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Corporate Connector

In early 2020, Corporate Coalition staff interviewed local and national developers, investors, community leaders, financial institutions, and foundations to identify barriers to advancing catalytic real estate projects and related business enterprises in disinvested neighborhoods.

Corporate Connector Partner Profiles
Melvin Thompson
Executive Director,
Endeleo Institute
Kevin Ryan
Project Manager, CBRE
18 month checklist of projects with map

In our first 18 months, 35 corporate partners connected with 30 community projects

In its first 18 months, the Corporate Connector brought together 35 corporate partners with 30 community-led development projects and small businesses, providing technical expertise and building high-quality connections to increase the likelihood of those projects’ success.

Projects supported by the Connector plan to attract $300 million in investments and create 1,500 jobs over the next one to three years.

Real estate projects and related business enterprises need more than investment capital.

While a lack of equity is a well-known gap in the financing marketplace, community-led catalytic real estate projects and related businesses have other critical needs. Both experienced and emerging for-profit and nonprofit developers are active in disinvested neighborhoods, but those with more limited experience or an episodic or part-time engagement in real estate development may face significant barriers.
Lack of staff in the many disciplines required for project success
Limited access to specific industry expertise
Few relationships with professionals who can help reduce costs and overcome bureaucratic barriers
Limited connections to potential business partners and customers


Residents, businesses, and nonprofit organizations alike are eager to increase the volume and accelerate the pace of development projects. Chicago's corporate community has much to offer. 

The Corporate Connector was created to facilitate connections between the developers and sponsors of community-driven development projects and Corporate Coalition members. The objective is to increase the likelihood that catalytic real estate projects will succeed. The Connector taps into the skills and technical expertise of Chicago-region businesses and makes connections that can result in business and partnership opportunities.

How it works.

Projects come to the Corporate Connector primarily through established relationships with CDFI (Community Development Financial Institution) partners in the EPIC Collaborative (CCLF, IFF, LISC Chicago), the Chicago Prize competition, the Community Desk Chicago, the City of Chicago Invest South/West program and the Cook County Bureau of Economic Development. Over time, additional sources are expected to emerge.
Conversations with Corporate Coalition members and other interested companies are yielding an inventory of resources, skills, expertise, and connections that companies have and are eager to share.
Projects eligible for Corporate Connector support are located in Chicago-area low- to moderate-income census tracts. In alignment with City of Chicago and Cook County priorities, projects will primarily be in communities that are the focus of the Invest South/West program and in the south suburbs of Cook County.

When evaluating a project, Corporate Connector staff consider several factors.
Community support for the project
Potential that technical supports and/or business partnerships will demonstrably increase the likelihood of project success
Wealth-building opportunities (through ownership and jobs) for local developers and community residents
Potential for expanding goods and services that community residents want
Cohort members participate in a learning series twice per month, building skills and a foundational understanding of resilience practices.
Multi User
Unlimited Viewers
Pro Insights
Integrations with Figma, Jira, Dropbox
Cohort members share their own experiences, challenges, solutions, and resources in meetings and smaller affinity groups to accelerate shared progress.
Multi User
Unlimited Viewers
Pro Insights
Integrations with Figma, Jira, Dropbox
Taking Action
Cohort members take action in ways that work for their organization, based on ideas in the learning series, a customized assessment, and a catalog of services and expertise.
Multi User
Unlimited Viewers
Pro Insights
Integrations with Figma, Jira, Dropbox

Case Studies

The Corporate Connector is actively forging connections between Chicago-area businesses.

Café Du Bois

The Corporate Connector introduced Endeleo Institute, a local community development corporation working in the Washington Heights neighborhood, to Tribune Real Estate Holdings. Tribune's finance professionals worked for several months to support Endeleo with financial modeling that helped them secure financing for Café Du Bois, a neighborhood laundromat, café, and community gathering space.
Read More in the Sun-Times

The Salud Center

Claretian Associates is developing the Salud Center, a mixed-use development with senior housing in the former South Chicago YMCA and an anchor for commercial revitalization. The Corporate Connector introduced Claretian Associates to Lakeshore Fitness, experts in fitness center operation, who advised the Salud Center as they planned and developed their fitness center.
Read More about the Salud Center

Green Era biodigester

The Green Era biodigester, built on a former brownfield site in Auburn Gresham, on Chicago’s South Side, processes organic waste and transforms it into agricultural compost and renewable natural gas. The Corporate Connector introduced Green Era to Corporate Coalition members that produce organic waste or want to purchase renewable natural gas.
Read More about Green Era

Corporate Connector creates connections that help community-led development projects thrive.

Projects overcome barriers and thrive.
Development that might otherwise stall due to a lack of support breaks through roadblocks and reaches the finish line.
Community-led development projects and businesses advance.
Projects that align with the values and goals of a community empower the people in that community to prosper and create prosperity. The Corporate Connector helps provide technical expertise and business connections that can increase the likelihood of success for development projects and related businesses.
New relationships between communities and businesses create a lasting infrastructure.
The Corporate Connector aims to create a self-sustaining environment in which communities and businesses rely on one another to grow.

Melvin Thompson

Executive director, endeleo Institute
"The Coalition has helped our organization blaze a trail where previously, there was no path."
The Corporate Coalition unlocked growth for Endeleo.
Participation in the Corporate Connector has changed our trajectory. The resources made available to us have without question made a positive and indelible mark on our organization. Working with the Corporate Coalition helps our organization grow by deepening relationships with the powerful and influential business sector, a critical part of sustainability and growth. When you work with the Coalition, your organization is mentioned positively in rooms where you are not present. That alone is invaluable. Participating in the Coalition provides business acumen that nonprofits and community-based organizations often miss out on.

Kevin ryan

Project manager, CBRE
"We must actively create equity in communities that our industry has historically disenfranchised."
With the Coalition, CBRE turns intention into action.
With the growing national conversation around Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, a lot of our employees have started to become more aware of the devastating role that the real estate industry as a whole has played in systemic inequity, especially here in Chicago. The challenge for us was determining how and where to focus our effort. The Corporate Coalition met us right at the point where that effort was seeking intention and direction.

In order for CBRE to deliver on its commitment to stand for tolerance and equity, we need to bake social impact into our day-to-day operations. The Corporate Coalition serves as a conduit to channel our resources to community groups that are already doing the work in their neighborhoods.