September 23, 2020

The Power of We

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wning a small business in today’s corporate America, a world increasingly obsessed with lower prices and convenience, is hard work, a never ending battle against the Amazons and Walmarts of the world. 

The success or failure of a small business often depends, perhaps unsurprisingly, on the person who runs it. Business ownership requires mastering and balancing a variety of skills and processes in order to succeed, including strategic planning, managing finances, digital marketing, and establishing proper sales processes. Balancing the disparate areas of a business is challenging, particularly for an independent entrepreneur. These difficulties are only amplified by the public health crisis that we are currently facing.

Fortunately, the choice to operate a business independently does not have to mean going it alone. There are regional organizations that work to provide you and your business with the support services you need. This critical network of Business First Responders was recently highlighted in the Business Ledger’s article, “Working Together to Keep Business as Usual”. At Innovation DuPage, we have found there is power in working together.

Pre-Pandemic Collaboration

Innovation DuPage is a Glen Ellyn based nonprofit, created to make the region’s entrepreneurial support services more accessible to entrepreneurs. In its first year in business, ID focused on connecting business owners to regional resources. This gives entrepreneurs the ability to grow their organization at a faster pace without the steep price tag. With the rise of COVID-19, these support services are now in even greater demand.

Gray Matters Games (GMG), a board game company and inaugural ID member, is the perfect example of what these ID partnerships are able to accomplish. They worked with students in a marketing and strategy class at Elmhurst University on a launch plan for their game “Office Decathlon.” Through this relationship, GMG also hired a marketing intern from the College. 

At the College of DuPage (COD), GMG collaborated with a team of students from the graphic design program and brought their latest game “Alphabet Race” from concept to testing stage. This connection also led the company to a new hire – a brilliant design contractor who’s been helping them on a number of projects. But that’s not all. Through ID, GMG linked up with the Executive MBA program at Northern Illinois University to create an international marketing plan. This will give GMG an opportunity to diversify their offerings and expand their retail footprint.

Operating a business under normal circumstances is challenging. But imagine opening up a storefront in the midst of COVID-19. When the world turned upside down in the pandemic, and customers’ method of purchasing goods changed overnight, business partners and community relationships helped keep companies afloat. Regional economic development organizations came together to offer business owners a ‘breath of fresh air’ when the concept of a ‘new normal’ became inescapable.

Operating in a Time of Dramatic Change

“Collaboration between regional workforce boards like workNet DuPage, economic development agencies like Choose DuPage and College of DuPage’s Business Development Center (BDC) is critical. These entities are working with regional chambers of commerce, the business incubator Innovation DuPage (ID) and a number of colleges and universities to continue the necessary support of the small businesses that are impacted most during these uncertain times.”

As the COVID-19 crisis enveloped the country, the COD Business Development Center was the first on the front lines to assist businesses in our community. The rush for financial relief was focused on “[helping] companies apply for payroll protection, business loans and develop contingency plans”. Since the pandemic's start, they have assisted hundreds of clients and have run countless webinars. They are a lifeline of support at a time when assistance is needed more than ever before.

Choose DuPage similarly took up the call to action. When the federal government’s dollars allocated toward the Payment Protection Program (PPP) and the Emergency Disaster Injury Loans (EDIL) dried up, small business owners had few places to turn to. Choose DuPage and DuPage County’s response was to launch the Small Business Relief Program. County businesses were given an opportunity to apply for grants that assisted with employee retention payroll, utilities and rent. The relief program was meant for businesses with less than 15 employees, and gave small business owners another opportunity to stay afloat.

The County’s workforce development agency, workNet DuPage, immediately took action to assist small businesses as well. They provided employers with training assistance to retrain their internal talent pool, assisted with recruitment support efforts, and offered a number of resources to assist business owners. They performed all of these functions all whilst helping job seekers connect with funding for job training and aiding laid-off workers in applying for unemployment insurance.

The list of support services goes on and on. What is most important is not the individual work that these organizations have carried out, but rather the collective effort behind them. Though none of these organizations can fully mitigate the impact of this global pandemic, together they are able to minimize the long-term repercussions. 

Inclusion of Diverse Communities

Minority communities continue to suffer from this public health and economic crisis disproportionately, and lack the accessibility to necessary support services. Resources and programs to help bolster their businesses will help to increase employment and financial opportunities for POC communities. All organizations must work to make their work more inclusive, diverse, and accessible.

The COD Continuing Education department, BDC and ID are collaborating on English Learning Acquisition Integrated Career and Academic Preparation System (ELA ICAPS) business classes. Program participants are first-generation immigrants who either have established businesses or are aspiring entrepreneurs. The course covers vital business topics including leadership, strategic planning, finance and sales. Participants also receive incubation services from Innovation DuPage that includes 24/7 access to our coworking space (under ‘normal’ circumstances), mentorship and webinars/workshops. Though this program was originally slated to take place in-person, the necessary adjustments were made to continue delivery of high-quality instruction online.

The Construction Industry Owner-to-CEO program is a collaborative effort put forth by the Hispanic American Construction Industry Association (HACIA) and ID. This offering is geared towards assisting POC, female and veteran-owned construction businesses, as the construction industry has been hit particularly hard by the pandemic. The program covers topics including the contract bid process, project management, insurance, bonding, and finance. Paving a path toward recovery will not be easy for any of these businesses. It will require an increased understanding of their industry, connections to new opportunities, and support from peers and mentors. These are the very tenets of the Owner-to-CEO program, and what we intend to foster at Innovation DuPage.

An Eye Toward the Future

Though social distancing keeps us physically further apart, regional economic development agencies and partners are coming closer together than ever before. Together, we are dedicated to serving the entrepreneurial community. We will continue our work to bring you the high-quality programs you need. No matter what new challenges arise, we at Innovation DuPage will be here to help guide you through this difficult time.

The small business community is made up of our neighbors, friends and family members. When the community comes together with a resolve to adapt and innovate, the Power of We is boundless.

Innovation DuPage (ID) is a non-profit venture that unites entrepreneurs and small business owners with the people, resources and programs that help them grow. We connect our members with vetted mentors who can help establish a strong foundation as they rapidly scale. Connect with us on our website, Instagram, LinkedIn, Facebook or call 630-942-3340 to discuss your next steps.

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