In a Nutshell
What: Opened in 2021, a new headquarters for nonprofit business accelerator Entrenuity, which equips Black, Latinx, and women entrepreneurs with the tools and resources needed to establish and operate successful businesses. Located in a historic building once occupied by a pioneering Black-owned record label, the facility also includes a state-of-the-art coworking space called Mox.E and a ground floor commercial space that houses Overflow Coffee, one of two community-based coffee shops that Entrenuity operates as social enterprises.
Sector: Workforce Development
Location: Chicago, IL (South Loop)
Size: 8,033 square feet
Cost: $3.1 million
Sources of Funding/Financing: IFF loan, Providence Bank & Trust loan, agency equity, and private donations
IFF Support: $480,000 loan closed in August 2021
IFF Staff Lead: Jocelyn Velazquez, Senior Lender
Design: Purohit Architects and Gensler
General Contractor: ANKA Builders and Construction
Project Manager: Daccord
Impact: Creation of five FTE jobs and 15 part-time jobs; BIPOC and female entrepreneurs equipped with the necessary tools and resources to run successful businesses, facilitating generational wealth building.
“The intention to disavow Black opportunities for ownership was very intentional, and counteracting intentional disinvestment requires intentional investment,” says Entrenuity Founder and President L. Brian Jenkins, referring to historic barriers to entrepreneurship for Black Americans rooted in systemic racism that continues to reverberate today. “How do we get past that and solve the problem? We believe the answer is coaching, connecting, and capitalizing.”
For more than 20 years, that’s what Jenkins and Entrenuity – a nonprofit business accelerator – have done, facilitating generational wealth building by equipping aspiring entrepreneurs of color and female entrepreneurs with the tools and resources necessary to run successful businesses. Starting out in a church on Chicago’s West Side with a single entrepreneurship class made up of 15 teenagers, Entrenuity’s mission has evolved over time to serve adults, while its capacity to effect change has increased exponentially.
Today, the organization offers one-on-one coaching, monthly workshops, quarterly training sessions, and more, in addition to operating a coworking space called Mox.E that’s designed to provide entrepreneurs with a high-quality space to work and network. Entrenuity also operates two community-based coffee shops – Overflow and The Common Cup – that provide a significant source of revenue to execute on its mission while also serving as a training ground for aspiring entrepreneurs. In certain cases, Entrenuity provides capital to entrepreneurs to help fund their visions for small businesses.
“The coaching we provide to entrepreneurs is important, but bringing people together to form relationships and creating opportunities to share ideas is vital,” says Jenkins. “And any time we can connect a client with an investor or donor to help get their business off the ground or put some money into it ourselves, we’re obviously interested in doing that. The money is out there, but Black and brown and women owners oftentimes don’t have the relational capital they need to launch and grow their businesses. We want our entrepreneurs to leverage us and our space to make those types of connections.”
The coaching we provide to entrepreneurs is important, but bringing people together to form relationships and creating opportunities to share ideas is vital.
Having relied on shared and rented facilities to sustain its operations for two decades – and being forced to relocate from its last space on short notice when its lease wasn’t renewed – Entrenuity took a major step forward in 2021 when it acquired an 8,033-square-foot facility in Chicago’s South Loop neighborhood with its own storied legacy of fostering Black entrepreneurship. Located at 1449 S. Michigan Ave. in a 10-block stretch of Chicago dubbed the “cradle of rhythm and blues,” the facility was at one time the home of a pioneering Black-owned record label named Vee-Jay Records that helped launch the careers of a slew of Blues and R&B legends.
Designed by Purohit Architects and Gensler, and renovated by general contractor ANKA Builders and Construction, Entrenuity’s facility includes a ground floor commercial space occupied by Overflow Coffee that’s filled with callbacks to the era when Vee-Jay occupied the building. Immediately after entering the coffee shop, visitors see records produced by Vee-Jay on the wall. Accompanying the records is an overview of the record label’s history, which included the distinction of serving as the first U.S. distributor of a Beatles record before the band became a global phenomenon. Elsewhere in the coffee shop is a tribute to Vee-Jay’s founders, Vivian Carter and James Bracken, who launched the company with a $500 loan from a pawnbroker and nurtured it into one of the most successful Black-owned record labels in the country.
While the space is designed primarily to foster creativity and community, Overflow also regularly hosts musical performances in a nod to the building’s history.
“We host concerts called Overflow After Dark, where we leverage the space to help artists who may not have a lot of exposure,” says Jenkins. “Even if they are more well-known already, we want them to have a beautiful place to perform where they’re treated and paid well. We have a commitment to excellence in how we support entrepreneurs, and the concerts are an extension of that.”
On the second floor of the facility, where Mox.E’s coworking space and Entrenuity’s offices are located, a conference room with a bespoke table is representative of Entrenuity’s goal to foster an environment in which aspiring entrepreneurs who have faced inequitable barriers to success can thrive.
“We have a table in the conference room made by hand by an African American furniture designer named Julius Dorsey at Chicago Fire Furniture,” says Jenkins. “We wanted the piece to speak to people when they walk into the room and to convey to them that they have a seat at the table now.”
Named in honor of JoAnn Soderquist, the conference room is one of many in the space that recognizes those who helped nurture Entrenuity to the point when it could acquire and renovate a facility of its own. Funders for the $3.1 million project included the Soderquist Family Foundation, Greg and Elizabeth Lernihan of the MIGMIR Fund, Larry and Madelyn Jenkins, and The Ozinga Foundation, among others. Providence Bank & Trust provided a loan to Entrenuity that covered a portion of the renovation costs, while IFF provided Entrenuity with a $480,000 loan for the project after construction was completed that helped replenish the nonprofit’s cash on hand after funding capital expenditures from its operating budget.
To now be sitting in this space, in a building with a history like the one this facility has, is huge. We have a responsibility to honor that legacy by continuing to help more people get to their seat at the table.
Elsewhere in the Mox.E coworking space is a communal area in the center of the floor where entrepreneurs can collaborate and share ideas, that also serves as an event space and venue for training workshops, educational sessions, networking functions, and more. With a capacity of 70 people, the space has multiple seating configurations and is fully integrated for A/V needs. Mox.E also offers private offices and phone booths that can be rented by the hour, day, month, or year. While those renting affordable space at Mox.E receive discounts at Overflow Coffee downstairs, the space also includes a modern kitchenette available to anyone utilizing the coworking space.
Housed at the back of the second floor, behind Mox.E, are Entrenuity’s offices. Having started out in a third-floor office that was so hot that his computer often wouldn’t run, the new space is a constant reminder to Jenkins of how far the organization has come and the work that still needs to be done to ensure that all aspiring entrepreneurs have equitable access to opportunities.
“I was always committed to the idea of creating a space that Black, brown, and women entrepreneurs would be proud to work from and where they would have access to all of the resources we’re now providing if the opportunity to do so was there,” says Jenkins. “When we had to move after our lease wasn’t renewed in our previous location, we didn’t know what we were going to do, but we viewed it as an entrepreneurial challenge to figure it out and get it done. And to now be sitting in this space, in a building with a history like the one this facility has, is huge. We have a responsibility to honor that legacy by continuing to help more people get to their seat at the table.”
To take a virtual tour of the Overflow Coffee shop, Mox.E’s coworking space, and Entrenuity’s offices, click the photos below.