Starting a business is a little bit like climbing a ladder. Each rung is a point in development from idea, to business plan, to launch. But even the bottom rung of that ladder can be out of reach in historically disinvested communities. A network of business incubators in Chicago exists to help push it down to where more people can grab it. Recently, two members of the family and our Executive Director were able to tour both The Hatchery and mHUB, to learn more about how they make entrepreneurship easier, and how they contribute to the economic landscape of Chicago.
The Hatchery is a nonprofit food and beverage incubator on Chicago’s West Side. It’s a partnership of CFF grantee Allies for Community Business and the Industrial Council of Nearwest Chicago. Food entrepreneurs can start with an idea or a recipe and get help in everything from packaging to marketing, while renting time in the shared licensed kitchen or growing into a dedicated kitchen space for production.
Allies for Community Business, which is located in The Hatchery, provides a wide array of services to these new businesses from coaching to the issuance of necessary business licenses. In the tumult of 2020, Allies was able to assist a staggering 34,000 clients with loans, grants, and coaching. Many of these were food businesses being incubated out of The Hatchery.
New CFF grantee mHUB helps entrepreneurs who are starting businesses with manufactured products. Their members make robotics, connected devices, sensors, energy tech, medical devices, and other cutting-edge innovations. By providing the right resources, mentorship, and access to manufacturing industry insiders, mHUB helps early-stage innovators go from prototype to product to sustainable business, driving a greater likelihood of success.
The focus of both these incubators on tangible products—food and manufactured goods—makes them relatively accessible points of entry into entrepreneurship for a wide range of would-be entrepreneurs. They also build the job base in Chicago for middle-skill labor.
Incubators help to level the playing field for would-be entrepreneurs. They make it easier for people with good ideas and drive to access the other things they need to contribute to their ultimate success, and to do so in a cohort of other like-minded folk. Access to capital, marketing and legal assistance, licensing, and production time on expensive equipment are all part of what both The Hatchery and mHUB can offer.
More thriving entrepreneurs in Chicago, particularly in communities where entrepreneurship has not historically been well supported, will lead not only to the success of the business owners and their families, but to better options for those around them.