Have you ever considered starting your own business instead of working in a dead-end low paying job, or not having any job because of your felony?
Today, there are a number of entrepreneurship training programs developed specifically for felons, and targeting their unique needs.
These programs usually include courses that teach you how to start and run a legal business, one-on-one mentorship and ongoing support.
Perhaps you have always been an entrepreneur at heart and just applied your skills in the wrong way that got you behind bars. Enrolling into one of these programs can help you channel your skills and develop new ones in a way that will give you financial security, freedom and respect you deserve.
Here is a comprehensive list of entrepreneurship education programs for felons across the US (listed by state).
The Last Mile
The foundation offers felons a number of opportunities to learn new skills that can be used to get a job or start their own business. These include:
Catering Program: trains participants in menu developing and planning, food purchasing, preparation and serving, floral and facility decorating, rental and estimating, audio-visual set-up, and more.
Corporate Car Service: participants can learn marketable limousine driving skills.
Print and Copy Shop: participants learn all aspects of the silk- screening process from computer design to the printing of the shirts and clothing. They are also trained to print all sizes of posters, banners, brochures and business cards for private or corporate needs.
Other training opportunities include sales, marketing, construction, landscaping, bookkeeping, running a restaurant, and more. There is also opportunity to earn the equivalent of a high school diploma.
Eligibility: candidates must apply and go through the interview by senior members of Delancey Street. Honesty during the interview is of primary importance (those who lie are kicked out of the program). You must make a 2 year commitment to the program. Note, its a residential program, which means you live there full time (food and clothing is also provided).
Project ReMADE is a rigorous 12 week entreprenurship training program for felons. Participants attend bi-weekly classes on accounting, marketing, negotiations, public speaking, business management and more. Classes are taught by students from Stanford Law School and Stanford Graduate School of Business. Additionally, participants are assigned mentor teams, who help them develop individualized written business plans. Mentor teams comprise one Stanford Law School student, one Stanford Graduate School of Business student, and one Silicon Valley professional. At the end of the program, a completion ceremony is held at Stanford Law School. Graduates present their business plans before a panel of executives from local micro-development organizations.
Note, Applications for the 2018-2019 class will open in late spring/early summer 2018.
Eligibility: to be considered for enrollment, you must meet the following requirements:
Men’s Employment and Business Ownership Program (MEBOP)
Located in Chicago
This program is sponsored by the Illinois Department of Corrections. It is a 10-week Entrepreneurial Training Program that matches participants in internships at established businesses. Note, this program is not elusively for felons, but around 60% of participants have a criminal record.
To learn more, call 312-386-9765
Rising Tide Capital
Located in Jersey City
This non-profit organization targets communities in New Jersey with many struggling individuals, many of whom are felons, to help them build strong businesses, enhance their communities. There are a number of programs available such as Community Business Academy, which is a 12 week course on business fundamentals like budgeting, marketing, bookkeeping and financing. Business Acceleration Services offers one-0n-one mentorship meeting to more seasoned entrepreneurs who have a solid business plan and are in the process of starting or growing a business. There is also Credit to Capital, a one-on-one coaching program that teaches entrepreneurs where to get funding for their ventures.
This extensive program serves underprivileged communities around New York city and provides participants with a number of services and training programs to help them get a new start in life. These include a 10-week Entrepreneurial Assistance Program, where participants learn the basics of starting a business a write a business plan. There is also one-on-one business counseling and networking with other entrepreneurs. Participants in the program are eligible to receive a microloan to help start a small business. The average loan’s size is $2,000.
To learn and more and find an information session in your area, click here.
Defy Ventures Inc.
Located in New York City and California Bay Area
A very rigorous entrepreneurship training program for men who have proven business and leadership skills from their criminal past. The program provides personal and leadership development, competition-based entrepreneurship training, executive mentoring, financial investment, and business incubation. Participants are mentored by top level corporate executives, investors and entrepreneurs who participate in the program from all over the US.
Eligibility: admission to the program is highly competitive. Potential candidates should demonstrate the following:
Have a felony (prefer a history of leadership in gangs and drug rings)
100% drug free
Highly ambitious to achieve legal success
Committed to personal transformation and a crime-free life
Entrepreneurial and willing to “get it done” no matter the obstacles
You will need to fill out an application and pass the interview.
Once admitted, you will need to pass the 3-week Introductory program, and will then go on to Defy Academy.
See full description under the state of California.
Entrepreneurial Ex-Offenders Training and Support Program (EEOTS)
This program is run by the Oklahoma Department of Corrections and is funded by a federal grant. The goal is to provide entrepreneurship and life skills training as well as ongoing community support to at least 449 offenders (both male and female) from a variety of penitentiary facilities around Oklahoma.
Eligibility: This program is for felons who are still in prison. The following requirements need to be met:
High School Diploma or General Educational Development (GED).
10th grade Reading and Math Levels.
Release date within 18 months with at least 6 months of actual time remaining.
This none-profit construction company was started by a felon, Greg Jacobs, after he struggled to find employment. The program teaches felons construction skills to rehab residential and commercial properties. Greg offers 4 year training programs that provide training in solar panel installation, installation of drywall, windows and floors; woodworking; carpentry; and catering. There are also classes on managing finances and building up good credit. For felons who want to start their own business, Jacobs offers help such as getting federal ID numbers, workers’ compensation, insurance, licenses and bonding.
There is no contact information or website. If you are in the area, you can visit and discuss your eligibility at 373 S Arlington St, Akron, OH 44306
PEP: Prison Entrepreneurship Program
The program runs in two locations: Houston and Dallas.
The organization connects released male felons with mentor executive and entrepreneurs, helping participants develop leadership, business and technology skills necessary to start a business.
The program begins inside the prison system with a rigorous application and screening process of eligible male inmates.
Post release program includes a mini-MBA boot camp, highly competitive business plan competition, mentorship and ongoing support.
Upon completion of the program, each participant receives a real Certificate in Entrepreneurship from Baylor University Hankamer School of Business. This college level certificate is incredibly helpful in looking for a job or securing money from investors to start a business.
Eligibility: the program is highly competitive, with only 5% acceptance rate. Applicants must apply while still in prison. First, the Texas Department of Criminal Justice provides PEP with a list of inmates who are eligible to apply (about 500 candidates out of 10,000 inmates each year). Then these candidates are invited to fill out an extensive application and go through the interview process.
You can learn more about the selection and application process here.
1. Aspire To Entrepreneurship Pilot Project
This is a one year program that helps up to 25 adults with a conviction for a misdemeanor or felony to start a small business.
Trainees attend classes on a full-time basis (instead of a job). They learn computer skills, financial basics, starting and managing a business, marketing, accounting. Each participant is assigned a mentor and is required to keep a log of their learning.
Financial Assistance: trainees receive a stipend of $9.00 per hour during the course of the program. They have the option to open an Individual Development Account (IDA), which is a savings account held in escrow to be used to build a seed fund to start the business. The program will match participant dollars 8 to 1.
Eligibility: to be considered, you need to NOT be receiving financial government assistance. In addition, you must meet at least 3 out of the 6 defined barriers for employment:
Have poor English Language Skills: inability to speak, read or write
Lack a secondary school education: no high school diploma or its equivalent (GED)
Have a documented history of substance abuse
Have a verified history of job cycling
Have a conviction for a serious or violent offense
This none profit organization was started by a former felon, Teresa Hodge and her daughter. It connects female felons with employment opportunities, counseling and other re-entry services. They also offer an entrepreneurship program that teaches women how to start their own business.
The pilot program started in 2015, with 7 participants who attended a 10 month course on the fundamentals of starting a business. Courses included how to secure contracts, marketing and self-promotion, finding capital, developing technology skills.
Joe is the founder of HireFelons.org. Having had friends and co-workers who have a felony conviction, Joe Hunter decided to use his expert knowledge in starting a successful business to launch HireFelons.org and teach as many former felons as possible how to earn a decent income, when finding a traditional job is simply not an option.