Strengthening Communities: Sunshine Enterprises Empowers Chicagoland Entrepreneurs

Read Time: 4 Min
Sunshine Enterprises was founded on the premise that when job opportunities are plentiful, violence decreases, and communities thrive.

This is the driving force behind the Chicago-based nonprofit, which serves rising entrepreneurs in disinvested neighborhoods throughout Chicago.

Sunshine Enterprises began as a program within Sunshine Gospel Ministries, an urban ministry organization that has served Chicago families since 1905. When Sunshine Gospel Ministries moved to Woodlawn, a Southside neighborhood, they were struck by the presence of violence in the community and set out to find a solution.

“Entrepreneurship is a pathway to social change,” says Jair Pinedo, Managing Director of Development and Communications. “With the mantra, ‘Nothing stops a bullet like a job,’ Sunshine Enterprises was born. We’re in the business of helping people create jobs.”

With the goal of transforming Chicagoland through entrepreneurships, Sunshine Enterprises offers the training and support people need to grow their businesses and build up their communities. Since its inception in 2016, the nonprofit has grown to become a thought leader in the business-serving ecosystem.

Train, Coach, Connect

“We always say the entrepreneurs are the real heroes,” Pinedo says. “They’re the ones creating businesses and jobs. We’re just making it easier for them.”

Here’s how they do it: Sunshine Enterprises facilitates a 12-week Community Business Academy where entrepreneurs learn how to start and grow their own business. They also offer three industry-specific cohorts: Construction Trades, Technology, and Arts and Makers.

Sunshine Enterprises supports entrepreneurs throughout the life of their business. Graduates from the Community Business Academy receive continuous support through the nonprofit’s Business Acceleration Services (BAS), which include coaching, microgrants, workshops, and networking.

“Our entrepreneurs are highly talented and capable, but are significantly under-resourced, commonly as a byproduct of where they grew up,” says Pinedo. Sunshine Enterprises typically works with entrepreneurs who come from disinvested communities. 94% of Sunshine Entrepreneurs are African American or Latino, 72% are women, and 78% are in the low to moderate income bracket.

Their program has had a measurable impact on the community: According to their 2020 annual report1 , for every $1 invested in their programs, Sunshine Enterprises generates $5.17 in economic impact.

Helping Entrepreneurs Weather the COVID-19 Storm

Because the population Sunshine Enterprises serves often has limited cash flow, the economic effects of the COVID-19 pandemic hit them hard. “The gig economy was perhaps the most devastated,” says Pinedo. “Most of our entrepreneurs had only enough cash on hand to survive two weeks of devastated revenue – more than three months was not survivable at that rate. It was heartbreaking.”

Fortunately, the nonprofit’s many funders, including Huntington Bank, stepped up during this time to increase funding, sometimes as much as doubling their standard donation. And that money went right back into their community of entrepreneurs, says Pinedo.

Sunshine Enterprises used those extra funds to start a microgrant program to give dozens of entrepreneurs up to $1,000 for any business-related expense, as well as a benevolence fund to give up to $500 grants for any expense, including bills or groceries.

“We just gave it away,” Pinedo says. “A lot of our entrepreneurs reached out individually to thank us. This money made significant difference.”

Thriving Through Partnerships

Sunshine Enterprises has graduated more than 1,000 entrepreneurs and helped more than 200 new businesses start. A contributing factor to their success, says Pinedo, is their willingness to partner with other organizations. “Developing strong relationships with businesses and other business-serving organizations within the community is crucial to growing Sunshine Enterprises’ services,” Pinedo says.

“Humility is very important,” he adds. “Every Community Business Academy is run in partnership. It helps us do more than any organization could do individually.”

Their relationship with Huntington Bank, for example, has allowed them to fund programs and microgrants. A Huntington Bank colleague sits on the organization’s board, which Pinedo says helps keep an open line of communication between Sunshine Enterprises and Huntington Bank. Because Sunshine Enterprises doesn't provide capital directly, they rely on their close business relationships to connect entrepreneurs with the resources they need. Huntington can be a provider to entrepreneurs to access capital, such as credit-building loans, small loans for business development, and real estate lending.

“We’re pretty integrated with each other at this point,” Pinedo says. “Our relationship with Huntington Bank has been very positive and fruitful.”

About the Organization

Name: Sunshine Enterprises
Website: Sunshineenterprises.com
Location: Chicago, Illinois
Phone: (312) 868-0040

Mission: To empower high-potential entrepreneurs living in under resourced neighborhoods to grow their business and transform their communities.

How you can help: To become a community partner, donate service hours, participate in a simulation, or make a philanthropic donation, visit Sunshine Enterprises’ website or call (312) 868-0040.

Sunshine Enterprises, 2020 Annual Report, p.13, accessed January 24, 2022.