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 2015 report by Compass found that Chicago has the highest percentage of women entrepreneurs (30%) of any startup ecosystem. (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.
Resources for Women in Tech
- Ms Tech
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.
- WiSTEM 1871
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 (WTF)
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.
- Meera Kaul Foundation’s WiSTEM
WiSTEM is an initiative of the Meera Kaul Foundation. The organization hosts a huge annual conference each fall, as well as a Hackathon and jobs directory. You can also connect with over 800 members of the online WiSTEM community on Facebook.
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.
- Girl Develop It Chicago (GDI Chicago)
City Government & Non-Profit Resources
- Advancing the Development of Minority Entrepreneurship (ADME)
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.
- Women’s Business Development Center (WBDC)
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).
- Women’s Business Enterprise National Council (WBENC)
This non-profit was founded in 1997 and is the largest third-party certifier of WBEs in the US. The 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.
- Chicago Minority and Women-Owned Business (M/WBE) Certification Program
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 Chicago
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.
- Office of the City Treasurer
- National Women’s Business Council (NWBC)
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.
- Chicago Foundation for Women
The Chicago Foundation for Women supports the work and economic security, freedom from violence, and access to health of women and girls through a diverse set of grants, advocacy, and leadership. The CFW publishes an annual report and hosts events throughout the year.
- InnovateHER Challenge
The InnovateHER Challenge is an 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.
- YWCA Chicago
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.
Networks & Membership Organizations
- National Association of Women Business Owners (NAWBO)
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.
- Beauties on Successful Strives (BOSS)
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.
- Chicago Women’s Empowerment Meetup
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.
- Professional Women’s Club of Chicago (PWCC)
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
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.”
- Chicago Women in Business (CWiB)
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.
- The University of Chicago Women’s Business Group (UCWBG)
A Chicago Booth alumnae nonprofit for 35 years, the UCWBG is currently restructuring to become more a part of the University. It currently has posted relevant events and materials from webinars and presentations on its website.
- West Suburban Women Entrepreneurs (WSWE)
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”.
- SheSays Chicago
Part of a global network, SheSays Chicago holds events and provides free mentorship to women in the creative industry.
- FemCity Chicago
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.
Events & Meetups
- Women’s Leadership Exchange (WLE)
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.
- Venture For Women & Diversity Summit (Venture FWD Summit)
Scheduled for Fall 2017 in Chicago, the Venture FWD Summit is a day-long event featuring speakers and fireside chats, and serving as an opportunity to facilitate connections to capital for women and minority-run businesses. Tickets range from $50 to $200.
- GET NOTICED
Produced by Magnolia Insights—a marketing services company that specializes in women and moms—the GET NOTICED workshops focus on professional and personal development for women. The theme for 2017 is Find Your Strength, and tickets cost $75 per workshop.
- Chicago Women Entrepreneurs Network
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 Chicago coworking space The Shift.
- Chicago WomenTech
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
CoWorking Women hosts events—including regularly scheduled networking luncheons, coworking sessions and workshops—lead by professional women in various industries.
- Chicago Woman
Chicago Women is a magazine and media brand for professional women. In addition to an entire section entitled “Work + Money”, the platform often profiles entrepreneurs and publishes on the topic of women business owners.
- InvestHER Ventures
InvestHER Ventures is “the first venture capital fund in Chicago that invests in early-stage tech companies built by female entrepreneurs”.
- Bond Street
Bond Street provides fast, affordable financing to female entrepreneurs. The application process only takes 10 minutes, and you can be funded in as little in 48 hours.