PULLMAN — Four lucky graduates of an entrepreneur program at Salem Baptist Church of Chicago will find out Saturday if they will be receiving $20,000 Saturday, thanks to a venture capital fund started by a corporate executive.
All students who have completed a seven-week course with the church's Actively Raise to Inspire Successful Excellence Entrepreneurship Program are eligible apply for the $20,000 to invest in their businesses. The most recent A.R.I.S.E. class of 85 students will graduate at 10:30 a.m. at the House of Hope, 752 E. 114th St.
The four students chosen for the award will be accepted into the church's new A.R.I.S.E. 2.0 program, a four-month business accelerator program that connects minority small-business owners with capital. It begins in January.
Since its 2004 inception, A.R.I.S.E has produced 1,183 graduates, according to Jamell Meeks, executive director of A.R.I.S.E.
"Ninety-four students applied for the award, and we have narrowed the list down to 11 finalists," Meeks said. "Students were selected based on their application, in-person interview and a business plan they submitted."
The A.R.I.S.E. program is open to small-business owners and those wanting to start their own business. Alumni include the owners of Ambassador Floral, 11045 S. Halsted St.; Café Say, 8147 S. Stony Island Ave;, and Ballard Funeral Service, 6157 S. Aberdeen St.
A free business expo will take place from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday at the House of Hope. Graduates will display their products for the first time. A crowd of 2,000 attended last year's expo, said Jamell Meeks, executive director of the program.
The money is the result of a $500,000, 10-year venture capital investment fund created by David Storch, chairman and CEO of AAR Corp., who was the 2012 commencement speaker for A.R.I.S.E. The keynote speaker this year is TV journalist Roland Martin.
“Great things happen in communities when entrepreneurs have an opportunity to grow and prosper,” Storch said. “Promising business ventures like the ones I saw at the A.R.I.S.E. expo need capital to kick-start their enterprises."
And Storch plans to do more than give away money to help small-business owners.
"In addition to providing capital, I will be able to help these entrepreneurs think through their go-to-market strategies and help them reach a broader marketplace with their products and services," Storch said. "Small businesses create jobs, and helping them reach the next level of business success will lead to even more economic vitality.”
The A.R.I.S.E. program teaches students life long business skills, Meeks said.
"Students learn an array of skills in classes, coupled with mentorship from business executives," said Meeks, wife of the Rev. James Meeks, pastor of Salem Baptist Church. "They learn about using social media, how to put together a business plan, grant writing, financing and everything they need to start and run their own business."
Meeks said more minority business programs are needed to fill a void in the black community.
“Bringing together community, church and the business world is the perfect storm. A.R.I.S.E. 2.0 gets them to the next phase, which is capital. To have the business expertise, mentors and the funding will increase their faith to keep moving forward," Meeks said. "Those are the kinds of things that have been lacking in the African-American community to help sustain businesses through those first critical five years.”
Each year, A.R.I.S.E. classes begin in September and end in November. They are held at church's administration building at 10909 S. Cottage Grove Ave. Applications are now being accepted online for the 2014 classes, which are held for two hours on Saturdays and Mondays.
Tuition is $200, and "it covers all their materials, a booth at the business expo, and students are enriched with skills that last a lifetime," Meeks said.