If we had to pick one word to describe June Lavelle, it would without a doubt be "committed." In 1979, she found herself in charge of a vacant 350,000 square foot factory in northwest Chicago. As executive director of the Industrial Council of Northwest Chicago, it was her job to develop the concept and business plan and raise financing to turn the facility into a business incubator. That incubator served as the model for many neighborhood revitalization programs that followed it.
Although you would never guess it, the 29-year-old former lyric opera singer didn’t have an ounce of business training (let alone an MBA). That didn’t matter, though, because Lavelle had the most important attributes for the job: intelligence leavened with street smarts, dedication that wouldn’t say die and an abiding commitment to helping her inner-city community, which was blighted by decay.
A one-of-a-kind, salty-tongued individualist, she was often known to work around the clock and sleep overnight in her office. Her efforts paid off, and the Fulton-Carroll Center became for many years one of the largest and most successful incubators in the country.
As if she didn’t have enough to keep herself busy, Lavelle also played a key role in NBIA and helped keep it together during its rockiest times. In an effort to share expertise with fledgling incubator developers and managers and raise money for the Association, she and a handful of others developed and presented, gratis, hours of training programs in the late 1980s.
Lavelle became board chairman in 1988, at a time when the organization was searching for a new executive director and finances were weak. Under her leadership, the NBIA board reorganized to become more representative of the membership and made a pledge to change several of its functions, including the election of board members to staggered term limits. Months later, June presided over a marathon meeting during which the board developed the entire program for the upcoming national conference, only three months away.
Lavelle, who was named Inc. magazine’s national Supporter of Entrepreneurship in 1992, has always been willing to share her knowledge, and her work has become a model for incubators throughout the world. She provided consulting services on the development of incubators and other business support programs, most of the time free of charge, to numerous organizations and government agencies in the United States and abroad. Between 1984 and 1990 she hosted delegations from 47 states and 29 foreign countries and conducted nearly 200 workshops on incubator and small business development. In addition, she was a frequent speaker at NBIA conferences, always lighting up packed rooms, often leaving impressed attendees asking, "Who was that woman?"
Lavelle still labors tirelessly to support business and economic development. She was chief of party for a $6.8 million USAID-funded Business Support Project for Poland, leading a consortium of service providers to build the capacity of 30 Business Support Organizations and 110 Polish consultants to deliver consulting services and training to small and medium enterprises. She continues to consult in Poland and around the world as owner of Lavelle & Associates.
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