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Updated: Dec 11, 2019
As the recent spurt of new Meetup groups around women entrepreneurship attests, the population of women-owned startups in Chicago is growing. While many agree that it might be as hard (or harder) to find equity funding or small business loans for women in Chicago, resources like networking organizations and mentoring groups abound in the Windy City.
Women business owners have opportunities to thrive in Chicago, especially if they happen to be in tech. A 2018 report by StartUpGenome found that Chicago has roughly 3,000 startups. Nearly 34 percent are run by women–the most of any major U.S. city. (The global average was 18%.) “I had that feeling that we were (leading the way) for quite some time now,” commented Ms. Tech founder Nicole Year to ChicagoInno. In honor of the Windy City’s achievement in tech, you’ll find the many resources for women in technology listed first, followed by government and nonprofit programs, networks, conferences, and publications. All for Chicago’s female entrepreneurs.
Ms. Tech is a successful membership organization for women in technology that has over 2000 members. Membership is $365 per year or $35 per month.
Digital startup hub 1871 launched WiSTEM in 2014. The 16-week program is designed to help women entrepreneurs in technology get capital, build community, and access technology resources. Sign up on their website to keep up to date with the program.
An acronym for “Attract, Retain, Advance,” ARA is a mentorship organization for women in tech that began in Chicago in 2013 and has expanded to Houston, New York, Seattle, and Silicon Valley.
Women Tech Founders is a women-led, grassroots effort to tell the stories of leaders in tech through media and events. Apply for membership to the organization, peruse their directory of women-owned businesses, or read their blog.
ChickTech “facilitates hands-on technology-centric events to empower, support, and increase the confidence of women and girls”. Part of a national nonprofit, the Chicago Chapter offers local conferences, hands-on workshops, and mentoring support.
In January 2016, Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner revealed this new program, aimed to help minority and women entrepreneurs connect with mentors and institutions for business success. ADME is a pilot program headed up by an entrepreneur-turned-official that provides end-to-end training.
Headquartered in Chicago, the WBDC is a non-profit is the oldest, largest women’s business assistance center in the US. It offers help at every stage of business growth and is partners with the Illinois Small Business Development Centers (SBDC), Procurement Technical Assistance Centers (PTAC), Small Business Administration (SBA), and Women Business Enterprise National Council (WBENC).
This non-profit was founded in 1997 and is the largest third-party certifier of WBEs in the US. WBENC’s vision is to be the leader in women’s business development. In addition to certification, the organization delivers programming and networking, provides education and tools, and recognizes excellence in women entrepreneurs.
Getting certified as an M/WBE by the Department of Procurement Services’ Certification and Compliance Division open up opportunities to bid on city contracts. The M/WBE Program provides businesses owned by women and minorities with opportunities to get contracts with NYC agencies. M/WBE certified companies get access to technical assistance, a listing in the City’s Online Directory of Certified Businesses, educational workshops, and networking events.
SCORE is a nation-wide mentorship and support organization for small business owners. The non-profit offers consulting, workshops, and mentoring for free. SCORE Chicago has 130 mentors serving in 30 locations in the metro area.
The NWBC is a non-partisan federal advisory council (the only one of its kind) that advises the President, Congress, and the U.S. Small Business Administration on economic issues relevant to women business owners. They offer fact sheets and research to the public.
The Chicago Foundation for Women supports the work and economic security, freedom from violence, and access to healthcare for women and girls through a diverse set of grants, advocacy, and leadership. The CFW publishes an annual report and hosts events throughout the year.
The InnovateHER Challenge is a competition held each year by the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) for businesses that benefit women. Local winners move on to a national semifinal round before three national finalists win between $10,000 and $40,000.
The YWCA’s mission is to eliminate racism and empower women. With a core programmatic focus on economic empowerment, the YWCA offers women and girls help with career planning, career advancement, financial sustainability, and asset acquisition.
NAWBO Chicago is part of a network that represents 10 million businesses in the country. The organization is “propelling women entrepreneurs into economic, social, and political spheres of power worldwide.” NAWBO Chicago is comprised mainly of women 35 years and up; membership costs between $20-40 per month.
BOSS is a diverse network of 1000+ women in the Chicago area who meet to move forward in entrepreneurship, relationships, and emotional health. Check out the BOSS blog or calendar to get acquainted. Basic membership is free, with paid memberships ranging from $5.50 to $19.95 per month.
The Chicago Women’s Empowerment Meetup is a very active group made up of over 400 stay-at-home moms and women entrepreneurs who meet to improve their health, finances, and work-life balance.
The PWCC offers a strong, lifelong network of professional and entrepreneurial women. The organization hosts regular luncheons and special events. Membership is between $185 and $750 per year.
Ellevate Chicago is a brand of the international networking organization Ellevate. Their mission is “ to help women advance in the workplace, both for themselves and the greater good.”
CWiB is a student organization from the University of Chicago Booth School of Business. It connects and supports prospective and current students at Chicago Booth through events and mentoring programs.
Focused on serving the needs of women in Chicago’s western suburbs, WSWE offers “friendship, support, and resources to help you and your business flourish”.
Part of a global network, SheSays Chicago holds events and provides free mentorship to women in the creative industry.
FemCity Chicago hosts local business workshops and social events each month. You can join as a community member, or opt for a business membership which includes additional benefits.
The Women’s Leadership Exchange hosts an all-day interactive conference annually for established women business owners in New York, Dallas, Los Angeles, Chicago, and Atlanta. Tickets range from $100 to $150.
The CWEN Meetup group was founded in 2008 and has grown to over 1,000 members through consistently hosting monthly sessions, events, and expos. It is sponsored by the Chicago coworking space The Shift.
The Chicago WomenTech Meetup is a community of almost 2,000 entrepreneurs and tech-related professionals founded in 2010. Events cover topics like digital marketing, leadership, and startup funding.
CoWorking Women hosts events—including regularly scheduled networking luncheons, coworking sessions, and workshops—led by professional women in various industries.
Rebellious Magazine delivers a unique feminist perspective on Chicago news, events, politics and culture through original articles, essays, and interviews. They support women-owned and women-operated businesses and organizations through editorial coverage and business partnerships.
InvestHER Ventures is “the first venture capital fund in Chicago that invests in early-stage tech companies built by female entrepreneurs”.
Gender plays absolutely no role in our transparent, online term loan application process. We don’t care how you wear your hair; we want to hear about your credit history, your business’s performance, and your passion about the market opportunity.
Our philosophy? The most important part of any financing deal should be you and your business’s potential—not your gender, or your lender’s profit margins.
That’s why Funding Circle took the best parts of an SBA business term loan—like fixed once-monthly payments and no prepayment penalties—and created something faster and more flexible. The era of reluctant traditional banks and prohibitively expensive shorter-term financing with hidden fees is over.
Have you struggled to find an affordable term loan through traditional routes? Learn more about how Funding Circle can help you grow your business on your terms here.
Samantha Novick is a senior editor at Funding Circle, specializing in small business financing. She has a bachelor's degree from the Gallatin School of Individualized Study at New York University. Prior to Funding Circle, Samantha was a community manager at Marcus by Goldman Sachs. Her work has been featured in a number of top small business resource sites and publications.