Entrepreneurship as a Re-entry Option

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Over this past year I’ve had the privilege of teaching several 10 week startup business classes specifically designed for individuals reentering society. This has been one of the most gratifying experiences I have had in my business career and I’d like to share the story with you.

Credit for the concept of providing a course on entrepreneurship and writing a business plan goes to Mr. Larry Sachs of the Chicago Police Department. A large part of Larry’s professional career has been in correctional work. This has inspired him to explore other re-entry options for recently incarcerated individuals, many of whom have entrepreneurial spirit.

An introduction to Larry by Raman Chadha of the Coleman Entrepreneurship Center led to the opportunity for me and my friend and colleague Becky Davenport to begin teaching the 10 week MERIT (Micro Enterprise Re-entry Investment Trust) classes in May 2010.

To date Becky and I have taught 5 classes with a total of 80 students, successfully completing the program and writing a business plan. There are no tuition fees for the class or materials. For those students seeking start up funds Accion , a local micro lender met with students one on one during the program to explain their lending criteria and to help them prepare for the loan application process. Of 32 students applying for financing 13 were granted loans by Accion ranging from $1000 to $3200.

Here are just a few of the businesses launched by students:

  • Tax Service/Bookkeeping
  • Vegetarian Restaurant
  • Residential Construction
  • Computer Repair
  • Medical Transportation

We were very fortunate to have the support of several program partners. The Safer Foundation , promoting successful re-entry and reducing recidivism, did the initial screening of student candidates. DePaul and Accion Chicago provided facility space for the classes, and Ms. Kim Casey our program manager has done an outstanding job of handling additional student needs, administration, and logistics.

I am always particularly impressed with how engaged the students are. Many come in having already begun work on their business plan. The students take it very seriously. In the rare case when a student could not attend class, he or she would call or text me to explain the situation and to ask about current assignments.

When you consider that the classes were not mandatory and students did not have to pay tuition, their level of commitment was admirable.

Becky and I both get calls and e-mails from former students to update us on their progress and for a bit of mentoring. In a new iteration of the program we will be building an on-line community of alums and current students in order to foster peer interaction, and to provide fresh business content of value to early stage businesses.

After a class or a one-on-one with a student I always feel a real high. At the end of the day you really feel like you’ve helped make an important difference in that person’s life.

Becky and I are hard at work designing a new program for 2012, so stay tuned, and if you have had a similar experience in working with folks in re-entry please share it with our readers.

I would like to start a conversation on this post about the various ways people make an impact in their communities. In what ways do you or someone you know utilize your professional experience and knowledge to assist others on their journey?

And as always if you have any questions or comments e-mail me at jstoynoff@synthesis.Biz


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