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Chicago construction company poised for big growth with help from Emerging Leaders training program

Emerging Leaders graduates celebrate after completing the class in October.

Edith De La Cruz has never shied away from a challenge – whether in her previous career as a teacher to children with special needs and students learning English, or in entering a male-dominated field when she started her Chicago construction business, Antigua Construction.

“I’m not afraid to get my hands dirty – as a small business, that’s what we have to do. We have to wear all the hats at one time or another,” she said. “Believe it or not, I’ve done demo, installation of carpeting … If you have a deadline, you have to get on the floor and do it yourself.”

But she’s also learned how to ask for help when she needs it, frequently taking advantage of free training and services from the U.S. Small Business Administration and its resource partners to help her small business grow and succeed. De La Cruz has used Procurement Technical Assistance Centers (PTACs) and the SBA’s surety bonding guarantee program to access government contracts in the early years of her company.

In October 2017, she graduated from the SBA’s Emerging Leaders program, a seven-month executive education series for businesses poised for growth. Alongside 15 other Chicagoland entrepreneurs, De La Cruz attended biweekly classes on topics including reading financial statements, crafting a marketing plan, and hiring and human resources. The course culminates with participants presenting a three-year strategic growth plan to their peers and a panel of experts.

Participating in Emerging Leaders gave De La Cruz an opportunity to pore over her financial statements and make realistic goals for the future. She also valued the camaraderie that developed among the business owners.

“You think you are the only one going through the aches and pains, but seeing all the business owners going through similar situations, you realize you aren’t alone,” she said. “They did not give up.”

Looking forward, De La Cruz is excited to implement the growth plan she developed during Emerging Leaders. In 2018, she plans to submit an application for SBA’s 8(a) Business Development Program, which provides a broad scope of assistance to firms that are owned and controlled by socially and economically disadvantaged individuals. She plans to continue to foster relationships in both the private and public sector.

“One of the things I’ve learned is, don’t put your eggs in one basket,” De La Cruz said. “If one goes down, you have other sources of income.”

In her growth plan, De La Cruz strategizes how to drive Antigua Construction, which has 14 employees, from a $3 million company next year to $10 million in sales in 2020. Based on lessons learned in Emerging Leaders, she has a path to get there, but De La Cruz advises other small business owners to not be in a rush to get too big.

“Don’t put yourself at risk for the growth of your business. Not every proposal is a good one for you,” she said. “Think of the consequences and in the long run, you will be better, and you will grow.”

Company Name: 
Antigua Construction