Englewood Food Business Boot Camp is a Success

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Last week, Grow Greater Englewood hosted a two-day Micro Business Boot Camp for aspiring Black urban agricultural entrepreneurs. The sessions helped participants troubleshoot business models, adjust financial management processes, amend financial governance practices, and make important decisions on raising capital. The two-day financial management workshop series is the brainchild of Tera Johnson, director of the Food Finance Institute (FFI). Tera is a serial entrepreneur whose mission is to create the next generation of environmentally and economically regenerative food and farming businesses. FFI leverages and supports a collaborative network of professionals focused on the food, beverage and value-added agriculture sector by making sophisticated financial technical assistance available to every growing food, beverage and value-added agriculture enterprise.

The sessions also outlined some of the common food business challenges that cripple micro-businesses in their early stages of development (i.e. drive for positive impact supersedes the need to be a profitable businesses, weakly differentiated products from less efficient suppliers, achieving a broader social mission while selling to the least profitable customers, not enough knowledge about what is already in place in an “understood market”, farmers developing production-led not consumer-led businesses, and the difficulty of using experiential business models in urban settings). For those following the urban agricultural movement, these challenges are not new. However, as we work in concert with entrepreneurs, we are finding an increasing need to make sure Black micro-businesses have everything they need to be successful.

Grow Greater Englewood is working with entrepreneurs to design urban agricultural businesses that coincide with the development of the Englewood Line, an abandoned, elevated walk, bike, and run railroad track slated for major improvements. The boot camp was attended by almost a dozen Chicago area entrepreneurs looking to gain insight on how to transition years of hard work into thriving, successful businesses - most of which will be located in Englewood.

Pierre Clark, a seasoned Black developer and Managing Principal At NuFutures Strategic Partners Ltd., spoke about the importance of supporting Black entrepreneurs in this very important moment.

“It is our moment. I have seen too many business fail because of a lack of support and understanding on how to run a successful business. With support, we can do anything.”

Clark is currently working on a south side development project and is looking forward to supporting the Englewood Line.

Safia Rashid, an experienced farmer and south side resident, is the owner of Your Bountiful Harvest. Your Bountiful Harvest is a community-based farm business that provides produce and urban farmer trainings to Chicago residents. For Rashid, the challenge of scaling up is a real one.

“For a long time I didn’t take the money side of the business seriously. But now I’m like, bring on the money! I know that I can’t do what I want to do without it, so having someone explain how to get it was key.”

Safia is looking to grow food on various vacant lots adjacent to the Englewood Line.

Julian & Kenya Sample are co-owners of a herb-based food business. They want to grow native plants and herbs directly on the Englewood Line as a way to educate and relocate consumers. As Julian Sample explains:

“We really want to create an environment on the trail that takes people away from the city. We feel like we have the perfect product to do that. We want you to be in nature, feel the plants, learn about what they do, and almost forget you are in Chicago while you are doing it.”

The Samples are looking to establish their business in Englewood or a surrounding area.

Kamal Rashid (no relation to Safia Rashid), is an Englewood native and CEO of Zanjabil Gardens in Pembroke, IL. He currently owns and operates a vacant lot on the south side and is looking to develop unique soil products with his micro-business. He spoke about the frustrations of not having enough capital to produce products, and not having enough sales to increase capital.

“It is like the chicken and the egg. You are constantly trying to figure out which one should I do first. You have a limited budget, limited resources, and limited experience. Sometimes I know it would be easier if I had staff, but how can I hire staff without consistent capital?”

Not all of the attendees were launching new businesses. Chris “Dough Boy” Fryison, CEO at Popup Dropoff, successfully ran his restaurant in Avalon Park for two years and made almost $250,000 in sales. After closing his restaurant, he is now looking to launch a second restaurant, Dough Boy Chicago, in Englewood. He talked about the importance of having Black entrepreneurs come together to learn from one another and show that they can be business owners.

“I’m looking forward to staying in the community and being a vital part. And just showing that Black folks can be owners. That’s very important, and I’m looking forward to this business venture.”

Grow Greater Englewood is working with Fryison to source his produce and poultry needs from local Black farmers.

“That’s another thing Anton kind of brought me into the fold about - using our resources and using each other to build. One of the problems that we do have is salads. And I was always going to Aldi’s or Pete’s Produce to get what I needed. And Anton said, ‘how about using some of the resources our people are using?’ And that's when Anton mentioned how he is connecting people so they can build with each other around food”

These connections are vital to growing a thriving Englewood. Our role is not simply to provide technical assistance to entrepreneurs but to assist with the acquisition, management, and distribution of property and food. In this way, we are stewarding the business development process for Black urban agricultural businesses and making sure entrepreneurs are at the table with the food industry and city.

As Anton Seals, Lead Steward of Grow Greater Englewood explains:

“This is very new for the city. We are working with the city to develop creative ways to support urban farm businesses because urban farms are new. As we learn more about the needs of our members, we can find better ways to advocate for the policy and resources they need.”

This policy advocacy work was made real recently, with a policy victory in Cook County. The Cook County Government adopted the Good Food Purchasing Program, a groundbreaking public policy that will shift how county agencies purchase food. According to the San Diego Food System Alliance, the Good Food Purchasing Program re-allocates institutional food dollars toward strengthening local economies, reducing the environmental impacts of food production, promoting fair treatment for food system workers, ensuring the humane treatment of animals, and promoting healthy food and nutrition. Grow Greater Englewood and several other local organizations and public officials were instrumental in the new legislation.  

We know this work takes a great deal of coordination and we want to continue doing that for Black business. We would like to thank all of those in attendance. A special thanks to Sacred Keepers, for allowing us to host the training in their space. We look forward to providing more tools for entrepreneurs and engaging the community in a much broader discussion about creating a local food system through Black food business development in the region.