Featured image: Alicia Ponce, founder of APMonarch and Business for All grant recipient.


Sometimes you need a push to start down the rabbit hole of entrepreneurship. For Alicia Ponce, founder of the Chicago-based architecture firm APMonarch and recipient of a $25,000 Hello Alice Business for All Grant, that push was an unexpected layoff.

“I said, ‘Well, if I don’t do it now, when is the right time?’ And I always wanted to work on architecture that was green and sustainable,” she says.

The search for her first client started with a prospect that approached her previous firm for a project. A deal never materialized, so Ponce, now a free agent, reached out to see if the prospect was still looking for an architect. “And that’s where I got my start,” she says. “They hired me!”

That was 2007. Today, APMonarch is a regional leader in sustainable architecture and design. Big-name clients include the University of Chicago, Field Museum of Natural History, and Midway International Airport, with projects incorporating sustainability and LEED certification whenever possible. It's a portfolio that reflects the firm’s commitment to “economically, environmentally, and socially feasible projects.”

[Hello Alice Guide: Define Your Purpose]

Ponce and a member of her staff working on a project.

The pandemic brought much of APMonarch’s business to a standstill, forcing Ponce and her team to look to grant programs, such as the Hello Alice Business for All Grant, to keep the business afloat. Her big tip after submitting so many applications? Have prepared answers to common questions about your business to help streamline the process.

“It’s some work on your end that you have to do and you have to prepare for that,” says Ponce. “I was very proud that I had that ready because otherwise, it can be discouraging when you are working and being tested."

[Hello Alice Guide: Write a Winning Grant Application]

Ponce says the grant will help retain employees, add new staff members, and pay bills like payroll and professional insurance. The grant will also support her podcast, Designing Healthy Environments, a live show created during the pandemic to connect with clients and speak with subject matter experts in the green building industry.

The past year has brought many obstacles for small business owners, but Ponce recommends fellow entrepreneurs hold on tight during the highs and lows. Perseverance will be rewarded.

“There are so many challenges, so many no’s that you’re going to hear, and unexpected results, so you need that perseverance," Ponce says. "Be persistent in your goals and your dreams, and find those clients that you know you can add value to them. That’s what I always go back to: resilience, passion, and perseverance. And preparation, you have to be prepared. The pandemic is the time to prepare.”


Looking for support for your business? Visit the Hello Alice COVID-19 Business Resource Center for how-to guides and up-to-date resources, and subscribe to our weekly newsletter to be the first to hear about new grant opportunities.