Ongoing, year round financial assistance, free grant and business coaching programs

There are free financial assistance programs, marketing or business startup help and other services that operate year round. Find details on these resources below by “category”, including by city/county of Illinois and/or geography. There are also free grants, low cost or 0% loans by month in Illinois.

Statewide programs in Illinois

Advantage Illinois has a few different low-cost and/or interest free loan products. Loan Participation as well as Guarantee Programs, INVENT Venture Capital Program (VCP), and a Climate Fund. About 50%, if not more, of the financial assistance goes to businesses owned by women and people of color.  Find details on Advantage Illinois here. https://dceo.illinois.gov/smallbizassistance/advantageillinois.html

Illinois APEX Accelerator is a statewide service for minority and disadvantaged small businesses, including women and veteran owned. The government programs arranges free coaching, helps businesses bid on government contracts, raise money and more. Learn about the state of IL accelerator here. https://dceo.illinois.gov/smallbizassistance/beginhere/ptac.html

Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity has a major focus on helping small minority, women, veteran, LGBTQ and disabled business owners. All throughout the year are online training courses, grants, information on low cost loans, free one-on-one business advice and so much more. They help with MWBE certification, offer information databases and other aid. Continue reading. https://www2.illinois.gov/dceo/businesshelp/Pages/SmallBusinessAssistance.aspx

Illinois Hispanic Chamber of Commerce is based in Chicago but operates across the state. Programs include an Incubator/Startup service; Business Development Center; Procurement and Certification Assistance for Latino businesses; Free Coaching and more. A number of assistance programs, including loans and grants, are offered for Hispanic companies or entrepreneurs. Learn more on the non-profit. https://ihccbusiness.net/

Nicor Gas, and their non-profit foundation known as Northern Illinois Community Initiatives, is providing help (including free grant money) to women and minority owned companies. The funds are issued in partnership with the CDFI non-profit lender Allies for Community Business. There are also loans, free coaching and other support. Read more. https://a4cb.org/

The Women’s Business Development Center helps both women and people of color. They help them access capital, whether loans, government grants, or some other form of financial aid. They have offices in Chicago as well as Aurora. They even offer loans of up to $50,000 (with no application fees) as well as business advising, minority or women owned business certifications, networking and more.  Read more here. https://www.wbdc.org/

Women’s Entrepreneurship Hub is an online resource that helps women owned businesses (and females who want to start a company) get assistance. A major focus is on Black and Hispanic owned businesses. Locate free grants, 0% interest loans, counseling and other resources from the HUB here. Continue reading here. https://wehub.org/

Chicago area free business grants and interest free loans

Allies for Community Business (Accion Chicago) is a non-profit community lender in Chicago. They offer loans, grants, free coaching or mentoring to entrepreneurs, financial aid and more. The assistance is for Cook County and Chicago small businesses, with a focus on Black, Latino, Veteran, LGTBG and women among others. Most of the financing will be in the form of loans.  Learn more here. https://a4cb.org/

Aurora Women’s Business Development Center offers a number of assistance programs and services to female owned businesses, including women of color. There are workshops, business training classes, information on loan and grant programs, and so much more. They also help women certify as a women-minority owned company. Find details on the center here. https://wbdc.org/entrepreneurial-programs/womens-business-center-aurora/

Chicago Neighborhood Initiative Micro Finance Group – Greenwood Archer Capital offers microloans to minority and Black owned businesses. The non-profit will lend out up to $50,000, based on business revenue, business plans, income and other factors. Some borrowers with poor or limited credit can also get a microloan from CNI. A major focus is on providing funds to businesses owned by people of color in low income communities in Chicago. Learn more. https://www.cnigroup.org/

Chicago Technology oriented companies can turn to TechRise for assistance. The organization is focused on underserved tech businesses, internet companies, and other “cutting edge” businesses. The organizations helps minority, Hispanic, Black owned technology businesses get access to capital (including grants or loans, helps with networking and community engagement and more. The goal is to help MWBE businesses in the city. Learn more. https://techrise.co/

Chicago Urban League Center for Entrepreneurship offers several services to businesses or entrepreneurs of color, veterans, and women. Free one one one coaching can help with marketing, applications to government grants, strategy and other needs. There are events and workshops, free business training classes as well as other services at the center. African Americans who need help with a business, information on loans or grants and other aid can use the non-profit. More details. https://www.chiurbanleaguecei.com/

Chicago woman owned businesses (in the western suburbs of Cook County) can get assistance from the West Suburban Women Entrepreneurs, or WSWE. This is an organization of woman entrepreneurs, business owners and others who help other female founders. Whether it is free mentoring, information on raising capital or applying for grants or small business loans, the organization has many free resources. Learn more here. https://wswe.org/

Cook County Small Business Source operates year round. There is free business advising solution, workshops and events, information on ongoing grant programs as well as other forms of financial help for Black women/male owned businesses as well as other minorities and more. There is financial help for microbusinesses in Chicago (under 5 employees), women, minorities, LGTBQ, veterans and others. Find about Cook County and Chicago Small Business source here. https://cookcountysmallbiz.org/

LTNtech Founders Incubator is for Latinx and minoirty entrepreneurs in the tech or high growth field. It is annual program that provides free workshops, training services and information on raising money for the business. Learn more here. https://ihccbusiness.net/ltntech/

Mujeres Latinas en Accion’s helps Latino owned businesses, including start-ups, with a focus on those who are overcoming trauma. The entrepreneurship program provides applications to 0% APR interest free Kiva loans, counseling and more. Read details here. https://mujereslatinasenaccion.org/

Sunshine Enterprises of Chicago helps the underserved, with a focus on Black women, immigrant owned businesses, Latinos, women and others. Whether it is access to Capital, including free government grants or low cost loans, or training from the Community Business Academy or small business accelerators, help is offered.  There are mentoring programs, free business coaching, resources for start-ups and other support.  Continue reading here. https://www.sunshineenterprises.com/

YWCA Metropolitan Chicago and the Breedlove Entrepreneurship Center is for women of color entrepreneurs and small business owners. There is free business advisors, information on grant or loan programs, and other assistance.  Get details here. https://ywcachicago.org/our-work/economic-empowerment/breedlove/

Southern IL community free grant and loan programs

Elevate CCIC, Inc. is based in Mattoon but supports the wider community/area. The non-profit works to help entrepreneurs and small businesses get the capital they need, including 0% interest loans from Kiva. There is also a business accelerator program, free mentoring, budgeting help and more offered. Learn more here. https://elevate217.org/

Western and other parts of IL

Quad City area Lift Women’s Foundation helps female owned businesses, including those by women of color. They offer microloans, advice, partnership and support. The goal is to help women achieve economic, and career, stability. Learn more here. https://liftwomensfoundation.org/