ROCKFORD (WREX) – A vacant building in Rockford will soon be home to a local nonprofit. The donated space will be converted into a business accelerator for minorities and women for the organization “Think Big”, which promotes minority entrepreneurship.
Peter Provenzano, CEO and President of SupplyCore Inc. and Joseph James Partners, along with his wife Heather, donated the 20,000 square foot building at 1311 N. Main Street to the City of Rockford.
The Provenzanos said they wanted the building to be put to good use, and teaching minorities how to excel in the business world made perfect sense.
The city will cover the cost of building interior renovations and is expected to pay $250,000 over the next five years to help Think Big operate.
“We are committed to removing barriers that prevent minorities from growing and developing businesses,” said Sheila Hill, co-founder of Think Big. “This facility will provide small business, retail, financial empowerment opportunities, incubator spaces and events that create a sense of belonging for our minority business community.”
But the city has already set up programs like BUSINESSFirst to help start-ups get on the right foot. So why do minority entrepreneurs still face challenges and what do they need to fill the gaps?
Rockford Mayor Tom McNamara says what sets Think Big apart is the resources to sustain businesses and help them reach their full potential.
“It creates a one stop shop where not only will they get the education and knowledge they need to start and grow their business, but for brand new retailers, there will also be retail space that they sell goods here,” Mayor McNamara said. “Being able to start small, really test the market, see what works, see how things go, and then expand is really a smart way, to do that.”
McNamara hopes that a multitude of minority entrepreneurs will take note of this new resource and take a leap into Rockford because they will feel welcome and supported.
Jamar Luster, owner of Ripe Life Juice Co., says he faced difficulties trying to open his first brick and mortar business. He said it was difficult to get access to all the different authorities needed to get the right licenses.
He hopes Think Bi will provide the right tools and training so the next batch of business owners can easily learn how to get grants, how to keep up with changes in politics and technology, and how to grow to meet the changing needs of the to do justice to communities.
“I feel like there has to be a way for the minority community to have a more active voice downtown and their involvement in the business community,” Luster said, explaining what can be improved to help minority businesses thrive.
Hill says Think Big’s goal is to lease the space at 1311 N. Main Street by January 2023.