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Entrepreneur Launches Incubator & Co-working Space on Chicago’s South Side

Serial entrepreneur James Parker is on a mission to support women and black-owned businesses on Chicago’s South Side.

His incubator and co-working space, 1921, is poised to open its doors over summer. Named after Tulsa, Oklahoma’s Black Wall Street, the 12,000 sq. ft. facility is designed to help tech and manufacturing startups get trained, funded, and launched.

For an affordable monthly fee, members can access everything from shared space, private offices, conference rooms, virtual mail services, a two-hour childcare drop-off, and much more.

“There are so many entrepreneurs, even those with an online business that don’t have somewhere to meet with customers,” Parker said. “They don’t have a space where they can park their cars, ask to use a beautiful looking office, and meet with clients.”

“We want to be Black millionaires, but how does the community benefit from that? It’s about giving back, how do we as a community move forward.”

Inspired by the first fully independent Black town in Tulsa, Oklahoma that was burned down 100 years ago this year. Parker created 1921 to celebrate those early Black entrepreneurs and continue the spirit of Black Wall Street – helping others help themselves, so they can help you and the community in return.

“That’s the spirit of Black Wall Street, helping the community get ahead not just yourself,” Parker said. “If I have land and you need a house, I’ll sell you the land so you can build that house and take care of your family. That way you’ll be able to get a job, pay me back and create your own business that I will support.”

“We want to be Black millionaires, but how does the community benefit from that?” Parker said. “It’s about giving back, how do we as a community move forward.”

More Than A Co-Working Space

1921’s support of Black businesses doesn’t stop at amenities. In order to foster new ideas and bring salaried jobs to the neighborhood, 1921’s not-for-profit incubator will support Chicago South Side residents at any stage in their entrepreneurial journey.

“It’s more than just providing office space, 1921 is educational. We’re gonna teach you how to launch and grow a business. We’re gonna teach you what it takes, bring in subject-matter experts and make that available to the community.”

1921 Chicago Co-working & Incubator

James Parker’s 1921 Incubator & Co-working Space on Chicago’s South Side, the space is designed by Shakena Strong (photo credit: Amber Green)

The program will provide participants with entrepreneurship training, including finance and the psychology of entrepreneurship, mentors, and networking opportunities.  While 1921 supports businesses at no cost it does take equity from the select companies they launch and incubate. Portions of that money go back into the community the business calls home.

“We’d ask the community if anyone would like to open up a gym franchise, for those interested we’ll come in to pay for it. We’ll select 5 people and then we’ll pay for their franchise fees and they’ll go through the training and boom now there are Black-owned health facilities,” Parker said. “That’s how we build out Black Wall Street, that’s how you keep the money circulating.”

Supporting Next Generation Of Entrepreneurs

In order to reach all members of the Chicago community, 1921 has developed a program to cultivate the next generation of student entrepreneurs. 1921 University will provide all of the resources from 1921’s incubator to college students, specifically HBCU students, across the U.S. both in-person and online.

“1921 will help nurture your business skills and ideas without taking any equity in your company,” Parker said. “All we ask is you take on the spirit of Black Wall Street and create jobs that start at $40,000 a year.”

1921 Co-working & Incubator space in Chicago

James Parker’s 1921 Incubator & Co-working Space designed by Shakena Strong (photo credit: Amber Green)

“That means you may not die a billionaire, but 800 people [will be] able to take care of their families,” Parker said. “That should be worth more than dying with $1 billion in the bank.”

In the spirit of community first, 1921 is partnering with Chicago State University College of Business to provide their students with free access to 1921 University resources– including a designated Chicago State room to brainstorm with their peers.

Multifaceted Experiences And Global Outlook

Parker’s entrepreneurial journey started well before 1921. His experiences abroad, working at a Chicago bar and creating two other startups place Parker in a unique position to succeed with 1921.

The son of a military man, Parker has interacted with many different people. Born in Alaska, Parker moved to Germany, where he attended the same school as Shaquille O’Neal and eventually Minnesota. According to Parker, growing up in the international community gave him a different sense of what Black excellence looks like in a white society.

“It’s more than just providing office space, 1921 is educational. We’re gonna teach you how to launch and grow a business. We’re gonna teach you what it takes, bring in subject-matter experts and make that available to the community.”

“That shaped my mindset and thought process, even with my business. Seeing that since they can do it, then we can do it,” James said. “My view of white privilege is a little different from others because in a lot of cases we were more privileged than they were when we lived in Minnesota.”

 

The city of Chicago has been a place of growth for Parker, who attended both DePaul University and DeVry Institute of Technology. During his education, Parker managed the Shark Bar which provided him with invaluable networking training that enhanced his business education.

“I honed a lot of my business skills working at the Shark Bar and interacting with the professionals and business people. Chris Garder, from Pursuit of Happiness, used to come in as a regular,” Parker said. “I’ve learned how to network and meet with people from working there and I got that opportunity from managing a bar.”

Parker Is a Serial Entrepreneur

1921 is not Parker’s first business venture. In August 2012, Parker created MeetAt6.com, the first online dating service with video chat. Later, he created BestDateNight.com, an online concierge service that books date nights for couples.

The ideas were both well-received, netting Parker local print and broadcast news coverage. Meetat6 even caught the attention of the Steve Harvey show, Parker said. After pitching to a producer on the show how MeetAt6 would be a good segment on the show, the producer stopped contacting him. The experience proved a learning opportunity, as it eloquently articulated the ruthlessness of the business world and the need to protect your ideas, Parker said.

“With 1921 I can make sure others don’t make the same mistake,” Parker said.

Both online dating services will be re-launched through 1921 as part of its first class of startups along with 5 others including Viable, a company that rates the viability of start-ups with a calculated score.

1921 plans to launch 600 Black-owned businesses over the course of its lifetime, starting with 10 during the summer of 2021, representing the 600 businesses that populated the original Black Wall Street.

“All the startups launched out of here are not creating minimum wage jobs,” Parker said. “The goal is to create jobs to move the Black community forward and close the wealth gap.”

Interested in joining 1921 C0-working? Click here for more details.

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Nick Telman
Nick Telman
Nick Telman is a contributing writer for UrbanGeekz
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