A Small Business in the Business of Growing Business

JPMorgan Chase is supporting entrepreneurship opportunities in Chicago’s South and West side neighborhoods and nearby Back of the Yards.

May 1, 2023

In the 1950s, Englewood’s commercial retail corridor along 63rd Street generated upward of $150 million a year (the equivalent of $1.35 billion today). Anchored by a department store that employed more than 400 Chicagoans, Englewood’s retail center was second only to State Street, the popular corridor in the city’s downtown area.

Just as in Auburn Gresham, Englewood’s businesses were shuttered as the demographics of the community changed. Property values plummeted, and the population fell from 90,000 in the 1930s to just below 24,000 today. Now Black people comprise 92 percent of Englewood, yet only 20 percent of them are business owners. Residents regularly seek resources and amenities in other parts of Chicago.

Since property is the most common form of collateral put up against a business loan in the United States, the low homeownership in Englewood perpetuates the lack of local businesses. In this neighborhood, 76 percent of housing units are rented and only two percent of Chicago businesses are Black-owned.

A lifelong resident of Chicago, Deon Lucas always wanted to be an entrepreneur. His success as an architect strengthened the urge to start his own firm, and after a conversation with Felicia Slaton-Young, the executive director of the local Chamber of Commerce, Lucas founded architectural firm E.G. Woode. He helps fellow entrepreneurs in the area create unique brick-and-mortar spaces, providing resources that would be all but inaccessible to those entrepreneurs otherwise.

Lucas’s approach to business is unique: He takes money generated from leasing and sales and reinvests it into developing other small businesses.

Lucas was one of the first beneficiaries of the Entrepreneurship of Color Fund, developed by JPMorgan Chase and a network of investors, foundations, and Community Development Financial Institutions. The fund provides entrepreneurs from historically underserved communities—including Black, Latino, and Hispanic—with access to both capital and technical assistance and made it possible for Lucas to purchase the 4,000-square-foot center that is now E.G. Woode’s first location. 

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“Businesses like E.G. Woode are essential,” says Trotter of JPMorgan Chase. “By creating a space for business owners who live in the community, care about the community, and own the property, they are making local control and shared ownership possible. These businesses are invested in and accountable to their neighborhoods.”

Since its launch in 2015, the Entrepreneurship of Color Fund (EOCF) has supported more than 2,500 small businesses, deploying $119 million in loans across nine metro areas. In 2022 alone, EOCF loaned more than $8 million to some 430 business borrowers in Chicago.

E.G. Woode is home to four Black-owned businesses: barbershop Powell’s, consignment shop Marie | Wesley, design firm Beehyyve, and Momentum Coffee, the neighborhood’s first and only Black-owned coffee shop. At the center, Lucas also offers business development tools and marketing strategies for local entrepreneurs. His future projects include an E.G. Woode Food Hub, which will house two sit-down restaurants as well as a training kitchen concept called Englewood Kitchen.

Lucas says JPMorgan Chase’s investment has been integral to his business’s success. Beyond financial support, Lucas says the bank has elevated him in other areas, too, connecting him to people and institutions that are helping him reach new heights for his business.

That multipronged approach to small-business investment is strategic, providing necessary support beyond the initial surge of capital to address the deep-seated challenges faced by entrepreneurs of color.

“Businesses of color often do not enjoy the same access to networks and mentorship that would unlock their true potential,” Trotter says. “JPMorgan Chase brings a multifaceted approach to provide access to capital through responsive and affordable lending, markets that will help them grow, and strong management tools that will sustain them over the long run.”

Learn more about our commitment to growing and scaling small businesses.

A version of this story originally appeared in Atlantic Re:think, a creative marketing studio.