A new grant program wants to give women entrepreneurs a helping hand in growing their businesses.
Initially a pilot program in the GET Cities Chicago Tech Equity Working Group, the Chicago Tech Desk aims to jumpstart, accelerate and fund more Chicago tech startups with founders who are women, trans, nonbinary, Black, Indigenous, Latino, people of color and LGBTQ+.
This year, the Chicago Digital Equity Fund and Tech Desk offered $5,000 technology grants to seven participants in the DePaul’s Women in Entrepreneurship Institute Accelerator Program.
Used to help the businesses with their tech enablement needs such as digital marketing, social media channels, e-commerce integration or other tech-related services, the grant money is already starting to pay off for some.
Pastry Chef Lori P and her business that she owns and operates, Cakewalk Chicago, for example, just got a big boost from the Chicago Tech Desk, and she plans to use the money to “level up” her technology.
“The grant will be amazing,” she said. “There is no team behind me to work on tech support, so what I’ll be able to do with the grant is to update our POS system, which will allow me to engage the customer loyalty program to keep track of purchases and reward those customers who shop with us.”
She said the Chicago Tech Desk is a "beautiful thing" because it helped her connect with other like-minded women entrepreneurs to help improve her business.
Located at 1741 W. 99th St. in the South Side, Cakewalk Chicago offers essential supplies for the modern baker — supplies that may not be so easy to find elsewhere.
Parrett envisions her in-person retail cake decorating and sugar artistry supply store to serve a niche market of people who love to bake, including bakers, cake decorators, candy makers and more.
“What we’re finding is that our customers are underemployed or people who don’t want to a traditional gig, [and] what they do want to do is bake,” she said.
Tina Wong, founder of Grace + Ivory, is also pleasantly surprised by the way the city and DePaul are supporting women entrepreneurs with the grant funding.
She first started her company, a custom made-to-measure wedding dress supplier, several years ago after learning the shortcomings in the wedding dress market firsthand.
“When I was trying on wedding dresses for my own wedding, I just remember thinking about how I felt. The overall experience was underwhelming,” Wong said. “It’s a really big emotional experience, and the price tags didn’t match for me.”
Wong believes social enterprise is the future of good business and wants to build a business with a bigger mindset of giving back and understanding a larger social mission.
“So I kind of wed — pun intended — those two ideas together and created Grace + Ivory, to bring direct-to-consumer made-to-measure wedding dresses with a social focus,” she said.
She will be using the grant money to improve her online shopping platform and to improve the virtual experience of Grace + Ivory’s try-at-home model.
“I think what’s really hard with building a small business is search engine optimization and web development because there’s just so much that you don’t know,” she said. “I don’t have a tech background, and where I really wanted to make improvements first is with search engine optimization.”