s small business ecosystem has an opportunity to help shape the next chapter of small business growth and entrepreneurship in the city. As a result, they can create new pathways for inclusive growth, shared prosperity, and economic mobility.