Meet Our Clients
Accion provided 392 loans to entrepreneurs in Illinois and Indiana in 2017. Read the stories of seven of those small business owners below. They are creating jobs and making a difference in their communities.
Shirley's House of Styles | West Garfield Park, Chicago, IL
Hair has always been a family business for Shirley; her son, granddaughter, and niece all work for her in her West Garfield Park barber shop, Shirley’s House of Styles. Shirley worked for Lord and Taylor for 13 years, but always dreamed of starting her own business. “I never thought it would happen,” she recalls, but now Shirley’s shop is an icon in the West Garfield Park community where she has been located for nearly ten years.
Shirley first met Accion in 2014 through her local Alderman after she was awarded a grant from the City of Chicago’s Small Business Improvement Fund to modernize the interior and exterior of her salon. The loan she received in 2014 helped her begin construction on her salon before the grant funds came in. “I was just so glad to meet Accion,” Shirley said. “They’ve always gone above and beyond to make things happen for me.”
In 2017, Shirley received a $6,000 Accion loan to install new pipes in the sink and shampoo area. “This is a community barber shop. Being here, in West Garfield Park, how you present yourself and your business is very important. Even though this building is old, that doesn’t stop me. I’m always looking for ways to improve it. Next thing up is the floor.”
As Shirley reflected back on her nine years of owning a small business, she had this piece of advice for other entrepreneurs: "Don't give up. No matter how business looks right now, even if it feels like the worst, nothing lasts forever. Every challenge has an expiration date."
Heritage Real Estate | Merrillville, IN
Binika Henderson worked in sales for three years after graduating college, but she couldn’t stand doing the same thing every day; “I needed to take command over my schedule.” In 2007, Binika did just that. She quit her sales job, got licensed in realty, and started working for a large real estate company. It took her six months to sell her first house—to her parents—but there was a thrill to that process that deepened her drive to launch her own business.
But Binika's dreams were put on pause in 2008 when the market crashed. She found herself in a great deal of debt, and she wasn’t selling enough to support herself. "I was forced to file bankruptcy in 2010; it was the worst experience of my life.”
Over time, she recovered. She stayed in real estate and eventually saved enough to purchase a rental property. The monthly rent payments she collected were enough to cover her bills, so she didn’t have to stress so much about business. It gave her the security and confidence she needed to finally branch out on her own.
“I realized that my clients [from the large firm I was working for] weren’t coming for the company, they were coming for me. And the company was taking more than 40% of my commission, so I needed to get out and do my own thing.” In 2013, Heritage Real Estate was born.
“We were closing deals left and right, so I hired my first commission-only employee. Things really began to take off." As the business grew, so too did her need for financing. She was introduced to Accion by Cindy Bertram at the Purdue Small Business Development Center and received a $12,000 loan in 2017 to build out her office space, expand her technology, and cover salaries for her employees. Heritage Real Estate has expanded their services and now purchases and “flips” houses while maintaining the property management and sales divisions.
Top Quality Delivery of Chicago | Pilsen, Chicago, IL
Alberto Tapia immigrated from Mexico to Chicago when he was about 20 years old. He worked in a factory during his early years in Chicago but was always entrepreneurial-minded—he knew that he wanted to work for himself. So he set out to do just that. He launched Top Quality Delivery of Chicago in 2015 and began to do contract deliveries out of a seat-less passenger van.
Before Alberto came to Accion his daughter became very ill. In order to care for her, Alberto racked up a lot of medical debt and, unable to pay that debt, he lost his home. It took many years, but Alberto’s finances bounced back, and his daughter made a full recovery. He was having a hard time getting traditional financing for his business given his foreclosure, but Accion was able to provide a $5,000 loan for working capital in 2016. Alberto still wanted more—he wanted to go big—so he began to save his money.
Once he had a good amount saved, he approached Accion again. He quickly received $10,000 to purchase a big rig and trailer, taking his delivery service business to a whole new level. He was able to pass the passenger van on to his son who continues the legacy of the business.
The situation which faced Alberto in 2016 is a common experience for many Accion clients; many entrepreneurs experience hardship or unexpected setbacks that make traditional financing hard to come by. Accion offers a solution. “Alberto is the reason we do what we do at Accion,” says Alex Ruiz, Manager of Community Lending. “There’s always more to the story. We saw a foreclosure on Alberto’s record, and instead of saying ‘no’, we took the time to ask ‘what happened’. We always search for the full story, and in Alberto’s case, we were able to help. The role we played for Alberto was a very small one, but it was important to him at the time. And now, his business is booming.”
Pink Sugar Bakery | Pittsfield, IL
In 2011, Alexis Moore moved her family to Pittsfield, IL and into her grandmother’s house after she had passed away. The first floor of the house is a retail space, and the building is located on the main street of the town’s business corridor; a perfect location for launching (and parking) a food truck business.
Alexis first opened her food truck, Pink Sugar Bakery, in 2016. “My husband is a disabled veteran, so we really needed the extra support financially.” The business grew quickly and created more stability for her family.
“The business is growing too fast now. I struggle to keep up with the demand.” Her baked goods are sold from the truck but also in Pittsfield’s convenience store, antique shop, and two local gift shops. “Small towns are where it’s at,” Alexis says.
Alexis received a $1,200 Credit Builder loan from Accion in 2017 to buy bulk inventory; “it’s so much cheaper that way”, she says, “and Accion was so great to work with.” Alexis has big plans for Pink Sugar Bakery’s future. She intends to hire two employees to help meet demand, and she hopes to convert the main floor of the building, which was once a doctor’s office, into a production area and convert the garage into a retail shop and café.
meet alan and noah
Viet Nom Nom | Evanston, IL
Alan and Noah met through a mutual friend, and it was a match made in heaven. Together they launched Viet Nom Nom—a Vietnamese restaurant offering fresh, local, and simple menu items—which first began in April 2015. The pair originally operated out of Now We're Cooking, a food incubator in Evanston, and then opened their own doors in June 2017.
Alan and Noah share a passion for entrepreneurship and a desire for creating something tangible. “We both wanted to do really awesome work in the community. It just happens to be that we do it through food.”
Alan was born and raised in Chicago. He has lifelong experience in the service industry as his parents owned a Chinese-American restaurant when he was young. Noah is from Dallas but shares a strong background in hospitality—he held many restaurant jobs and started a bed and breakfast in Colombia with his wife in 2010.
“Neither of us had owned or operated a restaurant before. We both grew up in them, but it’s different as an employee. Being the final decision maker is a lot of pressure,” said Alan. Noah adds that “we learned a lot along the way: permitting, health codes, real estate, etc. It’s not rocket science, but it’s not easy.”
They first heard of Accion through the Now We’re Cooking incubator where they met Natalie Shmulik, former employee at the incubator and now CEO of The Hatchery Chicago. After working closely with Accion, Alan and Noah received a $50,000 loan to build out their restaurant location in Evanston. “I’ve worked with a lot of lenders, in fact I used to work in lending, and I was taught first-hand what it’s like to provide white-glove service. Accion takes that further. Small business lending is such a wildly intricate operation that’s very personal, and Accion provided way more understanding than I could have ever imagined.”
Viet Nom Nom has built strong reciprocal relationships with community organizations and businesses in and around Evanston, including Northwestern University, and they partner with area nonprofits by donating products and proceeds. “Giving back is intrinsic to the DNA of this company.”
Sahan Motherland | Hyde Park, Chicago, IL
Akroma moved to the Unites States from the Ivory Coast in 1990 with her husband, Sekou. “Everybody wants to come to the United States,” she says. “You know, America for Africans is a dream land. It’s where everybody wants to be. And I’m a dreamer.” They lived in New York City for three years before relocating to Chicago after one of her regular clients suggested that she could be really successful doing natural hair there. The two opened up their salon and spa, Sahan Motherland, in Hyde Park in 1994 and have been there ever since.
“I have always done hair, and I’ve done threading for 25 years, but when I moved to Chicago I fell in love with the skin.” Akroma went to school and studied skin diseases and disorders and now specializes in skin care for her clients. She also offers waxing services and hopes to soon add nail services and wigs to the menu of offerings.
When Akroma needed a business loan to build out a new room in her spa, she went to her banker just around the corner from her store. “Jeffery, their banker at Fifth Third Bank, was a strong referral partner to Accion and knew Akroma and Sekou well since they had personal and business bank accounts there. He wasn’t able to provide them a loan, but he sent them to me, and we were able to help them,” says Zoe Fullem, a Community Lender at Accion.
They received an $8,000 loan to buy supplies and furniture for the new room in their salon, but quickly experienced a major setback. “The person who was working for me stole everything. Insurance reimbursed me for what I had lost, but I have to put it all together again, and that’s really set me back.” Akroma depends on independent contractors she hires to help pay her business rent each month, but she says that finding trustworthy talent is the hardest part of business right now. “Accion was the best to even allow me to have the loan. But I’m a fighter. I just fight to stay on top.”
When asked to describe an important lesson she’s learned over the years of being a business owner, she said this: “You have to be a good steward of what you get. You have to know how to manage your finances. Be grateful, use your talents the best that you know how, make it the way that you love it.”
Janell Elise Zip 'N Fit | West Town, Chicago, IL
Janell’s passion for fitness and fun is infectious. Her business, Janell Elise Zip ‘N Fit, is a fitness studio and fashion boutique. “When you look good, you feel good. So I focus on fitness and fashion because both play a big role in confidence and performance.”
Janell was born in Chicago, but both her parents are from Puerto Rico, and the pride for her heritage and love for her family comes through in everything she does. “My parents have always been my biggest cheerleaders. They developed this work ethic I have, and they are my biggest support system. They’re the reason I am where I am today.”
Zip ‘N Fit launched in 2015, but Janell had been working in fitness long before then; she trained kids for 13 years and then transitioned to working with high school and college athletes. Now, she works mostly with adults. “The athletes I worked with before needed to perform but also wanted to look good. My clients now are mostly executives, so they need to look good but also want to perform. That’s how fitness and fashion go hand-in-hand. For example, all my clients have clear goals in mind. I take measurements, we set goals together, and we work towards something specific, often an event. And once they get their bodies in shape, I work with them to get their style in shape too.”
The opening of her own location hasn't been easy. Janell says that running her own space is very different than renting space like she used to—she says that balancing the management of the business with her passion can be tough.
Janell was referred to Accion by Omar Duque at the Illinois Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. She received a $15,000 loan to purchase equipment and furniture for her studio. Now, she’s working with Rowan Richards, Accion’s Director of Business Coaching and Connections to analyze data and forecast for the business, something Janell doesn’t love doing. “It’s gross,” Janell says, “but I love that coaching is something Accion provides.”