New Funding Expands Tech Access to South Side Entrepreneurs at the Polsky Exchange

The Polsky Exchange is a 34,000-square-foot startup incubator featuring work and meeting spaces, a Fabrication Lab for prototyping physical products, and a full calendar of programming and workshops designed to help entrepreneurs launch and grow their ventures.

As part of the Polsky Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation at the University of Chicago, the Polsky Exchange leads the Chicago Tech Equity Desk – connecting South Side entrepreneurs with the tools they need to grow their businesses.

The initiative is backed by GET (Gender Equality in Tech) Cities and supported by their Tech Equity Working Group (TEWG), which was organized in 2021 with the goal of increasing BIPOC and gender diversity in entrepreneurship in Chicago.

The TEWG today announced that it is deploying $1 million to scale five successful pilot programs, including the Chicago Tech Equity Desk at the Polsky Exchange.

With additional support from Verizon, this year’s initiative consists of two parts: the E-Commerce Learning Lab, which brings e-commerce training and fulfillment support to 20 products-based businesses through 37 Oaks, and the Web Dev Shop, which will supply 12 businesses a grant for upgraded web services, web design, and digital storytelling through contracts with diverse tech vendors.

“Access to tech that expands markets, automates repetitive tasks, and engages customers creates capacity for growth in South Side businesses. We are proud to partner with GET Cities, 37 Oaks, and Verizon to bring tech enablement resources and grants to talented founders at the Polsky Exchange,” said Abigail Ingram, executive director of the Polsky Exchange.

The Tech Equity Desk will place 20 University of Chicago student interns in local South Side businesses to further help founders tech enable their internal processes or amplify their digital presence. Beyond the immediate impact on the estimated 52 businesses participating in this iteration of the Tech Equity Desk, the broader business community will be invited to attend events and lectures on tech enablement as an integral part of growth strategy for new and growing ventures.

“At GET, our ambition is to build a just and inclusive tech economy where all humans have equal access to opportunities and the resources to achieve their full potential. A core organizing principle of our work is collaboration and TEWG is exemplar of that commitment. Collectively, partners across this ecosystem came together, to co-create human-centered solutions that accrue directly to the benefit of underestimated technologists and founders, test them, pivot according to the lessons learned during experimentation and then move them to scale,” said Leslie Lynn Smith, National Director of GET Cities.

“I am blown away by the curiosity, creativity and courage exhibited by this coalition and heartened to see the speed and scale of this work which is already having a tangible impact on the humans we collectively seek to serve and creating the just and inclusive Chicagoland region we imagine,” she added.

The other pilot programs receiving funding include Chicago Venture Fellows (Chicago:Blend), TechRise and TechChicago (P33), Travel Funding and Entrepreneur Exchange (World Business Chicago), and Venture Engine Executive Founders Series (Illinois Science and Technology Coalition).

“We are hopeful that the significant seed investment made by GET Cities into the TEWG coalition and their co-designed interventions will continue to attract the attention of regional and national investors committed to economic justice who will leverage these early investments and carry this work forward sustainably ensuring that this critical work can continue to fill gaps and move equity, inclusion, belonging and justice across the region for years to come, while acting as a model for the national ecosystem system,” said Smith.

SecondMuse and Break Through Tech partnered with Pivotal Ventures, the investment and incubation company created by Melinda Gates, to launch Gender Equality in Tech (GET) Cities in 2020.

According to GET Cities, only 24% of tech jobs in Chicago are held by women, and only 3% and 4% are held by Latinx and Black women, respectively. By 2024, GET Cities’ goal is to increase these numbers as well as transparency around data so other cities will follow suit.

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