Andrew Wimer
Andrew Wimer · October 25, 2021

CHICAGO—Late last week, the Institute for Justice Clinic on Entrepreneurship (IJ Clinic) live-streamed its Eighth Annual South Side Pitch and declared the winners with the help of an online audience from around Chicagoland and beyond. Sista Afya Community Mental Wellness took first place among the six finalists from the more than 100 businesses who applied.

Sista Afya, created by Camesha Jones, provides accessible mental wellness care centered around the experiences of Black women. Camesha started with pop-up events at South Side businesses and is now located in a South Shore office where Black women can receive quality care and feel seen, heard and accepted, to help them heal, grow and thrive. With the prize of $8,000, her goal is to hire two additional full-time therapists.

“We started South Side Pitch to shine a light on the entrepreneurs in Chicago who are taking action to fill needs in their community and beyond,” said Beth Kregor, Director of the IJ Clinic. “Once again, all the competitors wowed us, and we hope all of them will go on to great success. Their creativity and courage make a big difference for their neighborhoods, their customers, their city, and the economy.”

In addition to the grand prize, South Side Pitch also named two runners up and a community favorite. PiggyBack Network, an online carpooling marketplace for parents and guardians on shared routes, founded by Ismael El-Amin, took second place and $7,000. He is providing a solution to the challenge that families face to get children to park districts, daycares, sports leagues, visual arts facilities and schools.

Third place winner, D. Jones Construction, a 100% minority woman-owned certified general construction company, is transforming once forgotten structures and rebuilding communities. Dominique Jones uses her engineering degree for commercial and residential construction projects with a keen focus on seamless communication and high-quality work. She received $5,000 in winnings.

This year’s Community Favorite was Last Lap Cornerstore, the South Side’s only Specialty Running Store which operates out of a refurbished shipping container store in Boxville. Business owner Ian Gonzalez hosts running workshops and supports the running community with top brand shoes and in-demand merchandise sourced from minority owned vendors. His prize was $1,000.

The pitches by the finalists were made to four esteemed judges: Kelly Evans of Chicago Urban League, Blake Overlock of LOUD Capital, Wendy Williams of The University of Chicago Office of Civic Engagement and Joanna Trotter of The Chicago Community Trust, along with an online audience of more than 500 viewers. Prior to the event, finalists met with experienced business coaches to prepare and sharpen their pitches.

Past-winners Jesse Iniguez, Co-founder and Director of Coffee Operations of Back of the Yards Coffee (2017, second place), and Melody Roberts, Co-founder and CEO of Liv Labs (2018, first place), also attended and spoke to the contestants and audience. The two shared their enthusiasm for entrepreneurship, speaking about the power of the pitch on their business growth.

The IJ Clinic, based at The University of Chicago Law School, empowers Chicago’s low-income entrepreneurs through free legal services, resources, and advocacy. This year’s contest was sponsored by United Airlines, the Polsky Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation and The University of Chicago Office of Civic Engagement.