Investing in a community takes time and resources. Most frequently it’s local businesses and institutions that best determine what investments communities need the most. From non-traditional lending and equitable hiring practices, to flexible loans and workforce development. Simply put, equitable community development is not one size fits all. At Benefit Chicago, we value organizations that listen to what a community believes it needs most, and we have committed $68 million in impact investments to facilitate this type of strategic community development.
One such organization is IFF, a nonprofit-focused lender that was founded in Chicago nearly 30 years ago and is now the largest nonprofit Community Development Finance Institution (CDFI) in the Midwest.
As a Benefit Chicago borrower, IFF has deployed $5 million in capital to support the success of under-resourced communities. Historical barriers frequently lead to inequitable capital costs and significant disadvantages for property and business owners in these areas. “Over time, inequity inevitably continues to compound – unless there is an intervention in the existing status quo,” says Joe Neri, CEO of IFF. “Scarcity and higher capital prices over a long period deter investment, and we employ a continuum of activities to build a pipeline of ‘investible’ community development projects that truly align capital with justice.”
It’s projects like mHUB, which both IFF and Benefit Chicago have invested in, that are redefining what is possible for nontraditional borrowers, entrepreneurs, and their communities. mHUB, located in Chicago, is the first innovation center focused on bringing startups and manufacturers together to commercialize physical products and revitalize Chicago’s manufacturing sector. With support from IFF, mHUB was able to build a 63,000 square foot lab with shared access to 10 different fabrication labs and $5 million in equipment and software. With subsequent loans from IFF and Benefit Chicago, the lab has been able to provide entrepreneurial and technical training, create and launch a 30-course curriculum, and build a mentorship network for over 1,000 members who now utilize the innovation lab.
“We’re teaching people not just how to make things, but how to become business owners,” says Haven Allen, mHUB CEO and co-founder.
After just two years in operation, mHUB was able to hire over 400 employees and recruit over 260 member companies. In turn, these companies secured 40 new patents and launched over 400 innovative products. With loans from IFF and Benefit Chicago, this innovation lab has thrived and allowed hundreds of entrepreneurs and businesses to do the same.
Creating Jobs & Enhancing Job Readiness
From manufacturing innovation to hiring equity, community development comes in all shapes and sizes.. Autonomy Works, a company located in the Chicago suburbs, has focused on solving a problem for a very specific community of young adults. These young professionals are highly skilled, detailed oriented, young professionals with autism. The founder of the company has a son who fits this profile and inspired him to start the company. AutonomyWorks supports the digital and online marketing efforts of leading national and international marketing organizations. With a $600,000 loan from Benefit Chicago, the company has grown and increased its staff of young and uniquely skilled employees.
In 2019, the employment at AutonomyWorks had increased by 45 percent over the previous year, and the company has been growing revenue quarterly with a 15 percent increase between the first and second quarter of 2019. These were record breaking milestones for the company and for the employees who are now able to put their skills to work. At year-end, the company is projected to outperform their 2018 benchmarks.
The company’s goal is to maintain this momentum, continually building revenue and stability, and ultimately, creating more jobs for the talented and capable young people who are driving the success of this growing business.