Providing computer training classes, a conference room for small business owners and Internet access for customers, The Burke Business Center offers a variety of services. However, with its bright red lounge chairs and shelved novels by Chicago-based authors, it has the feel of a book store.
Located at 102 S. Ridgeland Ave., the new business also provides seminars for entrepreneurs on prospering in a competitive market, and offers coffee sold by vendors and computer training classes.
Think Kinko’s crossed with Starbucks plus a Barbara’s bookstore atmosphere.
The conference room is used primarily by business owners for meetings with prospective clients; however, it is open to all patrons for use at a rate of $25 per hour for those without a center membership ($20 for members).
The center holds monthly networking events on the second Friday of the month for business owners to mingle with community residents, receive one-on-one counseling from business experts and learn more about marketing and finance.
Speakers like marketing specialist Lauren Gillian (who spoke at the center on March 14) give entrepreneurs advice on starting and maintaining a successful business. These events are open to the general public as well and cost $30. There are also social events such as poetry sets and jazz performances held sporadically throughout the month.
The center, which officially opened on Nov. 8, 2007, is the brainchild of Salena Burke, who grew up in the Austin community.
“Starting a business was something I was considering since I was a teenager,” said Burke. “I think I was influenced to do so by my father who was a staunch supporter of being one’s own boss and working for yourself.”
However, when Burke was 14 years old, she was dealt a setback when she became pregnant and it threatened to derail her career objectives.
“My father was quite upset. He was afraid I would not finish school,” recalled Burke. “I will admit there was a bit of naiveté in the beginning because I knew my life would change by raising a child at such a young age, but I didn’t really grasp the gravity of the circumstances until after he arrived.”
Although many in her family doubted she’d be able to finish school while taking care of a toddler, she still graduated with honors from Near North High School.
“I moved out on my own at 17. I worked for a few years at McDonald’s to support myself and was fortunate to find an affordable daycare provider near my apartment that could watch my son while I attended college,” said Burke.
She received her bachelor’s degree in criminal justice from Loyola University and her master’s in computer science from DePaul University, then started working at Compass Professional Services in 2000, a Chicago-based firm that handles stocks and trading.
But business ownership was still her goal.
“I was enjoying the work I was doing, but I still thought about the advice my father had given me,” said Burke. “So in 2004, when my boss was talking about leaving, it lit a fire under me to start planning for the business.”
She has not given up her day job though, as she continues to work at the firm, but she concedes she will eventually need to sacrifice one career path for the other.
“Burnout is a huge concern for me in the future, but for now I’m very happy with wearing both hats,” said Burke, who currently resides in Westchester.
Her son Timothy will go away to college next year, at which time she plans to move closer to the center in Oak Park.
Seeatrice Williams, manager of the center, says the business has become a great spot for students who want to do homework or e-mail friends.
“I see more teenagers come in the afternoon to socialize, have a cappuccino and smoothee, and do homework,” said Williams. “Sometimes they would rather come in here to use the Internet (access is $5 per hour) rather than work at school because of the relaxed atmosphere,” says Williams, who is a sophomore at Harold Washington College.