CNIMFG Receives Wells Fargo Diverse Community Capital Funding

Wells Fargo Sparks Diverse Small Business Growth Across U.S. by Fulfilling $75 Million Lending and Grant Commitment

From the Wells Fargo Newsroom, December 6, 2018


SAN FRANCISCO–(BUSINESS WIRE)–Wells Fargo & Company (NYSE: WFC) announced it has exceeded its initial $75 million commitment for the Wells Fargo Works for Small Business: Diverse Community Capital program by awarding $13 million in lending capital and grants to 19 Community Development Financial Institutions (CDFIs) in the latest round of the program. The CDFIs, which are nonprofit financial institutions, use the funds to deliver affordable financial products to diverse small business owners who do not typically have access to conventional financing.

Wells Fargo previously announced that the program will continue at least into 2020 through an additional $100 million commitment from the Wells Fargo Foundation, based on the program’s early success.

With the latest round of funding, the program aims to be even more inclusive of rural communities in addition to urban neighborhoods. Organizations serving rural counties in South Carolina, Maryland, Nebraska, Georgia and California will receive funding, as well as CDFIs serving urban centers such as Washington, D.C., Philadelphia, New York and Chicago.

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Chicago Citizen: First Black Woman Named President of Chicago Neighborhood Initiatives Micro Finance Group

Originally Published in the Chicago Citizen, October 24 2018


Erica King, formerly Vice President of Lending at Chicago Neighborhood Initiatives Micro Finance Group (CNIMFG), was recently promoted to President. In her new role, King is now one of the few minority women in the country leading a financial services organization. King plans to continue moving forward with the momentum she built as vice president and continue to grow and expand CNIMFG lending portfolio.

“I’m definitely very excited to have the opportunity to lead a loan fund and to help small businesses. This is something that I have been doing for my entire career and it’s really empowering and rewarding,” said King.

CNIMFG is a nonprofit micro-lender and certified Community Development Financial Institution (CDFI). Since its inception in 2012, CNIMFG has invested more than $2 million into Chicago’s business community which has contributed to the growth of more than 100 minority-owned small businesses. King said that as president she plans to grow CNIMFG even more and expand the number of businesses that exist in their lending portfolio.

“I hope to expand the portfolio. We’ve worked with over 100 businesses since inception and there is certainly a need beyond that number. I would like to get to a point where we can continue to raise capital and continue to deploy more loans than we have in the past,” said King.

Expanding the lending portfolio will help King to encourage more investment into the loan fund and she also hopes to expand the amount of money that they are able to lend, which is currently capped at $50,000 per business.

“We currently offer up to $50,000 for small businesses and again I know the need is greater than that. There is still a grey area for small business lenders and microlenders that are CDFIs within that $50,000 to $100,000 space and I’d like to be in that space eventually. We have to continue to grow our lending portfolio so we can absorb larger loans,” said King.

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First African American Woman Named President of CNIMFG

October 8, 2018 (Chicago) –For playing an integral role helping more than 110 neighborhood businesses gain access to over $2 million in capital to grow or keep their doors open that has created hundreds of jobs and scores of new community amenities within the Chicago area’s most under-resourced and disinvested neighborhoods, Erica King (39 years old), formerly Vice President of Lending at Chicago Neighborhood Initiatives Micro Finance Group (CNIMFG), was promoted today to President.  Erica became one of only a handful of African-American women in the country leading a financial services organization.

“Under Erica’s leadership, CNIMFG has become one of the leading microlending organizations in the Midwest for its unparalleled support for growing the small businesses, creating jobs and other economic opportunities that are essential to the well-being of the Chicago region and improving the quality of life for so many people,” said David Doig, President of Chicago Neighborhood Initiatives. “Erica’s achievements at CNIMFG have ensured not only the survival of a number of small businesses, but they have given minority entrepreneurs the opportunity to thrive while helping to transform underserved neighborhoods into strong sustainable communities.”

CNIMFG, a nonprofit microlender and certified CDFI, has deployed more than $2 million in capital to fuel the growth of more than 100 minority-owned small businesses that has created or retained 520 jobs since its inception in 2012.  In Pullman alone, CNIMFG has deployed eight microloans to catering, engineering, delivery and retail businesses including the Pullman Café that brought the first-sit down restaurant to the historic neighborhood in more than 20 years.

CNIMFG makes microloans of up to $50,000 to entrepreneurs and start-up businesses in Chicago and the surrounding suburbs where financial resources are unavailable or unaffordable from traditional financial institutions.  In fact, under Erica’s leadership, 92% of CNIMFG’S loans have been made to minorities, including 80% deployed to African-Americans and 47% to women small business owners.  One-third of the loans are made to start-ups and two-thirds to established businesses which support small businesses with working capital, assist in purchasing new inventory and equipment and provide start-up capital for new businesses.  In addition to the microloans, CNIMFG offers an array of services ranging from technical assistance and professional referrals to business and personal financial health consulting.

Erica is also responsible for CNIMFG’s role working to help reduce recidivism through its support of the Pathway to Enterprise for Returning Citizens (PERC), the innovative privately funded entrepreneurship training program for the formerly incarcerated. In conjunction with several state and local agencies and organizations, CNIMFG provides loans for qualified individuals upon their successful completion of the multi-phase training program designed to help launch their own business.  Erica has raised more than $800,000 for PERC and secured a significant contribution from Citi Community Development to support the program.

And just last month, CNIMFG was one of only 302 CDFIs in the U.S. that were awarded a $400,000 grant from the Community Development Financial Institutions Fund, part of the U.S. Department of the Treasury.  The grant will allow CNIMFG to increase its lending and investment in economically distressed communities in the Chicago metropolitan region.

Erica lives in Chicago’s Auburn Gresham neighborhood with her husband and two daughters.  “The passion for doing what I do comes from what I see and experience each day and my desire to help improve people’s lives,” said Erica.  “And providing access to capital for people to own and operate and their own business is one of the most powerful tools by which to help build stronger communities, build a better future and positively transform people’s lives.”

$400,000 Grant Will Increase Access To Capital For Small Businesses

Originally published in the Chicago Citizen, October 3rd 2018



The U.S. Department of the Treasury’s Community Development Financial Institution (CDFI) Fund recently awarded a $400,000 grant to the Chicago Neighborhood Initiatives.

Micro Finance Group (CNIMFG). The grant money will allow CNIMFG to provide even more small business loans to the greater Chicago area, including businesses in the South Suburbs.

In 2012, CNIMFG was established as a CDFI and began giving small business loans in 2013. CNIMFG is one of only 302 CDFIs in the country that were selected to receive grants from the U.S. Department of Treasury with the purpose of increasing lending and investment in economically distressed communities, according to a press release from the Chicago Neighborhood Initiatives.

“Chicago Neighborhood Initiatives, our parent company, is a real estate developer with a mission to revitalize neighborhoods,” said Erika King, vice president of lending for CNIMFG. “Micro Finance Group was really just a natural fit under [Chicago Neighborhood Initiatives] overall mission because without small businesses we could not really create a healthy community. The goal of CNIMFG is to provide resources to underserved businesses in low to moderate income communities, to minority individuals, and to other underserved entrepreneurs.”

The typical CNIMFG borrower is a start up or established small business that normally wouldn’t be a qualified candidate for a large financial institution’s lending program.


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From prison to pioneer: a chef’s dream to transform one Chicago corner

By Alison Bowen

Originally published on 7/9/2018 by the Chicago Tribune

The flowers by the door of Dream Chef Kitchen aren’t real. But on a dreary day in March, they offered a hopeful note of what might eventually grow.

Growth is important to the catering company and restaurant’s owner and chef, Nichelle Benford. She’s done a lot of growing lately. Growing into the kind of woman who wouldn’t stake her future on anyone but herself; the kind of businesswoman who believes she can create space to serve as encouragement to other entrepreneurs eyeing a corner neighbored by empty lots. And growing into the kind of person who believed her story did not end on the 2010 day when she was sentenced to prison.

Opened in January and expanded to dinner hours this spring, Dream Chef Kitchen (611 S. California Ave.) is a bright space on the corner of California and Harrison, just off I-290. Benford, 37, wants it to be a place where people come for a healthy meal, a seat by a window, maybe even a setting for nurturing bigger plans.

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Dream Chef Kitchen serves up inspiration in East Garfield Park

By Gaynor Hall and Pam Grimes

Originally published on 5/31/2018 by WGN9

CHICAGO — Before opening Dream Chef Kitchen and Catering in East Garfield Park, owner Nichelle Benford worked the catwalk, corporate America and the kitchen. But an unexpected detour almost ended her dream before it could begin.

Nichelle was a high fashion model in Europe, working for designer Donna Karan in Milan. But she says she quickly learned she wasn’t cut out for the highs and lows of the industry, and came back home to Chicago. After working for a telecom company, she found that wasn’t a good fit either.

“So, I quit and I went to culinary school and everybody thought I was crazy,” Nichelle said.

She learned to cook as a child, sitting on the kitchen counter and handing spices to the grandmothers who raised her. Cooking put her back in her comfort zone. But just as she was finishing up culinary school at 29 years old, Nichelle was indicted.

Read the full story and watch the video here.

Ex-Offender Finds Redemption via Restaurant Grand Opening

By Christopher Shuttlesworth

Originally Published on 2/7/2018 by The Chicago Citizen

Nichelle Benford, a pioneer of the food truck business, recently opened her first restaurant named “Dream Chef Kitchen Restaurant & Catering,” after experiencing entrepreneurial setbacks and serving prison time.

Benford will operate her previously established catering business and mentoring program for employment-challenged young women at her new restaurant, located on 611 S. California Ave. Dream Chef Kitchen Restaurant & Catering will serve local companies, organizations and diners “on-the-go” and those who want a sit-down meal.

“I’ve always dreamt about this day, but I never imagined it would come,” she said. “I know the food business and it’s something I love to do and look forward to doing every day, but what the experience of opening this new restaurant taught me was the importance of having a good support network.”

Read the full story here.

Dream Chef Kitchen on Business First AM

Originally Posted on 2/6/2018 by Business First AM


An amazing Start Up Story for dream Chef Catering

Posted by Business First AM on Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Restaurant opening a dream come true for ex-offender

COME TRUE: Entrepreneur Nichelle Benford. second from left, is all smiles at a Jan. 27, grand opening for her restaurant Dream Chef Kitchen Restaurant at 611 S. California Ave. | WENDELL HUTSON/Contributor

By Wendall Hutson | Contributing Reporter

Originally Published on 1/30/2018 by Austin Weekly News

A recent grand opening for a new restaurant on the West Side is a dream come true for its founder who served time in a federal prison.

Family, friends and supporters joined Nichelle Benford, 36, on Jan. 27, as she opened Dream Chef Kitchen & Restaurant, 611 S. California Ave., in the Garfield Park neighborhood. Since she was five years old, Benford, who previously was a model, said she has always cooked.

“Cooking just came natural for me,” said Benford, who graduated in 2008 from Washburne Culinary & Hospitality Institute at Kennedy-King College. “It has always been something I enjoyed doing.”

Read the full story here.

The Columbia Chronicle

Experts: Chicago needs collaboration, neighborhood investment

By Savannah Eadens, Metro Reporter

Leslie Munger, deputy governor of Illinois, Kevin Davenport, associate loan officer for the Chicago Neighborhood Initiatives, Jason Johnson, director of entrepreneurship for the Chicago Urban League, Evelyn Diaz, president of Heartland Alliance and Dan Sprehe, Chicago Neighborhoods panel on Jan. 17 at Ferguson Hall, 600 S. Michigan Ave.

Erin Dickson | Chronicle

Originally Published on 1/24/2018 by The Columbia Chronicle

While Chicago is still in the running for Amazon’s second headquarters, economic development advocates and politicians agree that more investments are needed in local neighborhoods for the city to thrive.

At a Jan. 17 panel titled Inspiring Investment in Chicago Neighborhoods, hosted by the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform, experts in economic development discussed ways to spur economic growth in Chicago neighborhoods. The forum, held at 600 S. Michigan Ave., was moderated by Kristin Barrett, a senior director for the University of Chicago Polsky Exchange, a startup hub. 

Read the full story here.

Washington Monthly

South Side Story

How a historic Chicago neighborhood became a national model for community revitalization.

By Jay Walljasper

Originally published in Washington Monthly

In metropolitan regions across the U.S., you’ll see remarkably similar patterns of inequity, in which a “favored quarter” attracts wealth like a magnet. Economically thriving neighborhoods—where you find coffee shops, start-up businesses, and top-ranked schools—begin downtown and fan out in one direction toward the ritziest suburbs. Think north in Atlanta and Dallas. West in Houston and St. Louis. Southwest in Minneapolis. East in Cincinnati. Northeast in Phoenix.

Chicago offers perhaps the most dramatic example. “Of 53 construction cranes currently at work in the city, only one is south of 22nd Street,” David Doig, president of Chicago Neighborhood Initiatives (CNI) and former CEO of the Chicago Park District, noted last summer.

Read the full article here.

New program helps former offenders become entrepreneurs

CHICAGO (Nov. 6, 2017) — Gov. Bruce Rauner is announcing a new, innovative program to help formerly incarcerated men and women start their own businesses.

The Pathway to Enterprise for Returning Citizens (PERC) program is the first of its kind in Illinois. In its pilot phase, the Illinois Department of Corrections (IDOC) will screen candidates and select 125 people who are returning to communities on the south and west sides of Chicago. When they go home, they will receive in-depth training and coaching on how to run a business. This program will give them the opportunity to spur economic development and create jobs in the same communities in which they live. Continue reading PERC Press Release

CNIFMG Hosts 4-Week Radio Series on WVON 1690AM

For many of our neighborhood small businesses, accessing capital can be a quest. With proper training and coaching, the journey can be made easier. In our 4-week series our trainers will provide you with the tools and resources necessary for success, while our coaches will help you implement and help keep you motivated for the same. Get your running gear, stretch up and tune in to learn how your Quest for Capital can be made easier.
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