By Brooke Fallon
When you hear the words “South Side of Chicago,” you might not think “entrepreneurship” or “small business.” But at a recent IJ Clinic on Entrepreneurship event on the South Side, that is exactly what was on display. On October 1, we hosted the South Side Pitch, modeled after the popular TV show Shark Tank, to spotlight budding entrepreneurs in Chicago’s South Side. Shark Tank gives would-be entrepreneurs the chance to pitch their idea to a panel of potential backers. Each judge then decides whether to invest in the business or not.
Our event was similar. It gave South Side entrepreneurs the opportunity to pitch their business ideas to a panel of expert judges from the fields of law, finance and business to win cash and other prizes. It was part of our continuing campaign to change how South Siders view entrepreneurship: You don’t need to be Mark Zuckerberg to start a successful business— you just need a dream and the willingness to work hard. Entrepreneurship comes in many forms and each entrepreneur should be free to pursue their dreams.
We received almost 70 pitch applications from community members hungry for their shot in the spotlight. It was clear that South Side residents are full of creativity, energy, ambition and goodwill, in spite of economic struggles. Many applicants were inspired to start their businesses because of needs that were not being met in their neighborhoods. To make a positive impact on their community, these entrepreneurs are applying their skills, unique life experiences and—as the introductory and keynote speeches emphasized—“hustle.”
Our five finalists were no exception. Our first-place winner, LegacyComplete, is an online estate-planning business that aims to address the lack of legacy planning that the founder noticed in her own neighborhood. Our second-place winner, VestedWorld, founded by an IJ Clinic alum, is an online investment platform that connects businesses in underserved areas with potential investors and business-development services. Third-place winner LimeLightrr, conceived by a local musician, is a website that enables hip-hop artists to curate and monetize interactions with fans. Rounding out our final five were Nature’s Little Recyclers, an innovative worm farm looking to reduce landfill waste and provide affordable compost to local urban farmers, and Urban Kitchen, an education center and store that connects people in food deserts with healthy options.
Not only did the South Side Pitch give entrepreneurs an opportunity to refine and reshape their business pitches and promote their businesses, it gave the South Side of Chicago a moment of great pride in an area often associated with violence and poverty. The full house of attendees departed with a sense of promise and hope in the entrepreneurs and in themselves. We were also inspired to turn this event into an annual tradition, with the expectation of reaching more people each year. The journey to success is not always easy, but the IJ Clinic will continue to connect aspiring entrepreneurs with the resources and confidence they need to make their dreams a reality, no matter their ZIP code.
Brooke Fallon is the office and community relations manager for the IJ Clinic.