After coming back home from serving in the U.S. Navy in 2013, Kendrick Boyd dreamed of starting a business but had no idea how to go about it.
“I’m definitely a rookie at this,” the Robbins man said.
That’s why Boyd attended the Minority Entrepreneur Interactive Solution Symposium summit in Robbins, which attracted 400 people.
Robbins Mayor Tyrone Ward said he created the summit to spur minority business growth in the south suburbs by showing what opportunities are available and to encourage business owners to network and help each other.
“Our African American leaders must take notice of the diverse nature of industries in southern Cook County,” he said in a statement. “The public sector is imperative to the success of black entrepreneurship. … I’m confident that this summit will inspire both groups to continue to give back to the communities in which they live and work.”
The summit Friday included guest speakers and presenters, such as Kenneth Lewis Sr., who founded Kenny’s Ribs, Dr. Ansel Johnson who owns Vison Salon Eye Care and civil rights lawyer James Montgomery, who served under Mayor Harold Washington.
Several state and local nonprofit groups also set up booths at the summit to assist entrepreneurs with applying for grants and low-interest loans.
Boyd said the summit at the Robbins Community Center really helped him get a handle on how to start a business.
He said he was looking to start small, such as by designing and selling shirts online and then, hopefully, grow a business from there as a legacy to future generations of his family.
But Boyd said he felt intimidated at the thought of trying to start a business until he found his bearings at the summit.
“When the world seems so big sometimes you just need an extra push,” he said.
It was that kind of encouragement attendees received from speakers, such as Rep. Robin Kelly, D-Matteson, who said several grant opportunities could be found on her website, robinkelly.house.gov/resources/for-businesses.
Derrick Champion, deputy director for the Illinois Office of Minority Economic Empowerment, also had a booth at the event to inform people about other state grants and loan opportunities.
He showed how the office’s Fund for the Advancement of Minority Enterprises program can provide 50 percent of an entrepreneur’s project cost up to $400,000 with a fixed interest rate of 2 percent.
Champion said his office last year hosted 30 workshops throughout the state, mostly in the East St. Louis and Rockford regions, so he was happy to come to the south suburbs to inform about the opportunities.
“I’m really grateful for the leadership of this municipality,” he said.
Vicki Brown, director of the Illinois Small Business Development Center, which recently opened an office in East Hazel Crest, said she was at the event to offer anyone advice who wanted to start a business.
“We help them to develop their thoughts,” she said. “We want them to write their vision.”
The office also provides guidance on how to apply for loans and grants.
Special grants and loans are available for women, minorities and veterans looking to start a business.
Frank Vaisvilas is a freelancer for the Daily Southtown.