Their mission is to help Chicago entrepreneurs grow and succeed. The organization provides small businesses with free, easy access to the help and information you need – when you need it.
ChiBizHub connects a large network of primarily nonprofit service providers offering a wide variety of business-building services for small businesses
In the framework of virtual talks with the most outstanding City of Chicago’s’ community business leaders, ChiBizHub invited the President & CEO of the Illinois Hispanic Chamber of Commerce (IHCC).
Following is the complete interview with Jaime di Paulo.
Jaime, can you please share with us what the IHCC is and how it serves the communities of Illinois? Specifically, we’re eager to learn more about the set of programs designed to boost entrepreneurship.
The IHCC is a non-profit organization that receives funding from corporate members, the Federal Government, and the Illinois State Government to implement free technical assistance programs that help Illinois Hispanic entrepreneurs open their businesses and give business owners a boost to grow. Our commitment is to serve, at no cost for our services, a community of more than 100,000 Hispanic businesses throughout the state of Illinois. We have a variety of diverse programs, but all are aimed at enabling our clients to access all the benefits that the market offers to entrepreneurs…
Through the SBDC we mentor over 2,000 entrepreneurs.
Through LatinX, we offer young Hispanic entrepreneurs in accessing technology training programs and capital to develop their ideas.
Through the PTAC we offer minority companies the possibility of becoming government contractors.
And through our events we try to connect buyers with sellers, having a perfect circle for hundreds of businesses a year for millions of dollars, which help generate employment and entrepreneurship in our communities.
We don’t give away the fish, we teach how to fish. That’s an essential difference that makes for sustainable economic development.
This month we celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month, could you share with us your relationship with your culture and how this relationship has influenced your professional journey?
The United States is a country of traditions, where its main asset has always been honored: immigrants. The connection of this country with the immigrant culture has allowed us Hispanics to become, in less than 100 years, the largest minority. I am proudly Mexican and proudly an American citizen. The need to learn and build a better future for my family brought me to this country, where I have received much more than I probably imagined. That is why I never forget my mother’s lessons, who taught me not to hold a grudge against those who want to put obstacles in your way and focus your energy on helping those who need it most, at the time when they need it most. Every morning I wake up thinking, “Who can we help today?
If you’ll allow me, I’d like to use a phrase from the book “La región más transparente” (Where de Air is Clear), by Carlos Fuentes, who is over 50 years old: “Everything that can be shared is not lost, but it’s as if you had it twice”. That’s my philosophy and it has a lot of Mexico and the United States in it.
2020 has been a challenging year for all, especially for our small business community. What, in your eyes, has been the most challenging for the Chamber and how have you moved forward to overcome those obstacles?
From the beginning, we realized that we were going to lose income because most of our events would be canceled. We also knew that we needed to implement a communication system with our community that would allow us to function as usual. All this motivated us: I told my team that we would probably have to work longer hours, even on weekends, and that our commitment was to first ask our partners and customers what we could do for them and then work to help them. We were one of the Hispanic Chambers of Commerce across the country that helped most with the PPP, allowing many Hispanic businesses in Illinois to access funding and continue to operate and provide jobs. The pandemic may have forced us to close offices, but we still have our two hands and that’s enough to get us back to business as usual. We didn’t leave a single phone call or an email unanswered. And people appreciated it, sending us messages of support and videos that you can find on our social networks. These are testimonies that move us and confirm that no pandemic or tragedy can divert us from our mission to help and to continue building a strong economy.
As with everyone, you’ve also pivoted during this time to serve your community. You will be hosting your small business expo virtually this year. Can you share with us more about the 360 IHCC Virtual Business Expo? How can one join and get involved?
In these almost two years as President & CEO of the IHCC, I have always insisted a lot on the need to innovate. I believe that, in this 21st century, innovation must be an essential component of any company or organization’s strategy. What if a pandemic prevents you from organizing events, which account for 30% of your annual income, do you simply give up and that’s it? That’s not who we are. We don’t walk away from challenges; we face them and try to look for opportunities where others see crises. Many have organized virtual events, but we have seen that people are tired of “boring” concepts, where there is no more interaction than a click. That’s why we wanted to go a step further and use virtual reality to organize our first 360 Virtual Business Expo, which will allow people to interact more powerfully with companies. It will also give companies the possibility to spend less and can achieve much higher engagement with our community. In our website ihccbusiness.net, you will be able to find all the details as it will be a unique experience for the Hispanic business community in the country. We will be the first Chamber of Commerce in the country to use virtual reality to connect businesses with the Hispanic community. That’s what I call innovating big.
In closing, what advice and final words of encouragement could you provide for Chicago’s entrepreneurs and small business owners during this time?
To those who lost their businesses, I would say we are with them and help them start over. You should never give up.
To all the others who are still working with difficulty, I would say that we are with them to help them think beyond tomorrow: they need to reimagine their business and we can give them the technical assistance they require. All they must do is pick up the phone and ask for help. We take care of the rest.
Life is full of these hard moments, but there is nothing left to do but get up, support each other, and turn it around. As I always like to say, let’s move forward, you don’t have to go back to get your momentum going.