Revitalizing Chicago’s South Side One Small Business at a Time
This blog originally appeared on Venturize.org.
A few years ago, Rachel Bernier-Green was looking for an outlet from the stress of her intense job at a multinational accounting firm and discovered a passion for baking. It didn’t take long before friends and family were encouraging her to sell her baked goods to the masses. Rachel founded ‘Laine’s Bake Shop, LLC in 2013 using a shared kitchen space, working on the side to get her business off the ground. After a few years of baking part-time, Rachel decided to finally quit her job and start a bake shop full-time with her husband Jaryd.
As a start-up, Rachel struggled to get financing from a big bank, but luckily Rachel was introduced to Accion–a global nonprofit with an office in Chicago that works to extend microcredit to individuals or businesses that struggle to access traditional business loans. Their approach includes working one-on-one with borrowers to provide education and other business assistance to increase their business growth.
Rachel received a microloan of $10,000 from Accion in 2016. With that loan, she was able to move her business out of the shared kitchen space and lease a retail and production space for the bake shop. This allowed her and her husband to grow their business to distribute with Whole Foods, Amazon Fresh and Starbucks. In Rachel’s words, the Accion loan helped them “to get over the start-up financing hump” and prove that she had a scalable business model.
There are two things that stood out to Rachel about working with Accion compared to a traditional commercial lender. First, they have a personalized approach and present an opportunity to build a relationship with all loan officers. Rachel and her husband really got to know their loan officer, who walked them through the financing process and took the time to explain other options. He even educated them on predatory loan companies so they know what to look out for when they’re ready for their next loan.
Second, Accion advocated for them. Their loan officer made sure that the team making the loan decision was familiar with their story, mission and business. According to Rachel, “We would never have had the same experience with a large commercial lender.” Accion also provided resources and connected them to other organizations that offer business assistance and education for small business owners.
Rachel and Jaryd launched their brick and mortar business in Chicago’s South Side, an area that means a great deal to them. Rachel grew up hearing her grandfather’s stories of a neighborhood that was a thriving epicenter of commerce and culture for the African-American community. The area was filled with many locally-owned small businesses that contributed to the economic stability of the community. These stories inspired Rachel and made her determined that ‘Laine’s Bake Shop will be a catalyst for revitalization in the community. In her own words, “I’m glad Accion is there to help us realize our vision of our small business contributing to economic development on the South Side of Chicago.”