Think Big’s New Small Business Incubator Aims To Help Entrepreneurs Break Through Barriers | Rock River Current

October 2, 2023 at 4:32 pm Kevin Haas

Sheila Hill, co-founder of Think Big, swings a sledgehammer during a ceremonial start to construction on Monday, Oct. 2, 2023, at 1311 N. Main St. in Rockford. (Photo by Kevin Haas/Rock River Current)

By Kevin Haas
Rock River Current
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ROCKFORD — Construction is underway on a new small business incubator that aims to help minority– and women-owned businesses break through barriers and find success.

The former Jerome Interiors building at 1311 N. Main St. is being renovated into the future Think Big Minority Business Accelerator at the Provenzano Center. The goal is to complete the work and open the center by August 2024.

“Today we have the golden hammers here … but in my mind I’m looking forward to the golden scissors in which we’ll be cutting this ribbon,” said Luther Rainer, co-owner and CFO of Kee Solutions, which is the general contractor and will help mentor six young adults during the project to prepare them for a future in the trades.

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About 8,000 square feet of the 20,000-square-foot building will be demolished to make way for needed parking and outdoor space for the facility.

The remaining 12,000 square feet includes of 5,000 square feet for training and education space, namely Think Big’s School of Business. There will also be 2,000 square feet of administrative space and 5,000 square feet of coworking space that will allow entrepreneurs to rent space before they move into their own brick-and-mortar storefront.

That will help the nonprofit, which now rents and shares space for its workshops, increase the number of programs it can offer and open them to more participants.

There have been 162 graduates of Think Big’s School of Business, and nearly 100 have gone on to official register their business or obtain an Employer Identification number. Of those who have graduated since 2021, 11 have gone on to open brick-and-mortar storefronts, including TNT Funnel Cakes and Ambiance. An additional seven have expanded or grown their storefronts.

“I really believe that they are absolutely changing the landscape for entrepreneurs in the city of Rockford,” Mayor Tom McNamara said.

This rendering from Place Foundry and Think Big shows a coworking space at the future small business incubator at 1311 N. Main St. in Rockford. (Image provided by city of Rockford)

The old furniture building also formerly housed Fight College boxing and fitness gym and an indoor skatepark, but it was most recently used for storage for Rocktown Adventures and as office space Joseph James Partners development group. Heather and Peter Provenzano donated the building to the city for the project.

The renovations are expected to cost $2.4 million. About $1.4 million of that comes from a portion of American Rescue Plan dollars the city received as part of the federal coronavirus stimulus package. An additional $1 million was secured by U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin through the Omnibus Appropriations Act.

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Think Big was established in 2018 by Duntai Mathews and Sheila Hill, who have both run businesses in Rockford for years. Hill is president and CEO of the property management company Hill & Hill Enterprises, and Mathews is the president of DLM Manufacturing.

Mayor Tom McNamara speaks during a news conference Monday, Oct. 2, 2023, as Duntai Mathews (from left), Quentin Wainwright Sr., Sheila Hill and Francisca French look on at the future Think Big business incubator in Rockford. (Photo by Kevin Haas/Rock River Current)

Hill said the goal has been to help entrepreneurs overcome any obstacles they have for success. She said they had talked for years about ways to help Black and Brown and women entrepreneurs break through barriers.

“It’s was our goal and desire to give back to our community to see them build generational wealth through them and their families through entrepreneurship,” Hill said.

The former Jerome Interior building at 1311 N. Main St. in Rockford is being renovated into the Think Big small business center. (Photo provided by city of Rockford)

This article is by Kevin Haas. Email him at or follow him on X at @KevinMHaas or Instagram @thekevinhaas and Threads @thekevinhaas

Tags: business, city council, local business, local news, Rockford, Rockford news

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