LaTanya Cross remembers days not long ago when her husband, Ronnie, worked on cars in their garage at home. Ronnie expressed interest in starting a legitimate business. While volunteering for an expo held by nonprofit Think Big!, they were connected to its co-founder Dr. Sheila Hill.

“Once they started the School of Business, we jumped on it,” she said.

Think Big!, founded in 2018, helps disadvantaged entrepreneurs overcome barriers to establishing and growing their own businesses. The School of Business is a four-week accelerated program that teaches aspiring entrepreneurs and even established businesses how to successfully set up a business. Participants meet for three hours on Saturdays. Each is assigned a business coach and four facilitators walk them through the curriculum.

Think Big! was awarded a $100,000 Impact Grant from NICI to support increased demand for services, as well as educational and technical support. In January, it will be able to operate two cohorts of students instead of one, Dr. Hill said. Each cohort consists of about 35 participants. They also will be adding monthly workshops featuring guest speakers to share expertise on how to scale up a business, and quarterly networking events for up to 100 entrepreneurs.

“The program attracts a mixture of students, from a salon or barber to a home day care operator and a caterer,” Hill said. “Some have been in business for several years but lack legal structure. Others operate storefronts without applying for their city and state licenses. We help them go from a side hustle to a legitimate business.”

LaTanya Cross attended business school in college, but the School of Business gave her and her husband the tools they needed to make their dreams a reality.

“Think Big! gives you that real experience. It was more personable to go through the Think Big! School of Business. I think I learned more from them than going to college.”

After the Crosses completed the program, Duntai Matthews, Think Big! co-founder, told them about a building for rent that used to be an auto mechanic shop. “We reached out and we did get that building and everything has fallen into place since we’ve been with Think Big!” she said.

The couple opened the #TheCrossover Motorsports at 3329 Auburn Street in Rockford on April 1. The business was named for the hashtag they used on social media for their wedding. On November 5, they were invited to address the newest graduates at their ceremony. LaTanya had this advice: “Don’t give up. Stick to it. If you know this is your passion and this is really what you want to do, just push forward. It will be worth it.’”

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