Chicago small-business incubator opens in Englewood to help young entrepreneurs thrive

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Thursday, April 11, 2024
Small-business incubator helps young entrepreneurs on South Side
A Chicago small-business incubator in the Male Mogul Initiative's Co-llab program opened Thursday in Englewood to help young entrepreneurs thrive.

CHICAGO (WLS) -- There is a program on the city's South Side designed to help young men of color succeed.

The program is called Co-llab, and it was launched by a Chicago mentoring group started by a former NFL player and high school teacher.

The Co-llab warehouse is a first of its kin effort to help Black and brown youth become business owners. It opened Thursday in the Englewood neighborhood.

The name Co-llab is a combination of collaboration and lab. The space occupies two floors in a building near 60th and Wentworth Avenue.

The program is the brainchild of former NFL player and high school history teacher, Walter Mendenhall. He's the founder of a not-for-profit mentoring and entrepreneurial program, the Male Mogul Initiative, or MMI.

We're trying to provide opportunity and give them something that they can monetize, which is their creativity.
Walter Mendenhall

MMI started in a local church with just five kids in 2017, and since then it has had about 3,000 participants and has created over 200 jobs.

"A lot of times a lot of young men make mistakes based on monetary situations, and we're here to provide solutions to that to combat the problem," Mendenhall said.

He said with roughly 45% of African-Americans age 18 to 24 not in school or working, he hopes to create a community wealth business eco system.

"I was 15, and I didn't really have a lot of positive male influences in my life, so when Walt came in, it was kind of like a dream come true," Co-llab manager and MMi graduate Jaurice Winston said.

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The initiative offers machinery to print and manufacture products, like clothing and art, storefronts and workshops. There is also access to experts in finance, branding and marketing.

"This space is amazing," said Dorian Robinson with Chicago Hope Academy. "Those students who want to be into fashion and have their own brand and their own company."

At least a half dozen young men of color from male mentorship and development organization have already developed their own clothing line. I Am A Gentlemen plans on using the space.

"Six weeks later, we're here in the new Co-llab space that's going to allow those young men to really share their creativity and monetize their ideas," I Am A Gentleman Executive Director Jermaine Lawrence Anderson.

The Co-llab does charge a small monthly membership fee of $20, but the roughly $100,000 cost of the initiative is largely shouldered by corporations and foundations.

"I fell in love with the work that he is doing to pour into the lives of youth in our communities," MIGMIR fund senior program officer Stephanie Townsell.

By the end of the year, the Co-llab hopes to have close to 120 members.

"We're trying to provide that light," Mendenhall said. "We're trying to provide opportunity and give them something that they can monetize, which is their creativity."

Big things will happen this summer. Not only are they recruiting for the incubator and a drone and tech summer camp, but they're also helping folks get summer jobs.