A stained-glass restoration business, a vintage clothing store and a bagel bakery all sit within an unassuming industrial building in McKinley Park. The 36Squared Business Incubator is home to 30 small businesses — some just starting, others fully operational.
For four years, the incubator has used the five-story brick building at 3636 S. Iron St. to offer services ranging from confidential business advising to training events and webinars, said executive director Andrew Fogaty.
Now, the incubator is set to receive $80,000 in federal funding to help it make its building more accessible for its clients with disabilities and to expand programming for small businesses in the Chicago area.
Charlotte Trecartin and Breece Eagar turned to 36Squared in May 2020. The two had an idea for an accessories business but weren’t sure how to bring it to fruition.
“I wanted to learn a little bit more about … how to move forward with manufacturing and just getting a solidified idea,” explained Trecartin, 21. “I was just looking at different events, and there was one on intellectual property, and 36Squared and (Small Business Development Center) hosted it.”
At the event, Trecartin met with an intellectual property lawyer and Fogaty. Under their guidance, Trecartin came up with a solid business plan and bought a 3D printer. Now, she and Eagar, 23, are moving forward to patent their product.
“I definitely think that mentorship is one of the best ways to encourage sustainable, healthy growth,” Eagar said.
36Squared has made an effort to reach out to entrepreneurs with disabilities, providing “Boost Awards” to 12 entrepreneurs and businesses across in the area since 2018.
“The goal is to bring the disabled community into the wider economic development and entrepreneurial world,” Fogaty said.
Amaechi Ozegbe, who emigrated from Nigeria over 20 years ago, ran a successful restaurant called Hook, Fish and Chicken in South Chicago until he had emergency brain surgery that impaired his vision in January 2012.
“I thought I couldn’t go back,” said Ozegbe, who received a Boost Award last year. “After all the training and everything, now I started to see I can go back into the business.”
Ozegbe said with 36Squared’s help, he’s been put in contact with organizations where he can apply for more funding and location assistance.
He called 36Squared’s work with entrepreneurs with disabilities a mission that benefits business owners and communities alike.
“When I get my business going, it’s a job creation, not just for me but for everybody that I have to work with me,” Ozegbe said.
Cheyanne M. Daniels is a staff reporter at the Chicago Sun-Times via Report for America, a not-for-profit journalism program that aims to bolster the paper’s coverage of communities on the South and West sides.