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8 Chicago Groups Land $1 Million In Grants To Spur Entrepreneurship

By Stephanie Lulay | June 2, 2017 2:54pm
 Kids use laptops during a children's program at BLUE1647, a tech center and co-working space in Pilsen.
Kids use laptops during a children's program at BLUE1647, a tech center and co-working space in Pilsen.
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PILSEN — Eight Chicago groups have landed $1 million in grants to help diverse Chicago entrepreneurs grow their businesses. 

Alongside Mayor Rahm Emanuel, the Blackstone Charitable Foundation and World Business Chicago announced the winners of the first-ever Blackstone Challenge Friday at BLUE1647 in Pilsen. The challenge grants aim to connect diverse Chicago entrepreneurs — particularly people of color, immigrants, women and veterans — with resources to grow their businesses.

The eight awardees are: 

Bethel New Life in Austin, $100,000 — The West Side non-profit focused on bringing people out of poverty will use the grant to launch a Business and Technology program, workshop series and an expanded tech lab. 

BLUE1647 in Pilsen, $150,000 — The Pilsen tech center and co-working space will use the grant to double BLUEINCUBATE, an accelerator offering shared workspace and membership to start-ups. 

Bunker Labs in Merchandise Mart, $150,000 — The non-profit focused on helping military veterans launch businesses will use the grant money to create Guided Virtual Cohorts, a remote, high-touch version of the successful Bunker in a Box platform, and the CEOcircle Program, a program which provides resources to later stage founders.

1871 in Merchandise Mart, $150,000 — The digital start up hub will use the grant to create the 1871 Community Curriculum Project that will digitalize content from its workshops and events to make it accessible to a wider audience of entrepreneurs.

 Future Founders in Merchandise Mart, $125,000 — The organization focused on inspiring the next generation of young entrepreneurs will use the grant to create the Future Founders Chicago Cohort, a program that fosters the development of millennial businesses from communities of color, women, veterans and immigrants. 

i.c.stars in River North, $100,000 — The organization that provides tech-based training for low-income adults will use the grant to expand Enterprise Next, a three-month lean startup training and incubation program. 

• UI Labs on Goose Island, $100,000 — The innovation accelerator will create the City Digital: Inclusive Entrepreneurship for Collaborative Innovation, a partnership between City Digital and Colony 5 to help community based start-ups tackle complex urban challenges and explore ideas on smart city developments. 

• Women’s Business Development Center in the Loop, $125,000 — The center aimed at strengthening women entrepreneurs will use the grant funding to expand ScaleUp, a program which provides entrepreneurial education, support and mentoring, to two new neighborhoods West Rogers Park and South Chicago.

Nearly 50 organizations submitted proposals. 

Emanuel said the grants will help create economic opportunities across Chicago. 

“We are incredibly grateful that Chicago was chosen as the pilot city for the Blackstone Challenge program, and look forward to seeing it generate jobs and growth as we build on its success," Emanuel said.

“We look forward to seeing what our eight awardees will accomplish in the coming year,” Jon Gray, Global Head of Real Estate at Blackstone said. “We believe it’s critical that any entrepreneur — regardless of where they live — has access to the resources they need to scale and grow their businesses."  

The grants are part of a $3 million commitment the Blackstone Charitable Foundation made in January.