Ever since the pandemic hit the globe 3 years ago, small businesses have slowly been rebuilding themselves and have been constantly finding ways to re-establish their brands into the current consumer market. Putting themselves back together may seem quite tough especially when they’re looking to re-starting their entire business and even more so when they're going to start from scratch. This is where Abin Kuriakose comes in.
Through his background with the Cook County government, Abin realized that there’s a lot of untapped potential within the AAPI community that deserves to be developed. This led him from working with the government to working on an Economic Development standpoint under World Business Chicago, a non-profit organization that helps in attracting companies to invest in Chicago.
Visibility & Knowledge Sharing
With his job as the organization’s Chief Strategy and Innovation Officer, Abin focuses on the business development side by bringing businesses to Chicago–helping them grow and build the overall “brand” of the city. Abin takes note of the ripple effect that occurs when the city itself invests in its various communities and supports the small businesses that stem from them. It also builds the image of the city to those visiting demographic who could potentially want to invest in Chicago. The consumers of these small businesses who are not originally from Illinois may want to consider putting their businesses near a shop they may have patronized if they see that these small businesses from communities are highlighted. “We have to do a better job at putting a spotlight on these community assets that are really important to the city,” he shares.
When asked if they worked alongside the government, Abin enthusiastically shares that they do. It is also a huge factor that, as they work alongside these government agencies, they complement one another. As part of World Business Chicago, Abin shares that one of the ways they help the government agencies is through the method of Knowledge Sharing. This is when they share to their audience some public information from the government, especially if it could greatly benefit certain communities and their businesses. Visibility is another method that they use in order for people to understand that there’s movement and actions that are taking place to help communities and their predicaments. Both of these methods go hand-in-hand when it comes to getting the communities to understand all these available resources and other program opportunities.
Abin stresses that it’s their job and clear responsibility to make it easy for entrepreneurs to understand and take advantage of the opportunities that are available to them. “They need to run the business, but we need to make sure we give them the resources that they need in order for them to thrive,” he quotes. Adding that they help when it comes to increasing the accessibility as well as raising the visibility of these opportunities that are presented by the government.
Not to be mistaken as liaisons, Abin highlights how the World Business Chicago complement the government’s efforts and that is by attracting private businesses to invest in Chicago. “There are official government bodies that have programs that fund and benefit small business, our specific role is more of Business Development. Corporate attraction, corporate relocation, corporate expansion, and business marketing. We have that very specific scope and role to talk to companies about moving to Chicago, grow in Chicago, but we don’t have specific roles in the programs administered by the government. This is where we complement one another. We don’t offer any direct funding to business owners. That’s not the role of World Business Chicago, that’s the role of the state and that’s the role of the government.”
With people and businesses still reeling from the pandemic and are now just picking up the pace - and some maybe even starting anew - Abin recalls some of the struggles businesses have during one of the most chaotic times. He shared some of the most helpful tips when it comes to facing these problems in order for people and businesses to be able to move forward and still make an impact. Noting that it’s not enough to just merely be passionate about one’s work, he shares three things that could help people and businesses get back on their feet. First, is to know one’s convening power or the ability to bring people together in order to do great work. Second is understanding your personal conviction in order to be able to build your professional brand. “You can’t build a brand without understanding what you value the most,” he shares. Though it is important to network, Abin often shares to other people that it doesn’t mean that one needs to network with everyone. Rather, the best way to build one’s network is when they understand their professional brand. “You understand the values that you care about, the work you are passionate about, and why you are passionate about that work. You have to articulate that professional brand when you are networking with people and oftentimes that doesn’t happen to some when they are in a networking event or reception,” he shares. Third is understanding one’s creative freedom and the ability to pivot when necessary. After the pandemic hit, Abin notes that the need to be innovative and creative has been not only necessary but is almost as if it’s required in order for a business to survive. It’s not enough to just revert back to old tricks but to constantly think of new ways to get involved and get engaged.
When asked about his pivotal moment that made him want to be highly involved when it comes to business and economic development, Abin shared that hosting a business summit right after the pandemic was a crucial moment for him. He mentioned that it helped him determine what Chicago needs to be known for. The event made him realize that local talents from various multicultural communities are what is going to help push Chicago's identity forward. After this moment, it helped Abin determine the sectors within Chicago that could be seen as the strongest. These sectors are (1) Food and Accommodation, (2) Healthcare and Life Sciences, (3) Manufacturing, (4) Transportation, (5) Distribution and Logistics, and (6) Financial Technology. Businesses that fall under these industries have helped the City get back on its feet and have expanded to give other people, most especially to other communities, the opportunity to grow alongside it. After COVID hit, World Business Chicago was able to determine that these sectors made a huge impact within the past 3 years.
The Importance of Community
Apart from that recent critical point, Abin recognizes the importance of community building. Serving the community for more than 10 years, he shares that he knew in an instant after he had graduated that he was going to help the community - a kind of calling to serve. All those years, growing as a leader and as a professional, Abin places significance in recognizing one’s professional responsibility of being the voice and champion of multicultural community districts and the effect that it brings when these communities are provided enough support so they could thrive.
Drawing from his experience, one could truly say that building up the different communities and strengthening the various business sectors that continuously thrive, would definitely solidify the identity of Chicago. Needless to say, should one ever be interested in being part of the space where growth and community building thrive, one need only inquire and be guaranteed that there is help and information available. To those who are more than willing to take things one step further, it’s best to know that there are organizations and even individuals who are passionate in hearing and understanding your story and are willing to help you take your businesses to the next level.