Chicago is home to many young black professionals, many of whom are taking on positions designed to make a difference in the black community.
Studies have shown that women-owned and minority-owned businesses are on the rise, and Chicago is one major city where young black entrepreneurs are taking the initiative to become their own boss while making a positive impact in the city.
Celebrated in their respective fields, below are 5 millennial business leaders in Chicago to be on the lookout for in 2018.
1. Britney Robbins - Founder and CEO of The Gray Matter Experience, 30
Photo: Chuck Olu Alabi
Britney Robbins launched the The Gray Matter Experience in July 2016 out of her desire to expose black high school students to the practice of entrepreneurship and to build businesses that positively impact the community. Robbins started the organization just two months after quitting her job at a nonprofit, similar to her own organization, that provided youth the opportunity to learn about entrepreneurship.
Her previous job was housed inside of different venture capital firms and tech incubators in Chicago where most of the time she was the only woman of color.
“For me it was really strange that in my day-to-day work I’m working with all of these minority students to expose them to entrepreneurship and to encourage them to enter these spaces,” Robbins said. “But, even when I’m in these spaces, I’m not seeing many people that look like me.”
The program works with Chicago teens in a 12-week program where students are given the opportunity to learn business concepts from Black entrepreneurs. Students then use what they learn to create businesses to give back to underserved communities across Chicago’s South and West sides.
Last year, a cohort of 14 teens were exposed to new industries and skill sets such as learning chemical engineering by creating their own hair products, 3-D printing, DJing techniques and entertainment through an interactive tour of Cinespace Studios.
The program will have 30 high school students participate in their 2nd cohort, starting March 2018.
Robbins’ ultimate goal is to change the narrative of black and brown entrepreneurs. She is looking for The Gray Matter Experience to be the leader in the entrepreneurial space for teen businesses in the future.
2. LeRoi J. Catlin Jr., 28 and 3. Kevin Savage, 29 - Co-Founders of Fresh Vision Group
Photo: Justin Famous
Fresh Vision Group is a human services non-profit organization that works to fix issues and change the negative image of the urban community in Chicago through volunteer experience.
Catlin Jr. and Savage started working together back in September 2016 and made Fresh Vision Group a legit organization in January 2017 in an effort to provide a fun and innovative volunteer experience for members by cultivating a family atmosphere.
They have developed programs such as “Feed the City” and their monthly “Good in the Hood: Neighborhood Spotlight” segment that shines light on other businesses and people who are making a positive impact in the community in Chicago.
“The main program that we work with is called ‘Feed the City’,” Catlin Jr. said. “We do 150 to 200 bagged lunches on a bi-weekly basis and distribute them on the street. We distribute them to different pockets in the city. We know where homeless people reside at. Also whatever is left over, we will take lunches over to different shelters that really need it.”
Fresh Vision Group has volunteered outside of Chicago as well. In late September of last year, the organization put together a campaign to collect donations for Hurricane Harvey victims in Houston. They drove 17 hours to give items to victims. While down there, they were able to connect with Trae the Truth and DJ Mr. Rogers and helped out with their “Relief Gang” efforts.
The goal for the nonprofit this year is to make their foundation solid. In the next three to four years, they plan to start franchising and adding more cities to their portfolio.
“As a young African-American male it is important for me to step up to be a role model,” Savage said. “Just not even for myself, but in general. Everyone in Fresh Vision Group came together as young professionals and young African-Americans. We need to step up and be that positive change that we want for our community and for the youth.”
Currently in Chicago, Fresh Vision Group is working on a “Clean the City” initiative where they will go around and clean up vacant lots or distressed aras. They plan to have a community event to get the community involved and provide them the opportunity to engage with their neighbors and representatives. They are looking to raise money to donate to Chicago Public Schools and plan a football and cheerleading day camp for the youth as well.
Fresh Vision Group is also working on a brunch festival since brunch is a big thing for millennials in Chicago. They want to incorporate DJ’s, mimosas and people having a great time. They hope to work with a couple of different restaurants and a portion of the proceeds will go towards a community initiative.
“We’ve made a lot of impact in one year, so I can only imagine what the years to come is going to look like,” Catlin Jr. said.
4. Rashauna Scott - Millennial Real Estate Investor, 26
Photo: Brenda Gamboa
Rashauna Scott has held many managerial and supervisory roles working in corporate America at just the young age of 26.
After receiving her Bachelor’s degree in Entrepreneurship and Management from Governors State University, Scott is now a full-time entrepreneur in Chicago working to build her real estate empire and inform the public about financial literacy. As a real estate investor, she is working to build long-term wealth through investments while teaching others to do the same.
“I first incorporated my real estate investment company back in 2011,” Scott said. “I want to say I was 19 years old and I was surrounded by great mentors at the time. I knew in school I always wanted to be successful. I always wanted to be an entrepreneur and I knew real estate was pretty much going to be my vehicle on how to get to the success that I wanted.”
Scott utilizes her formal education, entrepreneurial experiences corporate background and investment practices to mentor and coach others about financial literacy. Scott works to promote young black millennials, specifically millennial women, to become entrepreneurs and to invest and create generational wealth to better build their finances to meet their family’s needs.
“Real estate has stood the test of time as a solid investment,” Scott said. “With our new government administration, the way taxes are going and the way that things are being set up, we should be prepared to what is going to happen 50 years from now. Millennials need to set themselves up for the future because there’s no way to tell what’s going to happen. Instead of sitting around waiting for people to determine what our fate is going to be, we need to take control of it.”
Among her many other titles, Scott is also a public speaker and serves as Treasurer for 40 under 40 Young Women Professionals League in Chicago. She is currently in the process of launching a community for women real estate investors called “Flippin’ in Heels” in Chicago.
5. Cortlon Cofield - Founder of Cofield Advisors, LLC, 26
Photo: Cortlon Cofield
Cortlon Cofield is the owner and advisor of Cofield Advisors, LLC.
Cofield holds a master’s degree in Accountancy and is also a certified public accountant and personal financial specialist in the state of Illinois.
Among his many roles, Cofield is also a personal financial planner and financial advisor. He founded his business based off the need to offer affordable financial planning and advisory services. He also wanted to offer financial advisory services to young professionals at a reasonable price.
Cofield seeks to debunk the stereotype that financial advisors are only suited for older, wealthy individuals.
“When the word financial advisor comes about, people think I don't have enough money to have one of those,” Cofield said. “In my opinion, you can afford not to have one of those because they think that you have to be rich to get this advice. I want to remove that. I understand your situation doesn’t look good now, but with my guidance and my help we’ll work step by step to get you to that position where you have the assets, income, wealth and knowledge to take what you have and make more of it.”
Cofield Advisors, LLC offers numerous planning services such financial planning, retirement planning, student loan repayment planning, investment advice and debt management.
“My goal is just to spread the knowledge and the concept of financial literacy and to getting it into schools is one of the big things that I want to push,” Cofield said. “Not even a whole course, just a five week curriculum. If you teach it early, it’ll have an impact on someone’s future.”
If you are interested in learning how to manage your finances better, check out Cofield Advisors website. There are various service packages and the first consultation is free.
These black millennials are definitely making a difference in Chicago as entrepreneurs. Make sure to keep an eye out and support them in 2018!
Sponsored by U.S. Bank.