DSC_5954by Loop Lonagan

Whadaya think happens when 15,000 people get behind the entrepreneurs in their own neighborhood? Good things—that’s what happens! Energy. Enthusiasm. Stuff gets done! Lemme tell you about it:

This is Loop Lonagan reporting and tonight I’m watchin’ a guy pitch his new venture like a Gospel Preacher workin’ up a frenzy on da pulpit! I hear his bold words. This guy believes in hisself—and why not—he’s growing a thriving business! This is the Arise 2.0 accelerator and it’ll change our city fer the good.

(Hey, this thing gets my Irish up. So ‘scuse me if I don’t sound smooth.)

Arise 2.0 gives Chicago a whole new slant on business. They ain’t here to make a few people rich. No, they build up local business so they can build up da local community. Business is just a means to an end. The goal is healthy neighborhoods, jobs, prosperity all around. That’s the real end game here


Arise already put together all the stuff of success plus a big kicker: They got Investment—half a million in seed money. They got the University o’ Chicago. They got Tony Wilkins from Hyde Park Angels. They got 1871—a great space to birth an accelerator. They got a Ten-Year Action Plan that’ll pump out four new companies every year. Yeah, they got all o’ that. The kicker is da power of 15,000 people from the Salem Baptist Church because Rev. James T. Meeks figured out this great way to help his community.

You wanna bet against them odds? I’m here to take yer money if yer patsy enough to try. We’re talkin’ Free Enterprise nurtured by Da Church. There’s a whole lotta motivation and commitment here. This model could spread across the map!



Tony Wilkins runs the Arise 2.0 Accelerator. I know Tony. He’s smart. I figure him for the brains o’ the operation. Tonight he gives us a story about how to drive success. Lemme say this slow so I get it right. Here it is in his own words:

DSC_5913I’m on my 537th business flight. Southwest Airlines. Isle seat. A gentleman comes in last and squeezes into window seat beside me. He looks jittery and nervous. I ask him, “Are you okay?”

“Sorry sir. This is my first time on a plane, I’m a little nervous.”

“It’s okay,” I say. “It’s fine, don’t worry about it.”

The plane goes up. But half way through the flight, he’s having problems. He’s sweating. He’s fidgeting. I say, “Hey, the hard part’s over. We’re in good shape. The pilot wants to land just as much as we do.”

“I understand, but I had something to eat last night and I have to apologize to you in advance, ‘cause this is not gonna work out well.”

DSC_5914So in my best mentorship mode I say, “You know…there’s a bathroom on the plane.”


So mentorship worked out for him. And it worked out for me.

If people knew better, they’d do better—like my travel companion on Southwest. Everybody’s had somebody in their life who’s made a comment, performed an action, did something that made them say, “I can do that!” So just presenting them with that information is often the most powerful thing in the world.

And they’ll become mentors to successive companies.

DSC_5915Accelerators across the country do the exact same thing. We bring in mentors who, because they once had mentors, come and say, “I’ll spend an hour and a half. I’ll spend an evening. I’ll sit and talk to these companies.” And many stick with them. It gives folks a higher perspective.

Tony also passes on the knowledge to run a business: How to hire and fire. Marketing. Funding. Legal. Operations. Pitch practice. “But,” he says, “the most important thing is mentors because that means contacts and business relationships and exposure to risk capital so these businesses can expand, become sustainable and scale. If you remove barriers to mentorship and capital, good things happen. We don’t know exactly what’s gonna happen—we’re just gonna have good things happen.” .


Church Business

I figure all o’ youse is wondering about the same thing. The Church and business working together? DSC_6147“Absolutely!” says Jamell Meeks, the pastor’s wife who oversees this bold initiative. “The Bible says where your treasure is your heart will be. So you can know a person’s heart by where they put their treasure.” I gotta read that book fer myself. Father Lonagan always said to leave it to da professionals, but I dunno. Maybe I sound ignorant once in a while. But I hate to actually be ignorant.

DSC_6133David Storch from AAR CORP is backing Arise with piles o’ da green stuff. “It’s the entrepreneurs that make things happen,” he says. “They’re the lifeblood of the community. Politicians talk about buzzwords like education. But it’s really hard to talk about that when you don’t have food on the table or a roof over your head. But if you touch more people, you will build more successful businesses, which will create jobs, stimulate the economy, allow for education, which creates equality, creates opportunity, which we desperately need as a city, as a nation.

Steve Rogers from da Harvard School o’ Business once said, “The transformation of a community really begins with people within the community becoming great entrepreneurs.”

After that great quote, Pastor Miles Dennis of Second Baptist says, DSC_5995“We’ve almost forgotten—forgotten that entrepreneurship is the great transforming agent to turn around our communities. They will change lives and yes, they will employ many people. They will help others to become entrepreneurs. The entrepreneurial spirit is alive!” .


Da Companies

Da competition fer each spot is super fierce. A thousand companies wanted in but they whittled it down to these four. These is Chicago-style companies—small outfits with allota upside and da gumption to grow. Lemme tell you a little about ‘em:


DSC_5939THE FROCK SHOP—Chicago’s Designer Rental Service

Jennifer Burrell

Visit their website [click here]

How come us guys can rent tuxedos but da women gotta buy them fancy dresses? And after a gal spreads her photo all over Facebook, she won’t wear that dress again. But there’s something about da confidence beautiful designer dresses give women. Gals used to buy an outfit, hide da tag then return it after an event. But nowadays the department stores is wise. So Frock Shop’s got the rental business figured out and they’re thriving. They’re gonna use online sales to scale fast. Jennifer says, “Visit the Frock Shop where you can borrow the dress and keep the memory.” .



Ted & Reena Williams

Visit their website [click here]

89% of seniors prefer to stay home and age gracefully. 30% need some kinda help. This company goes into the home, cooks meals, gives meds, does laundry and housekeeping, takes ‘em to the doctor, and acts as companions—a whole lot more service than the usual rent-a-nurse. And that means you can spend quality time with yer parents during those last years. They already got a contract with the veteran’s administration and they partnered with the Cancer Foundation. This one’s creating jobs. .




Brian Smith

This is a traditional baking operation, but when this guy describes eating his dinner rolls, it makes yer mouth water. They already sell at 18 Chicago outlets. Competitive advantages: Better product. No middleman. Direct from oven to the store. Their direct competitors each do $137M a year and Ma’s Best outsells them 2:1 wherever they get shelf space. Industry as a whole is $115B. As Brian puts it, “That’s a lot of bread.” .




Kenya Mercer

Visit their website [click here]

Kids do lousy in school ‘cause they’re bored. Kenya says, “Let’s give our kids the core academic values and let them have fun doing what they love—all at the same time.” So they teach literacy, leadership, and physical fitness as one program. And they get double-digit gains in literacy, fitness, and leadership on da assessment tests. This one plans to expand nationwide. .



Salem Baptist Church LogoSALEM BAPTIST CHURCH

Pastor James T Meeks

……………………………………………..Visit their website [click here]


DSC_5921ARISE 2.0

Tony Wilkins

Visit their website [click here]



The accelerator strategy has three distinct components:

  • Remove barriers to mentorship.
  • Give broader perspective, contacts, and knowledge.
  • Structure risk capital to expand.

Check ‘em out. Maybe be a mentor. Maybe an investor. But don’t sit on yer hands—da future’ll pass you by. .


Loop Lonagan’s articles are verbatim as told to John Jonelis

Photography by John Jonelis

Chicago Venture Magazine is a publication of Nathaniel Press Comments and re-posts in full or in part are welcomed and encouraged if accompanied by attribution and a web link. This is not investment advice. We do not guarantee accuracy. It’s not our fault if you lose money. .Copyright © 2014 John Jonelis – All Rights Reserved . .


Filed under Characters, Education, Entrepreneur, Entrepreneurship, High Tech, Low Tech, Politics, Poverty, Relationships, Startup Companies, Startups

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