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Connie Wyatt Winston of S.A.I.D. Strategy Group

Connie Wyatt Winston, the esteemed founder of S.A.I.D. Strategy Group, initially sought the guidance of WBDC in 2018 with a clear goal in mind—to leverage her certification as a woman-owned business. With an unwavering commitment to excellence, Connie collaborated closely with the Illinois Apex Accelerator and the Illinois Small Business Development Center (ILSBDC) at WBDC to target opportunities within both public and private sectors. Through these strategic partnerships, Connie’s business witnessed remarkable growth.

In 2020, Connie joined the inaugural CityCon cohort—a program aimed at equipping entrepreneurs with insights into procurement opportunities with the City of Chicago. The following year, she further expanded her horizons by participating in the esteemed Shirley Marx Pitch Series for Women Business Enterprises (WBEs). Leveraging the pitching skills honed through various WBDC programs, S.A.I.D. Strategy Group achieved an impressive feat, securing three Tier 1 contracts totaling an impressive $135,700.00. This extraordinary achievement not only bolstered the company’s financial standing but also led to the creation of three new job opportunities. To support these contracts and sustain the upward trajectory, Connie successfully secured a $10,000 line of credit.

Connie attributes much of her success to the unwavering support provided by WBDC, which has continuously nurtured her growth and development. She expresses deep gratitude for the WBDC’s steadfast commitment, citing their invaluable assistance in connecting her with essential training resources and fostering meaningful connections within the realm of federal contracting, all of which have been instrumental in pursuing lucrative opportunities.

With WBDC’s continued support and unwavering dedication to her success, Connie Wyatt Winston of S.A.I.D. Strategy Group stands as a proud testament to the transformative power of their programs and resources, driving her business forward and positioning her as a leading force in her industry.

David Toledo of Contemporary Farmers Inc.

David Toledo, driven by a passion for social change, founded Contemporary Farmer Inc. with the aim of empowering black, brown, and queer communities through entrepreneurship. His business model, centered around nourishment and education, initially provided microgreens to local restaurants. However, the pandemic forced David to pivot his business, leading him to manage a school garden, sell at farmers’ markets, and teach individuals to cultivate their own home gardens. Through this journey, he discovered the inclusive nature of his business, as growing and enjoying food became a unifying force for people from diverse backgrounds.

In 2022, David participated in the WBDC’s ScaleUp program, which revitalized his entrepreneurial spirit. ScaleUp helped him to realize that he is not alone in his business journey, in fact, he was shocked to learn about all the people that started their businesses at the same time as him and then faced the pandemic in such early stages of their business. Surrounded by a cohort of energetic entrepreneurs, he gained valuable skills in pitching, financial analysis, website revamping, and marketing. The program helped him view his business from a fresh perspective, with dedicated advisors supporting his growth. David continues to engage with WBDC, attending events to fuel his entrepreneurial drive and further develop his business.

To anyone that may be interested in attending ScaleUp, David says, “Do it! You will get the business management skills you need to continue feeling comfortable in your journey, you will meet local entrepreneurs and build a solid foundation for your business.” His story stands as a testament to the transformative impact of WBDC, enabling him to effect social change, empower communities, and build an inclusive and thriving business.

Bridgett Allen Hedgeman of Upgrade Sales Consulting LLC

Bridgett Allen Hedgeman boasts a rich Chicago heritage spanning three generations. Raised on the south side by a family of educators, Bridgett embarked on a career that encompassed diverse fields such as biochemistry and sales. Drawing upon her extensive experience in team leadership and her deep-rooted passion for education, she set out to establish a consulting business. With the unwavering support of the Women’s Business Development Center (WBDC) and the Women’s Business Center Chicago, Bridgett successfully launched Upgrade Sales Consulting in September 2021. Her entrepreneurial journey further flourished when she secured a significant $6,000 Kiva loan through the Access to Capital program in April 2022.

Upgrade Sales Consulting LLC specializes in assisting startups, small businesses, and midsized enterprises in recognizing and embracing their intrinsic value, thereby fostering strategic and sustainable growth in profits and revenue. Bridgett and her team leverage their distinctive blend of Fortune 100 expertise and entrepreneurial acumen to design tailored solutions that are easily comprehensible, implementable, and measurable. Upgrade Sales Consulting guides businesses in transforming their practices to cultivate genuine value and achieve enduring success. Bridgett proudly affirms:

“The Kiva loan has been a huge boost for my newly established consulting firm. First, by allowing us to continue building a strong foundation. We are better positioned for success because we were able to hire the help we needed. Starting a business is not easy and starting one with a shaky foundation makes it that much harder for the business to achieve success beyond the first one to three years. Second, the Kiva loan has helped to establish our firm as a credible business to invest in. Startups like Upgrade Sales Consulting LLC have limited options for access to capital.  Having access to a Kiva loan has been amazing and we hope to position our firm for future funding opportunities by building on support the Kiva loan has provided.  

The support from WBDC and the dedicated Kiva Contact was hands down the most valuable. There’s so much small businesses like mine have to do already having a dedicated person and team at the WBDC to walk us through the process was priceless.  The mentors and everyone at the WBDC have been tremendously supportive and encouraging. They understand this journey and I can’t imagine starting this journey without their support leadership and guidance. I tell everyone I can about the organization.” 

Barbara Burdick of Cuddle Bunny

Following a distinguished 30-year career in human resources, Barbara Burdick embarked on a new chapter, driven by her unwavering passion for bunnies. Having experienced the joy of owning pet bunnies in the 1990s, Barbara’s love for these delightful creatures only grew stronger. Her journey took an unexpected turn when she decided to volunteer at a local animal shelter in Evanston, primarily focused on dogs. It was during this time that Barbara developed a profound appreciation for the nurturing care of pets and discovered the profound connection between animals and humans. Recognizing the mutual benefits of positive interactions, Barbara’s inspiration blossomed further when she encountered the tranquil ambiance of Japanese cafes, where individuals find solace by petting and engaging with animals. Merging her fondness for animals with the Japanese concept, Barbara founded Cuddle Bunny—an immensely successful venture where customers unwind, engage, and delight in the company of bunnies while relishing the joy of feeding and petting them.

However, opening Cuddle Bunny posed several challenges for Barbara, who initially lacked comprehensive knowledge about financial management, regulatory requirements, and the necessary steps for business initiation. As a pet care business, acquiring various licenses became an essential undertaking. Furthermore, the stringent protocols imposed due to the COVID-19 pandemic further added to Barbara’s hesitations about launching Cuddle Bunny.

Barbara fondly highlights the indispensable support rendered by the Illinois Small Business Development Center (SBDC) at the Women’s Business Development Center (WBDC) in overcoming these obstacles and successfully commencing her business, even amidst the pandemic. Through invaluable no-cost advising sessions, Barbara gained essential guidance, enabling her to construct a robust business plan, access architectural resources, enhance sales strategies, and expand her workforce by hiring additional employees. In 2022, Barbara further collaborated with the WBDC’s Kiva program manager, securing an $8,000 loan that she judiciously allocated to establish Cuddle Bunny Too—the second location of her thriving enterprise.

Overall, Barbara underscores the immeasurable moral and emotional support extended by the Illinois SBDC at the WBDC throughout her entrepreneurial journey. She attributes her resilience and triumph to the unwavering guidance and expertise provided by her dedicated advisor, Maura Mitchell. Grateful beyond measure, Barbara expresses her heartfelt appreciation for the Illinois SBDC at the WBDC, recognizing the profound impact of their invaluable resources, unwavering support, and transformative guidance on her entrepreneurial success.

 Allison Burrell of Darvin Notary Services

Allison Burrell, a distinguished individual representing Darvin Notary Services, sought the invaluable expertise of the Illinois Small Business Development Center (SDBC) at the Women’s Business Development Center (WBDC) to establish the essential groundwork for her enterprise in October 2021. As a licensed insurance agent, Allison aspired to support her loved ones during their retirement journeys. Moreover, she aimed to position herself prominently in front of a new clientele, prompting her decision to seek WBDC’s guidance in establishing her notary and loans business. The WBDC proved to be the beacon of assurance she sought, reaffirming her alignment with the correct path to success.

With the assistance provided by the Illinois SDBC at WBDC, Allison successfully set her business in motion. In April 2022, Darvin Notary Services LLC ceremoniously commenced its operations. Serving as a comprehensive notary and loans enterprise, Darvin Notary Services extends its aid to clients embarking on real estate transactions. Allison’s exceptional abilities enable her to engage in conversations with her clientele concerning retirement strategies, in addition to providing coverage and life insurance solutions. When questioned about the support received from the Illinois SDBC at WBDC, Allison wholeheartedly recommends seeking their invaluable assistance. Her advisor, Felicitas Cortez, immediately instilled a sense of belonging and teamwork, demonstrating an unwavering commitment to Allison’s triumph and bestowing an abundance of knowledge vital for any aspiring small business owner. Since its inception, Darvin Notary Services has gone on to acquire the requisite certifications to pursue government contracting opportunities through the Illinois Apex Accelerator at WBDC, further enhancing its potential for growth and success.

 

 

 

 

Berenice Perez of Neveria Moreliana

Located in Plano, Illinois, Berenice Perez embarked on her entrepreneurial journey eleven years ago with the establishment of her ice cream shop, Neveria Moreliana. Though faced with initial challenges, Berenice’s unwavering determination, diligent work ethic, pursuit of business education, and commitment to exceptional products have propelled her business to unprecedented heights, positioning it as a benchmark for competitors in the area. Through her relentless efforts, she has expanded her resources and even added a full-time employee to accommodate the surge in demand during the summer season.

Berenice’s dedication extends beyond her business as she actively engages with the local community, providing her delectable products for school events and other occasions. Her commitment to fostering strong relationships and making a positive impact is highly regarded.

In 2021, Berenice seized the opportunity to participate in ScaleUp Aurora, a nine-week program offered by WBDC. This transformative experience equipped her with invaluable tools and knowledge to effectively manage her business. As a result, she has become more organized, gained a comprehensive understanding of her business finances, formulated plans for enhancing her shop, and is actively exploring new sales venues to further expand her reach.

Even amid the challenges posed by the pandemic, Berenice’s revenue continues to soar. Her adept price strategy enables her to navigate the rising costs of raw materials successfully. Moreover, she consistently captivates her customers by innovating new flavors and products. Recently, she introduced the tantalizing “Fresas Morelianas,” an irresistible ice cream infused with fresh strawberries.

Looking ahead, Berenice is preparing for the winter season by diversifying her offerings. She plans to introduce delightful treats such as Atole and coffee, aiming to attract a broader customer base to her shop.

Berenice’s remarkable achievements caught the attention of Congressperson Lauren Underwood, who recently visited her establishment. Berenice was chosen as one of three businesses in Plano, Illinois, to showcase how government resources can support entrepreneurial growth. The congressperson’s visit garnered significant attention, with highlights shared on Instagram, further solidifying Berenice’s status as a distinguished business owner.

To fuel her continued growth, Berenice is making a substantial investment of $10,000 in state-of-the-art equipment. With a combination of personal funds and additional financing from external sources, she is poised to propel her business to new heights and embrace the opportunities that lie ahead.

Genesis Bencivenga, Sr. of Lorenzo’s Frozen Pudding

“Empowered by the Chicago Women’s Business Development Center (WBDC) and supported by a strategic partnership with Walgreens, the ascent of Lorenzo’s Frozen Pudding stands as a testament to unwavering determination and resilient entrepreneurship. Genesis, in collaboration with her father Lorenzo, embarked on a transformative journey in 2011, crafting delectable recipes in their kitchen to forge a brighter financial future. Their culinary ingenuity yielded a range of flavors, starting with the iconic Southern-style banana pudding, captivating the streets of Chicago where their initial sales venture thrived.

Driven by a shared vision, Genesis and Lorenzo aspired to expand their delectable creations beyond local realms, envisioning national and international acclaim. With an enduring commitment to her father’s legacy, Genesis named the enterprise Lorenzo’s Frozen Pudding. Despite initial successes, the challenge of meeting escalating demand emerged, prompting a pivotal pause. Embracing the lessons of the past, Genesis revitalized the venture in 2020 with a fresh perspective and a determination to overcome previous obstacles.

In her quest for sustainable growth, Genesis turned to the Women’s Business Development Center (WBDC), an organization renowned for empowering women- and minority-owned businesses. Under the WBDC’s guidance, Genesis navigated a transformative path through the Top Shelf: High Volume Growth Insights program. This innovative eight-week curriculum-equipped cohort not only refined her market strategies and pricing models but also connected her with invaluable mentors and retail experts. Supported by committed corporate sponsors like Walgreens, the program ushered Genesis into a realm of newfound opportunities.

Tony Billinger, Walgreens’ Director of Supplier Diversity, lauds the program’s mutually beneficial impact, highlighting the symbiotic growth potential for both emerging enterprises and retail giants. The WBDC’s Cynthia Johnson emphasizes that the program signifies an enduring commitment to sustainable prosperity, fostering not only successful businesses but also community upliftment.

Today, Genesis stands at the helm of a reinvigorated Lorenzo’s Frozen Pudding, gracing the shelves of over 70 Walgreens stores. Her journey exemplifies the profound impact of collaboration, resilience, and unwavering dedication. As she reflects on her remarkable odyssey, Genesis radiates optimism, acknowledging that persistence, guided by a supportive network, can conquer all obstacles. With Walgreens by her side, the horizon remains boundless, beckoning Lorenzo’s Frozen Pudding toward a future brimming with promise.”

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