Community Engagement

YWCA Kicks Off 2022 Business Accelerator Program to Empower Black Women Entrepreneurs

March 2022 / 2 minute read
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YWCA Metropolitan Chicago, a social enterprise and William Blair community partner, has launched the second cohort of its Breedlove Entrepreneurship Center, an accelerator program founded in 2021 to ensure women-of-color business owners realize success and prosperity.

All nine Chicago-area women entrepreneurs in the cohort own food-based companies and will learn finance, marketing, sales forecasting, strategy, and brand building, with an end-goal to sell, gain more funding, or grow through acquisition.

“These stellar entrepreneurs in our second Breedlove cohort have built their businesses from the ground up with little support,” said YWCA’s Robert Johnson, chief economic inclusion officer and general counsel. “With the tools, resources, and food industry networking opportunities available to them, these women can potentially scale their businesses and explore a franchise model for sustained expansion.”

Breedlove Entrepreneurship Center

Breedlove is an important component of YWCA’s larger economic empowerment initiative to close the racial wealth gap, focused on supporting Black women entrepreneurs with revenues of $500,000-plus that are undercapitalized.

Black women are the fastest-growing group of entrepreneurs in the U.S. with over 1 million businesses—up 322% from 1997 to 2015, said Johnson, citing a State of Women-Owned Businesses Report by American Express. However, he added, they are the least likely to get funded.

“We are trying to create an ecosystem to identify what the entrepreneurs need and assemble partners that can help us do that,” Johnson said. “We are really excited about working with William Blair to engage with its employees and stakeholders for support. Ultimately, our goal with the Breedlove Entrepreneurship Center is closing the racial and wealth gap, creating sustainable communities where individuals come to live, work, play, and pray.”

The center was named after early 20th century entrepreneur Sarah Breedlove, professionally known as Madam C.J. Walker—one of the nation’s first African American millionaires. Born to sharecropper and formerly enslaved parents, and orphaned at the age of six, Breedlove rose to success building a hair care empire with products specific for Black women. She employed over 3,000 workers and created 20,000 sales jobs and a pathway to the middle class for many Black women.

Sign that says "eliminating racism, empowering women, ywca, metropolitan chicago"

William Blair Global Community Partners

YWCA is among William Blair’s current 22 Global Community Partners. The community partners program was created over a decade ago to expand the firm’s long commitment to philanthropic initiatives worldwide and provide more opportunities for employees to support nonprofits both financially and in volunteer time.

“Its commitment to uplift women of color entrepreneurs, who will then lift up their businesses and, in turn, their communities, made the YWCA a perfect candidate for the firm’s community partners program,” said Nancy Bonges, William Blair’s director of community engagement.

William Blair’s Meghan Garza, who serves on YWCA’s Ambassadors Council, nominated YWCA last year to become a community partner for the 2022-23 program.

“YWCA’s work to empower women and eliminate racism makes a direct, positive impact in our communities,” said Garza. “They’re not putting a Band-Aid on a problem; they look at long-term solutions to create lasting change.”