IJ Clinic’s South Side Pitch Event Shows Chicago Is Hungry for Innovation

For the past four years, the IJ Clinic on Entrepreneurship has proudly hosted the South Side Pitch, our Shark Tank-style event that highlights entrepreneurs and up-and-coming businesses from the South Side of Chicago. Every finalist seeks to remind people that South Siders have innovative and entrepreneurial ideas on how to solve the problems in their communities. And this year was no exception.

First-place winner Donna Beasley hooked the audience from the start of her pitch: “A year ago, I decided to buy books for my niece’s birthday. I went to FOUR bookstores downtown, and I did not find one book that featured children of color.” At this realization, Beasley did not get mad; she got entrepreneurial. She knew that she was not the only woman of color seeking books that reflect the diverse people in her life. She took that knowledge and ran with it. Beasley and her art director, Angela Williams, just launched a subscription-model digital library of multicultural children’s books called KaZoom Kids Books.

This year, nearly 170 South Side businesses competed for a chance to present on the South Side Pitch stage.

Re:work Training—a software sales program for individuals with only a high school diploma—took second place. The training program has successfully helped 80 percent of its first-round cohort members climb three tax brackets after just eight weeks of software sales training. Back of the Yards Coffeehouse and Roastery took third place. The coffee shop opened in one of Chicago’s high-crime neighborhoods—a place the founders refer to as a “coffee desert.” The coffee shop has demonstrated that businesses can be profitable in even the harsher areas of Chicago. The founders look forward to watching more businesses move into the neighborhood.

This year, nearly 170 South Side businesses competed for a chance to present on the South Side Pitch stage. Two of this year’s five finalists had also applied in previous years. The Clinic is hopeful that some of this year’s audience members will be next year’s finalists. And the confidence and feedback given to finalists has led to further success. Previous South Side Pitch finalists include Rumi Spice, a saffron-importing company that recently appeared on Shark Tank, and Timing and Racing Around the Clock, a startup that was invited to participate in Y Combinator, a competitive Silicon Valley incubator that has hosted regulation-busting companies like Airbnb.

The South Side Pitch has become one of the hottest events of the year for entrepreneurs and community members, giving the IJ Clinic the opportunity to promote the vital role economic liberty plays in improving the lives of South Siders. As we know all too well, when government gets out of the way and lets innovation flourish, great things can happen. It is an honor to host this event championing entrepreneurs in a place where, all too often, crime and violence steal the spotlight from sharp, problem-solving entrepreneurs.

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