#SBDC Day Q&A: How Will the New Small Business Development Center at the Polsky Exchange Help Chicago’s South Side?

Polsky Exchange Open House September 8, 2022. (photo by John Zich)

SBDC Day, held this year on March 15, is an annual celebration of the nation’s 1,000 Small Business Development Centers (SBDCs), a network of federally-funded sites that provide no-cost, one-one-on confidential business advice to entrepreneurs and small business owners.

Illinois’ newest SBDC is set to open in the coming months in the Polsky Exchange, a University of Chicago initiative that offers free workspace and entrepreneurship programming to local business owners unaffiliated with the school. This SBDC will be the first resource on Chicago’s South Side dedicated to supporting owners of professional services and technology businesses, offering assistance on everything from business plans to marketing strategies to help them grow revenue, create jobs, and boost the economic vitality of their communities.

To mark SBDC Day, Polsky Exchange Executive Director Abigail Ingram shared the thinking behind the new center and what she hopes it brings to the neighborhoods surrounding UChicago.

Why is the Polsky Exchange the right place to have an SBDC?

Logistically, our central location on the vibrant 53rd Street corridor is close to transit and great restaurants and retail. The Polsky Exchange also has a suite of resources at no cost for business owners utilizing the SBDC, from workspace to mentors to programs – and the only Fabrication Lab open to the community on the South Side.

Why is this SBDC focused on professional services and technology businesses? Will business owners outside of those categories be able to access its services?

Professional services businesses are particularly important engines for the local economy because they serve businesses across industries, and they have unique needs. The SBDC at the Polsky Exchange specializes in serving professional services and tech businesses, but all small business owners are welcome!

What services will the SBDC offer?

Workshops on starting and running a business in Illinois, as well as events tailored to small business owners, will be offered in addition to our major purpose: offering dedicated staff time to meet and share resources with business owners seeking to run their businesses more efficiently, effectively, and with a mindset for growth.

How were the nine neighborhoods to be served by the SBDC selected? Can a business outside of those zip codes use its services?

The Polsky Exchange serves a focus area of Douglas, Grand Boulevard, Greater Grand Crossing, Hyde Park, Kenwood, Oakland, South Shore, Washington Park, and Woodlawn, and the SBDC will serve these neighborhoods as well – in addition to any Illinois business seeking the SBDC’s services.

How do you think this SBDC will help the economy on Chicago’s South Side?

Professionals on the South Side are Doing. It. All! Many times, professional services businesses start with one service provider launching a business and serving as its marketer, accountant, sales staff, and all other business functions – in addition to actually performing the services. We aim to help introduce systems, automations, connections, and advice that will help business owners take on more customers and hire or contract for functions outside of their areas of expertise. When one business runs more efficiently by hiring other businesses to execute on other functions, that business has the time to make more money – and that rising tide will bring more funds into businesses across the ecosystem.

What are your goals for the center? What will success look like?

We aim to serve one hundred small business owners over the next year, and we will measure our success in our impact on business owners. Every sale, increase in revenue and profitability, and new hire is a win.

Who do you hope to hire as director for the SBDC? What experience and qualities are you looking for?

Our SBDC Director should have experience as an entrepreneur/supporting entrepreneurs. We have expertise across Polsky staff in small business operations, primarily because many of us have run our own businesses. We are seeking a candidate who understands the stress, freedom, and excitement that business owners face daily.

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