Hello! Who are you and what business did you start?
In May 2020, During the pandemic, we opened Momentum Coffee and Coworking. You will know Momentum Coffee by our logo which includes the Power Symbol. It’s all about powering up, empowering others, and powering the community!
A little more about how we got started.
Ignite Technology and Innovation, 501c3, owns and operates Blue Lacuna Coworking Space in Pilsen and recently opened (May 2020) Momentum Coffee and Coworking the South Loop, Chicago.
The Ignite Technology and Innovation mission is to create equitable wealth and shared prosperity in under-resourced communities. We develop affordable, accessible coworking spaces enriched with classes and programs. Our programs inspire, encourage, nurture, and grow the untapped ideas of underrepresented entrepreneurs by providing local access to technology, resources, mentorship, and strategic connections to potential partners and investors.
Momentum Coffee & Coworking is South Loop’s first affordable coffee & coworking Incubator opening to serve underrepresented entrepreneurs in Chicago. Momentum is an open-to-the-public café that doubles as a fully resourced coworking space to its members, focusing on coffee, coworking, community, and event space.
Founder, Tracy G. Powell the President and Chairman of Ignite Technology and Innovation has over 30 years of experience in real estate development and investment in communities. Co-founder, Nikki Bravo serves as Executive Director bringing with her a combined 20 years of public sector and nonprofit management experience. Both are laser-focused on the economic empowerment of under-resourced communities.
Check out our recent feature by NBC Sports Chicago – Momentum Coffee and Coworking Black History Month Spotlight.
Our revenue is about $17-20k a month and increasing as we come out of COVID restrictions. In our first year, we served over 4k customers in total at that time.
What's your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?
Tracy Powell is a Technology Entrepreneur, Real Estate Developer, and Investor. He invested the first part of his business career in investments working for firms such as Merrill Lynch and First National Bank of Chicago and American Express. As a real estate developer and investor with over 28 years of experience, he specialized in urban real estate development. developing 100’s of units of affordable, market-rate, and elderly housing.
The future of your business relies on what you do today. So be at your best, don't dwell on how difficult the past was, bring the lessons that you learn each day as you walk towards your goal.
Tracy is also the founder of Blue Venture Partners a Software Development and IT consulting firm, and Blue Fund Rewards which is a crowdfunding platform that focuses on raising capital for startup businesses and organizations. He is the President of Ignite Technology and Innovation, a not for profit that focuses on creating technology co-working spaces and programming in under-resourced communities throughout the country.
Nikki has over 20 years as an accomplished administrator and financial manager. She has led interdisciplinary teams responsible for policy development, operations management, and project implementation in areas of human resources, accounting, budget development, risk management, grants administration, and procurement. She held the position of Chief Administrative Officer for an agency with a multi-year project budget of over $2.8B. Particularly strong in communication skills and promoting strategies to effectively reach mission-critical goals.
In 2016 she began to serve as VP of HR & Workforce Development for the Bishop Arthur M. Brazier Foundation’s BSD (Building Self Determination) Industries L3C, a social enterprise focused on developing skills of south and west side residents. In 2017 Nikki and her husband Tracy Powell, created Ignite Technology & Innovation 501(c)3 to light a spark in the area of economic development by helping small businesses thrive through a physical space and decreasing the technological divide. Ignite operates the Blue Lacuna Co-working space, in Pilsen and Momentum Coffee & Coworking in Chicago's South Loop.
She is committed to her roles as wife, mother, foster parent. She is dedicated to transforming communities by building the capacity of their residents and businesses. And she hopes to go back to running marathons
With our combined experience, faith, and great partnerships we expanded on our coworking idea and made it coffee and coworking.
Take us through the process of designing, prototyping, and manufacturing your first product.
Allow me to share the Making of Momentum Coffee, during the 2020 Pandemic story with you.
Imagine, if you will, you are taking on a new (ad)venture. Over a 6 month period, you experience the following: you find the perfect location to rent (after other spaces fell through) and sign the lease; you secure a loan (after many hurdles); you get through construction (relatively sane); you buy equipment, inventory, and furniture; line up vendors and POS systems; make employment offers and train staff; obtain your business license and even pass your health inspection (big sigh of relief).
As you begin to plan for the grand opening celebration, BOOM - Coronavirus hits! People are afraid, the city places restrictions on business operations, businesses are shutting their doors, everyone is in quarantine and you dare to dream that you can open a new business.
You are faced with a choice Open or Don’t Open. After all the considerations you ultimately have to choose!
Well, we waited a month to see what was going to happen with the pandemic, and then on May 4, 2020, we opened the doors to the very first Momentum Coffee and Coworking in Chicago’s south loop community! The Momentum team has been showing up every day, ever since, to safely serve great coffee with excellent customer service to a wonderful community.
How have we survived? In short - through our relationships with people and intentional partnerships! First, we have been blessed by those committed to shopping small and shopping local. We partnered with an app focused on mobile orders for indie shops, which was the first major pivot from the original plan which was to have people enjoy our indoor space and build community.
Our food and coffee vendors have been really flexible supportive partners that work with us on waving order minimums. Our artist worked with us to create a warm and inviting space. Our team is committed to serving whether 2 or 200 hundred show up on any given day. Our own commitment to mission-aligned partnerships has served us well. We work with others that share the goal and understanding that when we work together, we will not only survive but thrive in this crazy new normal.
“You never know how strong you are until being strong is your only choice” Bob Marley. It has not been easy, but we hope to #keepthemomentum! (see what we did there)
More about our story can be found on our blog.
Momentum Coffee - Look Back 2020:
Describe the process of launching the business.
After waiting a month or so we decided to open with the help of a mobile app dedicated to indie coffee shops. Our first setup was that we took orders at the front door in our vestibule. We would make the drink and run the drinks outside. In those first weeks, we were happy to have 7-10 customers a day. Not an hour a day. People are inside, not walking around trying to find new places to try!
Then we decided to up our social media presence. We felt like we have a cool recognizable logo so we went for it - posting away on social media. What really made a difference however was joining the local community groups and sharing with them what we are up to. People in the group began to share their experiences and there was a real push to #shopsmall #shoplocal and #shopblack. The community rallied to support our new shop. Today we have WAY more than 7 customers a day but still a fraction of the projections. The numbers are increasing week over week and month over month so #keepthemomentum.
As we look back over the first year in business, the biggest hurdle has been staffing. We just did not anticipate the amount of turnover that would occur. The idea of retaining staff really never came to mind. Now we are working with local community partners to staff our locations.
Our funding was through and CDFI - Community Development Financial Institution aimed at funding small businesses. The rest of the funds to start the business was an investment we made in our vision. Our parent organization does have a crowdfunding platform call Blue Fund Rewards which we may access in the future.
Momentum’s Mini-Manager Krystal Powell:
Since launch, what has worked to attract and retain customers?
Getting them in by online and offline advertising. We have flags outside that wave to people as they pass by so they know we are open. Momentum has illuminated signage to also make people aware. We also have a pretty good online presence. We primarily use FB, Instagram, GMB, and Yelp.
Customers say they have seen the “really good reviews on Yelp”. Or when we ask how they found us the response is often “google!”. SEO has been soooo important to ensure that we are found on the searches. We started working with someone pretty early and continue to date.
We know those good reviews have been earned. We take pride in serving quality products, coffee, tea, sandwiches, and treats. Next to that, it is Customer service, customer service, and customer service. Our customers find us friendly and we think it is because we enjoy what we do.
How are you doing today and what does the future look like?
May 4th was our first anniversary so we are still in business - Hooray! Business is looking up and we see new customers every day. We are planning to open 2 new locations in the City of Chicago. One will be located in Englewood and the other in North Lawndale. Both will be smaller than the flagship store in South Loop. Each of the new locations will have small areas for seating and coworking. However, the same great coffee and food will be available.
GMB and Yelp Reviews
Momentum After Construction:
Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?
What has worked
- Having a strong Brand
- Small but mighty and committed team
- Hiring and Retention
- Product Shipment delays due to COVID - plan ahead
- Inventory Management
Lessons and helpful hints
- Written protocols
- Written training
- Allow time for sourcing
BACP Power in the Pivot Webinar:
What platform/tools do you use for your business?
Our business uses a POS system for small businesses, a scheduling app, social media management, coworking software with CRM, mobile ordering app and delivery app, project management platform (anything else???) and sometimes good old spreadsheets do the trick!
Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting?
For entrepreneurs and new businesses, everything has a starting point. It may be hard in the beginning but as you grow and work harder each day, you will definitely reap the fruits of your labor. Do not stop researching for improvements, talk to others who have done it and get key points, join groups about your business (you are not alone), explore local agencies like SCORE and BACP to assist you and provide more resources.
Just do it or don’t (avoid indecision). You should create mission-aligned partnerships that will give you more opportunities within the community and widen your network. Don’t focus only on the money. Try to enjoy the journey. The future of your business relies on what you do today. So be at your best, don't dwell on how difficult the past was, bring the lessons that you learn each day as you walk towards your goal.
Are you looking to hire for certain positions right now?
Momentum Coffee and Co-working are currently looking for Full-time Barista for our current location in the South Loop and Part-time Baristas in our upcoming location in Englewood.
Where can we go to learn more?
If you have any questions or comments, drop a comment below!
Hey! 👋 I'm Pat Walls, the founder of Starter Story.
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