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Pilsen, Little Village, West Loop

How A Little Village Group Funneled $750,000 To Support Over 250 Small Businesses During The Pandemic

Small business owners said they used their micro-grants from the Foundation of Little Village to pay for upgrades to their businesses.

Little Village along 26th Street on March 29, 2021.
Colin Boyle/Block Club Chicago
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LITTLE VILLAGE — A Little Village nonprofit gave more than 250 micro-grants to keep small businesses afloat during the height of the pandemic, organizers said.

The Foundation of Little Village released its first annual report last month, detailing the services and financial support it offered businesses in 2020 and 2021. Over those two years, the group awarded nearly $750,000 in grant money through its Road To Recovery, Juntos Avanzamos and Neighborhood Opportunity Fund Equity Grant programs, according to the report.

Grantees were able to use the money to pay for rent, payroll and other expenses.

Kim Close, executive director of the Foundation of Little Village, said she hopes the report helps spread word about the bilingual business classes, micro-grants and in-person services the organization offers.

“There needs to be a lot more clarity about what the foundation is, and the annual report is there to clarify the work: What do we do, who do we service, what is our value proposition?” Close said. “We just want more people to know that we’re here and what we’re doing.”

The foundation, previously called the Little Village Community Foundation, aims to build an entrepreneurial ecosystem “to accurately and readily link current or emerging entrepreneurs to solution sets that are able to provide the needed service,” according to the report.

Close said some of the foundation’s grant programs existed before 2020, but the pandemic showed an increased need in financial help for a lot of businesses in Little Village and the greater Southwest Side.

During the pandemic the foundation had people going door to door offering technical assistance and information about the group’s programs to help spread the word, Close said.

Paycheck Protection Program loans “did not get here for a number of reasons. A lot of these small businesses were left out,” Close said. “The pandemic presented a huge opportunity for us to go big and to try to help as many businesses as we could.”

The foundation’s entrepreneurial programs are the trio of Juntos:

  • Juntos Lanzamos: a seven-week course designed to help aspiring entrepreneurs launch their own business.
  • Juntos Emprendemos: a 12-week program to teach business concepts for growth and long-term success.
  • Juntos Avanzamos: a two-week “boot-camp-style” class to learn about capital investments with a chance to be awarded a micro-grant.

“It’s training business owners to think like entrepreneurs, so the micro-grants that they receive have to be used for capital investment,” Close said.

Liz Rojas, owner of Energia de Corazon Cosmico at 2206 S. Oakley Ave. in Pilsen, said she received a $3,000 micro-grant from the foundation this year after completing the Juntos Avanzamos program. Rojas said she really benefitted from the Spanish-language course and grant money.

“We were able to buy a computer and a printer and a system for inventory. I didn’t even know that was something possible,” Rojas said. “It’s completely different when you’re learning in your own language.”

Little Village business owner Andrea Infante also received a $3,000 grant, which she put toward buying a refrigerator for her restaurant, Lucido’s Tacos, 4147 W. 26th St., she said.

“It’s something secure,” Infante said. “You don’t have to go to the bank.”

Credit: Provided
A rendering of the proposed Xquina Cafe, now planned for 3523-3525 W. 26th St.

RELATED: Little Village’s Xquina Incubator & Cafe Is Fully Funded, Construction Expected To Wrap By 2023

The foundation will continue to grow its visibility in the neighborhood with a community hub and business incubator coming to West 26th Street by the end of 2023. The Xquina Incubator & Cafe will provide a physical space to support economic growth along the business corridor.

“Entrepreneurial services exist in The Loop. They exist in other places. Why is Chicago putting $1.5 million into into Xquina? It’s because they want those services available here on the Southwest Side in Spanish,” Close previously said.

Close said the foundation will continue listening to small business owners to best identify the kinds of support they need.

“What’s the value of talking to 250 businesses on the Road To Recovery? We know what their needs are, we did an assessment on all of them, we know what their pain points are,” Close said.

To read the full report, click here.

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