JJC program could reach more entrepreneurs

Small-business program now located in downtown Joliet

Congresswoman Lauren Underwood talks with Joliet Junior College President Clyne Namuo during her visit to the City Center Campus in Joliet.

A $353,400 federal grant should help a renewed Joliet Junior College program reach more small businesses and startups, college officials said.

The money is funding the Entrepreneur and Business Center, which has been relocated from the Main Campus on Houbolt Road to the City Center Campus in downtown Joliet.

JJC President Clyne Namuo said the college looks to grow the program.

The additional funding “is going to help us with our mission for the Entrepreneur and Business Center, which is to serve as many entrepreneurs and small businesses as possible in the Joliet area and beyond.”

Namuo was among college officials and economic development professionals who joined U.S. Rep. Lauren Underwood on Thursday in a mock-check presentation ceremony to show appreciation for the funding and discuss its potential impact.

The program now has 25 clients, said Brian Kincaid, interim coordinator for the Entrepreneur and Business Center.

Brain Kincaid, JJC Business Advisor, (left) speaks with Congresswoman Lauren Underwood at the City Center Campus in Joliet.

“They range from people in the idea stage who have never started a business to people who are ready to sell,” Kincaid said.

The program, which also serves established businesses, previously went under a different name when operated out of the Main Campus. The COVID-19 pandemic stagnated activity, Kincaid said.

“We’d like to get a little bigger,” he said. “We’re adding staff in the second quarter of this year.”

Plans are being made to hold seminars on topics of interest to the small-business community, with the first one tentatively scheduled for March at the City Center Campus, which is located at 235 N. Chicago St.

Some of the services provided to startup businesses are education, help in finding resources and assistance with business planning.

Congresswoman Lauren Underwood talks with Iyisha Ellis, a Joliet Junior College student and business owner of Zoe Apparel, at the City Center Campus in Joliet.

For established businesses, the center provides assistance with management and growth strategies, marketing and sales plans, and employee training.

The JJC program is one of 10 in the 14th Congressional District for which Underwood secured funding last year through federal Community Project Funding grants.

Underwood said the appeal of the JJC program included its relocation downtown, where she believes it will be more accessible for people who need it.

She said it also serves a growing segment of the economy, which is people opting to start their own businesses.

“We know that in our economy there is a lot of movement in the workforce but considerable interest in starting businesses,” Underwood said.