Celebrating Accion Chicago


Stephane Bamigbade is owner of Little Bugs Learning Center which is located in Chicago’s Humboldt Park neighborhood. With more than 28 years of childcare experience, Stephane opened her daycare to provide services to parents in an area lacking quality and affordable childcare options. The $10,000 loan she received from Accion allowed Stephane to finish the necessary tasks to prepare for the opening of her business. Since receiving her loan from Accion, Little Bugs Learning Center continues to expand through the establishment of early childhood educational opportunities like Head Start.

A new grantee to The Christopher Family Foundation (CFF) this year is Accion, specifically the office serving Illinois and Indiana. Accion is a nonprofit microlender that provides capital, coaching, and connections to small businesses. As a certified Community Development Financial Institution (CDFI), the organization focuses on supporting entrepreneurs in underserved areas in need of economic opportunity. Access to capital is one major roadblock that often stands in the way of launching or growing a small business, and Accion exists to get new businesses over that hump.

With grant funds from the foundation, Accion will focus on supporting businesses on Chicago’s West Side. As the Christopher family experienced such good fortune with a business they started in the basement of their home, they want to inspire and assist others to take the entrepreneurial plunge that might bring them future financial security. We’re also mindful of the “leakage” that a neighborhood like Austin experiences, when people who live there do up to 85% of their purchasing somewhere else. If more of the ordinary dollars for groceries, auto repair, dry cleaning, garden supplies, and other day-to-day things, could be spent right down the street at a local businesses, those dollars would recirculate through the neighborhood, changing both the perception and the reality of what is possible there.

A major project of Accion is their food and beverage business incubator, called The Hatchery, located at 135 N. Kedzie Avenue in the West Garfield Park neighborhood. Established as a joint venture between Accion and the Industrial Council of Nearwest Chicago, The Hatchery provides space and education to food entrepreneurs to support their growth, which will help them create jobs in one of Chicago’s highest-need neighborhoods.

The Hatchery can help those interested in food-related careers with everything from preparation for a basic food service job to offering dedicated certified kitchen space for product production. Take a look at their website to learn about the many businesses using this shared resource to get launched, but don’t do it on an empty stomach!

Accion’s combination of right-sized loans and technical assistance has already made over 6,000 loans in the Illinois/Indiana region since 1994, and with the COVID crisis and the confusion among small business owners about how to access federal relief funds, Accion was everywhere helping to explain the options and disburse much-needed funds quickly. Through their COVID response alone, Accion served 11,239 entrepreneurs with 1,668 grants, 950 loans, 242 loan deferrals, and thousands of coaching sessions, individual and group. Accion is clearly a lifeline, in good times and bad, for its small business partners.

CFF has been impressed with how nimble and tireless Accion has been in 2020, and we’re looking forward to more stories of success from small business owners who together are rebuilding Chicago’s west side communities.

—Contributed by Clare Butterfield, Executive Director