Making Women Biz Owners Successful at Make City in Chicago: Hub For Entrepreneurs
Where can you find women business owners producing butter cookies, children’s clothing, hair care products, cold-pressed juice, booties for dogs, soap, fruit-flavored brandy and much more all in one center?
You can find these producers and entrepreneurs at Make City, Chicago, an initiative of the Industrial Council of Nearwest Chicago, where women entrepreneurs account for 24 of the 108 small businesses operating at the modern manufacturing incubator, one of the oldest and largest manufacturing incubators in the United States. Similar incubators are in Los Angeles, Detroit, St. Louis and Brooklyn.
“The reason these companies are successful is because of the supportive environment provided by the incubation community,” says Jennifer Holmes, director of fund development and marketing for Make City. “When women move in, they can collaborate and share ideas with other women and compare notes.”
Signing a three-year lease after a strict interview and application process, entrepreneurs are accepted to the program and are offered education, marketing support, help with business plans, human resources and more in the center comprised of four buildings with more than 416,000 square feet of space.
Business owners typically enter Make City with perhaps $150,000 in revenue and leave with $1-2 million in sales, Holmes says. “Their businesses will scale to a point and they will create employment in the area,” she says.
Since its creation in 1984, Make City has created more than 16,000 jobs locally. One company, Farmer’s Fridge, has created more than 90 jobs since early 2017.
“And these entrepreneurs are ready to grow their businesses and give back to the community,” says Michelle Collett, marketing associate for Make City and the Industrial Council of Nearwest Chicago.
Make City’s intentional inclusion and support of women business owners is necessary. In 2017, only 1.2 percent of manufacturing businesses were owned by women. Twenty percent of the businesses that are operated in Make City are owned by women.
Rachel Wiandt, owner of Taylor Street Soap Co., says her business has doubled since she moved into Make City in the summer of 2017. With the growth of her business, Wiandt recently hired her first employee and is actively emerging her product line into new retail locations.
Sarah Burrows is co-owner with Nick Behr of Modern Sprout, manufacturers of indoor gardening kits and hydroponic planters. They started with 2,000 square feet in 2015, and have grown to more than 20,000 square feet, after being featured on the list of “Oprah’s Favorite Things.” Modern Sprout has more than quadrupled its workforce in the last three years.
“I really respect Modern Sprout and how they’ve grown and how well they’ve done,” Holmes says.
Another Make City success story is Chris-Tia Donaldson, owner of TGIN (that stands for Thank God It’s Natural) hair care products. “They now have four spaces,” Collett says.
Holmes says 82 percent of the revenue from Make City comes from rent from the companies, and the rest comes from grants, corporate sponsorships and individual giving.
“I think that the people who we work with would be hands down to win ‘Shark Tank,’ because by the time they leave, no judges will tell them ‘no’,” says Holmes.
“When they come to us they know this what they want to build their life around, and when they leave us in three years, they are able to stand on their feet and compete,” Holmes says. “Just like a newborn, they get out of the incubator and can be strong enough to be on their own.”
Offering the business owners seminars, economic development help and networking possibilities, Make City is making women entrepreneurs successful every year, whether that is with children’s clothing, a cloth diaper delivery service, plant delivery service, a dessert bakery or digital creative agency.
Because of their experience seeing the growth of many small business owners, Holmes and Collett offer these tips for any entrepreneur on how to make her idea come to fruition.
“If you have a great idea, go for it. Put everything you can into it, get the support you need to invest to make it work.”
“Talk to someone about the small business development center in your state. They can market research, and help find the best markets, the best price points, and see if your idea is viable.
Find out how much time and money it will cost to pursue. Talk to someone objective about your business plan.”
“The No. 1 mistake is not evaluating the cost, overhead and how much the materials cost, where to get the materials and not thinking through the manufacturing costs, time staffing and all the nitty gritty stuff. That is the fastest way to lose money.”
“The No. 2 mistake is paying for resources that you can get for free. We offer the services for free. You do not have to pay for legal advice.”
This fall, Make City is opening another 67,000 square-foot facility in the Garfield Park neighborhood in Chicago, that will be strictly a food and beverage manufacturing incubator.
“We will be able to fit 56 small businesses there,” says Holmes.
Internationally renowned chef Rick Bayless and other local chefs will be offering training to 18-24 year olds in the culinary field so they can open their own restaurants or businesses.
“Things are going really well,” Collett says. “We’re at 98 percent capacity. We are able to have all this success and open another incubator.”
Make City is making it happen for women entrepreneurs.
About the Author
Michele Weldon is editorial director of Take The Lead, an award-winning author, journalist, emerita faculty in journalism at Northwestern University and a senior leader with The OpEd Project. @micheleweldonwww.micheleweldon.com