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Bilingual business incubator to bring more ‘financial independence’ to Little Village

Xquina Incubator and Café, at 3523 W. 26th St., will help emerging entrepreneurs, have a shared commercial kitchen and support the local economy.

The building on 3523-25 W. 26th St. in Little Village is seen in this photo Tuesday afternoon, Sept. 23, 2020. With the help of Neighborhood Opportunity Fund Grant and the State of Illinois Office of Minority Economic Empowerment and Capital Bill, the Little Village Chamber of Commerce and the Little Village Community Foundation will transform the vacant building into The Xquina Incubator Café, a co-working space, café and shared commercial kitchen.
The building on 3523-25 W. 26th St. in Little Village is seen in this photo Tuesday afternoon, Sept. 23, 2020. With the help of Neighborhood Opportunity Fund Grant and the State of Illinois Office of Minority Economic Empowerment and Capital Bill, the Little Village Chamber of Commerce and the Little Village Community Foundation will transform the vacant building into The Xquina Incubator Café, a co-working space, café and shared commercial kitchen.
Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

Little Village will soon be welcoming the neighborhood’s first bilingual business incubator that will help foster emerging entrepreneurs while helping grow one of the city’s most vital economic hubs.

The Little Village Chamber of Commerce and the Little Village Community Foundation will rehab a vacant three-story building, at 3523 W. 26th St., to make room for the $3.5 million, 12,000-square-foot Xquina Incubator and Café.

Ground breaking for the project will take place Wednesday morning.

Once completed in the summer of 2021, the incubator will offer training and coaching to entrepreneurs, media professionals, residents and local youth. It will also generate 28 construction jobs and 15 permanent jobs when it is fully operational.

“We have a long history here of immigrants coming into this country, settling here and starting their own business on 26th Street,” said Ald. Michael Rodriquez (22nd). “This project doubles down on that legacy.”

Little Village is the second-highest-grossing shopping district and tax hub in the city — only second to the Magnificent Mile — and the neighborhood’s Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Blanca Soto hopes the new incubator can help it grow.

“This incubator is bilingual and culturally relevant,” said Soto. “The name Xquina is our version of a Spanglish word that refers to a corner “Esquina”— a gathering place. It signifies the ‘X’ intersection of a dream for financial independence through entrepreneurship and the resources that it takes to make those ventures a reality.”

Rendering of Xquina Incubator and Café slated to break ground Wednesday, Sept. 23, 2020.
Rendering of Xquina Incubator and Café slated to break ground Wednesday, Sept. 23, 2020.
Provided.

The first phase of the project will focus on the 5,000-square-foot ground floor where the incubator program will run twice a year in partnership with First Midwest Bank, which will have an office in the space. The local café La Catedral and a shared commercial kitchen with FoodHero will also be on the ground floor.

A $1.5 million grant from the city’s Neighborhood Opportunity Fund and $250,000 from the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity’s Office Minority Economic Empowerment Grant helped fund the project.

Erin Guthrie, director of the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity, said it was crucial to create “a space where business owners develop a community in the neighborhood they live in to get resources for small businesses to help get incorporated, get a business loan and help write a business pitch.”

“It is incredibly important business owners are able to go close to their home and access services in Spanish and in a more comprehensive way,” Guthrie said.

Manny Ramos is a corps member in Report for America, a not-for-profit journalism program that aims to bolster Sun-Times coverage of issues affecting Chicago’s South and West sides.