Commentary: Chicagoland’s Latino Entrepreneurial Ecosystem on the Rise

From Waukegan to Hammond, Ind., and as far west as Elgin and Aurora, the entrepreneurial spirit of greater Chicagoland’s Latino community is fueling innovative ventures and economic growth. This is what Sunshine Enterprises, a Woodlawn-based nonprofit organization committed to empowering high-potential entrepreneurs living in under-resourced neighborhoods to impact their communities, has witnessed since the launching of La Academia Comunitaria de Negocios (The Community Business Academy) Spanish program in fall 2020.

The CBA is a hands-on, experiential, 12-week business planning and management course that has helped hundreds of Latino entrepreneurs transform their business ideas into actionable plans, propelling Latino businesses in Chicago and the suburbs. In other cases, it has allowed business owners to regain focus to reassess their value proposition and how it is being communicated to their customers, which has led to the development of new marketing campaigns and opportunities for growth.

Furthermore, Latino entrepreneurs continue to make improvements and expand their knowledge through two additional program strategies offered by Sunshine: Business Acceleration Services (BAS), a year-round schedule of advanced seminars, networking events, microgrant applications and individual coaching sessions with industry experts; and Credit to Capital (C2C), which equips and prepares entrepreneurs to acquire the funding needed to improve sustainability and scale by focusing on credit improvement and access to capital.

According to the 2023 “State of Latino Entrepreneurship” report from the Stanford Graduate School of Business, 19% of the country’s population is Latino and “serves as a prominent consumer base and a growing force in economic development, with a collective economic contribution of $3.2 trillion and ownership of nearly 5 million businesses generating more than $800 billion in annual revenue.” This figure reflects the entrepreneurial spirit and resilience of the Latino community in the United States.

As widely recognized, the COVID-19 pandemic revealed the need for policy reforms to ensure equal access to business opportunities and resources for the Latino community. Has anything changed since? I can confirm that it has. In 2019, while working for the Puerto Rican Cultural Center in Chicago, I started to understand the power of community organizing and advocacy for Brown and Black communities, and the impact that business support organizations have in the creation and scalability of Latino businesses, not only in Chicago but also nationwide. I’ve also come to understand the synergies between organizations from different communities that are trying to provide the same resources — entrepreneurial programming, networking, opportunities for growth, and access to capital.

The ecosystem exists and is constantly growing and evolving. Even financial institutions that had to pivot during the pandemic to address the needs of the Latino community have expanded their services beyond financial literacy and credit-building products to include business plan training cohorts. So what continues to be the challenge Latino businesses face? Despite the surge in the availability of resources for Hispanic entrepreneurs, other barriers obstruct their path, and those have to do with the intrinsic characteristics of the individual or their circumstances.

At Sunshine Enterprises, we assess our customers’ entrepreneurial skills so we can tailor our services to their needs because we understand the impact our programming has on generational wealth building.

By Nadya Henriquez