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Chicago Urban League to Relaunch nextOne Program for Established Black Businesses

After a 10-year hiatus, the Chicago Urban League announced that it is relaunching its nextOne program to help Black small business owners grow their enterprises and increase their impact in Chicago communities.

The cohort-based program will offer accelerated MBA-level business training, business support services, and exposure to potential lenders to address access to capital. Participants will benefit from peer-to-peer networking and will have opportunities to forge possible solutions to some of the challenges facing Black communities. The nextONE program will be a premier offering of the League’s Center for Entrepreneurship & Innovation.

“We’ve heard from a number of business owners about how instrumental the nextONE program was in helping them achieve their business goals and get to the next level,” said Chicago Urban League President and CEO Karen Freeman-Wilson. “So we decided to bring it back now, while many businesses still need significant support and resources to thrive amid the pandemic.”

Freeman-Wilson added, “As the Chicago Urban League increases our focus on closing the racial wealth gap, we also firmly believe that strengthening Black-owned businesses will help to do just that.”

nextONE will target businesses in four industries with high-potential for growth: food services, technology, professional services, and cannabis-adjacent businesses. The 2021-22 cohort will include up to 15 business owners for the nine-month program, which will begin in June. To be considered for nextONE, applicants must be the primary owner and/or co-owner and key decision maker of a business that generally meets the following criteria:

  • Business revenues between $250,000 – $4 million in the most recent fiscal year
  • At least two employees (including the business owner)
  • In operation for at least five years
  • The potential and desire to grow and create jobs in the community

Interested business owners must apply by 5 p.m., Monday, April 26, 2021, at Finalist interviews will take place in May.

The 2021-22 program will be at no cost to participants, thanks to generous support from funding partners that include AT&T, BMO Harris Bank, Boeing, Fifth Third Bank, McGrath Imports, and PepsiCo. The Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University and the Polsky Center for Entrepreneurship & Innovation at the University of Chicago are academic partners in the program. Advisory partners include 1871, the Business Leadership Council, Hyatt Corporation, ITW, and mHUB.

Cheryle Jackson, the former Chicago Urban League President & CEO who introduced the nextONE program in 2007, has also advised on the relaunch.

“We are rebuilding on a strong foundation, and we are incredibly grateful to Cheryle Jackson and to all of our partners for helping to bring back nextONE,” said Freeman-Wilson.

To learn more about the nextOne program and the Chicago Urban League, visit