Northeastern Illinois University opened the first physical location of the Business Innovation & Growth (BIG) Center at the Jacob H. Carruthers Center for Inner City Studies (CCICS), 700 E. Oakwood Blvd. in Chicago. An invitation-only ribbon-cutting ceremony was held on May 4, 2023, followed by entrepreneurs in the BIG Center’s "Become Your Own Boss" business planning cohort participating in “The BIG Pitch,” an evening of new business plan presentations in CCICS’s Donn F. Bailey Legacy Hall.
This brand new space, located on the first floor of the historic CCICS building—formerly known as the Abraham Lincoln Center—is ready to make business dreams a reality.
“The BIG Center has a history at Northeastern of being an incubator business program and serves our diverse population of students and entrepreneurs,” President Gloria J. Gibson said. “Through the BIG Center, we get to influence not only student learning outcomes, but help guide them on a path to their future careers and help shape the future of the greater multicultural business community.”
Decades of research have shown that entrepreneurs of color face severe barriers regarding the three fundamental areas critical to business success: business management education, access to financing, and access to markets. All three are addressed at the BIG Center.
With the support of a Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity Office of Minority Economic Empowerment (OMEE) grant, funds to renovate the space were dedicated to meet the demand for BIG Center services and provide adequate facilities for the incubator. Renovations provided meeting, co-working and instructional space, as well as two offices for one-on-one coaching and technical assistance. Additionally, an Americans with Disabilities Act-compliant, energy and water-efficient all-gender restroom was reconstructed. Technology infrastructure upgrades include wireless internet access, web conferencing and a touchscreen media center for entrepreneurs working, learning and building their businesses at CCICS.
“This program has been a win-win for our students and the community,” said Dean of the College of Business and Technology (CBT) Michael Bedell. “The College of Business and Technology has had the opportunity to help entrepreneurs and family businesses in the communities we serve by providing student interns and faculty from an AACSB-accredited institution to help these entrepreneurs shape the plans for their high-growth businesses.”
The BIG Center at CCICS will generate public benefits for the surrounding Bronzeville community.
“Launching the BIG Center at CCICS is very significant as it will continue to provide opportunities in a physical space to engage, learn and build the community,” said Interim Director of CCICS Akua Cason. “We are excited about being a hub of support for the sustainability of entrepreneurs in the area and the various Black Businesses that are growing in Bronzeville.”
Entrepreneurs and their businesses will help create jobs for residents, which can generate benefits to the local business ecosystem by fueling related businesses that support the new venture. This virtuous cycle of business creation and stimulation of related enterprises has the potential to create more jobs in communities in Chicago and beyond.
“I am thrilled to be leading the future of business development through the community-focused Business Innovation & Growth Center,” said Jessica Mueller, the executive director of Adult Education, Advancement and Business Innovation at the CBT. “It has been nothing short of amazing to build out this Center as well as lead hopeful founders on their new business ventures!”
Top photo: A photo of Interim Provost and Vice President of Academic Affairs Andrea Evans, President Gloria J. Gibson, Dean of CBT Michael Bedell, Executive Director of Adult Education, Advancement and Business Innovation at the CBT Jessica Mueller and Interim Director of CCICS Akua Cason during the ribbon cutting ceremony for the BIG Center on May 4, 2023.