Achieving equity for Black families and communities through social and economic empowerment is the mission of civil rights organization Chicago Urban League (CUL). Every year, CUL reaches more than 15,000 people from underserved communities through various programs in education, economic development and social justice.
Their Center for Entrepreneurship & Innovation helps Black entrepreneurs launch, grow, and sustain businesses by providing them with the tools necessary to maximize revenues, reduce costs, increase profitability, and drive job creation while encouraging innovation. The Center also helps businesses obtain supplier diversity certifications, respond to bids on public and private contracts, and increase the number and average dollar value of contracts won.
mHUB sits on the advisory council for CUL’s nextONE program, which relaunched in 2021 after a 10-year hiatus. The program focuses on providing Black small business owners with the resources needed to grow their enterprises and increase their impact in Chicago communities. mHUB serves on the council as supporters and advisors for recruitment, selection, and program content.
In this Community Spotlight, Vice President of Entrepreneurship and Economic Development at CUL Kelly Evans discusses the path to CUL’s success and the value of partnerships, collaboration, and inclusivity in Chicago’s tech and innovation ecosystem.
Tell us about your mission and community.
The Chicago Urban League works to achieve equity for Black families and communities through social and economic empowerment. Organized in 1916, our League is one of the oldest and largest affiliates of the National Urban League, a historic civil rights and urban advocacy organization.
We pursue our mission through both direct service and advocacy. Through collaborative community, corporate and civic relationships, we help find jobs, secure affordable housing, enhance their educational experiences, and grow their businesses. We encourage all to get in league with us as we continue to do the work!
What is the secret to your success?
In the 106 years that CUL has been in existence we have focused on the same mission and goal. All our programming ultimately seeks to address the same issue of wealth equity, be it homeownership, job creation and attainment, or business growth and development. Because we continue to remain focused on this impact area, we have been able to become industry experts in the specific area of wealth equity for African American people and communities.
How have partnerships in the Midwest innovation ecosystem helped further your mission?
To achieve the level of impact we want to have, it is vitally important to not only have partners, but allies within the ecosystem we exist in. By being able to partner with other organizations with missions that align with our work, we can leverage scarce resources, service more community residents and exponentially impact the areas that we target.
There's only so much that any one organization can do alone. When you are able to join forces with other community partners, each partner wins and the community is able to benefit from the collaborative resources that each partner is able to provide, ultimately expanding our reach and our impact.
What’s something the tech and innovation community could do more of to grow inclusive access?
Be present. Most tech resources that exist in Chicago exist outside of the communities of most need. Our communities need technological solutions that they can access in their neighborhoods and not have to travel downtown to reach. Southside, Westside, and South Suburban communities need information about what is available, how to utilize and most importantly how to access it without having to search and travel for these resources. This is why we value our partnership with mHUB. We need an mHUB on the South Side!
What’s next for your organization?
Continuing to innovate. Our mission will not change, but our work will continue to adapt to the current needs of the folks that we are committed to serving. We are constantly adding new methods to empower people to economic self-sufficiency and equity. Whether its accessing capital with a new banking partner or creating a new job training program, like our new drone academy, or assuring that our neighborhood housing appraisals are equitable, we will continue to change and innovate to reach our organizational goals for African American people!
Stay up to date on future opportunities with CUL at www.chiul.org. If you are a budding entrepreneur looking for a vast community of innovators, check out mHUB's membership options and see how mHUB is driving equitable business ownership.