- Liz Abunaw, owner of Chicago grocery startup Forty Acres Fresh Market, was one of three Black entrepreneurs to each receive a $50,000 grant in unrestricted capital from cookie brand Famous Amos.
- Abunaw said in an interview she plans to use the funding for marketing, employee training and inventory — areas most public funding sources don’t cover — as Forty Acres prepares to open its brick-and-mortar to Chicago’s Austin neighborhood. As part of the program, Abunaw and the other grant recipients will also receive mentoring, coaching, resources and tools from The National Black Chamber of Commerce.
- The grant is addressing racial disparities in funding to start and sustain a business, Abunaw said.
Forty Acres aims to address issues locals face in accessing fresh food by providing high-quality groceries at affordable prices. Abunaw is in the process of transitioning Forty Acres from its pop-up market format into a brick-and-mortar store.
Currently, Abunaw is awaiting the issuance of the construction permit and doesn’t have an opening date yet for the store. Shoppers can find Forty Acres nearby as the anchor tenant for the weekly Austin Town Hall City Market.
Noting that Famous Amos is in the food channel alongside Forty Acres, Abunaw said that other companies could take a similar cue in offering programs that help support and launch businesses that could be future partners.
Created in honor of Wally Amos, the founder of Famous Amos, the Ingredients for Success Entrepreneurs Initiative aims to provide promising Black business owners with capital and coaching resources. More than 3,200 owners vied for this year’s funding round.
Abunaw said Famous Amos’ initiative appealed to her because of its mentorship component and “significant” amount of unrestricted capital. Abunaw has found that public funding sources often place restrictions that limit their use for capital expenditures like construction or equipment costs.
“When funding is unrestricted, you’re able to have the flexibility to use it where you need it most,” Abunaw said.
When Abunaw applied for Famous Amos’ initiative this year, she made it clear Forty Acres would use the funding to cover “soft costs” for pre-opening and in areas that other funding sources don’t.
For the program’s mentoring component, Abunaw said she’d appreciate guidance in areas such as marketing, top-line growth, streamlining operations and human capital — such as attracting, retaining, training and managing workers. Abunaw, who has a Master of Business Administration degree from the University of Chicago, said she’s already benefited from having a network of friends and colleagues who have helped her figure out the logistics of how to start up and run a business.
“I think if more small business owners, especially Black small business owners, had access to that type of network, you would see our businesses scale at a far greater rate and at a faster pace,” Abunaw said.
While some grant programs have restrictions or are one-time offerings, Abunaw said she’s glad Famous Amos’ program is an ongoing source of funding, noting that $50,000 can help even the playing field for Black entrepreneurs.
“I’ve seen friends and family rounds [for white entrepreneurs] raise over $100,000 and many of us just don't have that level of wealth within our network to just get started so we wind up grinding for a longer period of time” as solo entrepreneurs, Abnuaw said.
With the grant program, Famous Amos is seeking to help diminish racial funding gaps, Rachna Patel, senior director of marketing for Famous Amos, said in an emailed comment.
“When you look at the data and research – especially in the last few years since COVID – you see the gaps in wealth, in capital, and in access to funding and resources, which ultimately hinders entrepreneurial growth in Black communities,” Patel wrote.