Usually, reentry programs focus on meeting the immediate needs of the formerly incarcerated, including employment. Yet for this population, access to any work, much less livable wage-paying jobs can be especially challenging. An overarching goal of the City Startup Labs’ ReEntry Entrepreneurship Program (REEP) is to demonstrate that entrepreneurship makes for a viable option to standard employment and an anecdote to possible recidivism.
We introduced the 2018 pilot operating with a few assumptions — one, was that the program would be premised on the notion that entrepreneurship can be a tool for restorative justice. (read announcement)
The successful reintegration of returning citizens often centers around the key questions of access, inclusion and equity. Underpinning these questions is the larger issue of restorative justice and the bridge building between those who may have done harm and a community in need of reconciliation.
Developing entrepreneurial capacity and sparking innovation from within this population is a dynamic way of establishing and restoring trust, as well as developing the much-needed social capital, which is one of three asset-building pillars of CSL.
A second assumption was that we required that the resulting enterprises would be based (home office, headquarters or operations) within a target impact area or one of the aforementioned communities. We initially chose to be along the Beatties Ford Road Business Corridor (map). Issues of socio-economic mobility, equity and the ever-widening wealth gap are most apparent within these historically under-served communities. These areas, like the corridor, require new forms of economic activity, such as what a REEP business can provide. An important objective of these ventures is hiring community members as employees, working alongside of program participants and other returning citizens.
An initial way of reinforcing our work within the target area was by conducting a Community Needs Assessment. We hosted this gathering in July with roughly 40 persons, who had an interest in the question reentry and economic activity within the community. We wanted to hear directly from the community, as well as introduce them to REEP. This was also part of a 3-part design thinking workshop for REEP, facilitated by David Phillips of Faster Glass.
A third assumption that we made was that the cohort needed to work together as a team of cofounders – rather than pursuing individual business ideas. This mashup or collision was necessary in order to help mitigate the problems inherent in developing and launching any new venture – much less one started by folks with a host of challenges that come with reentry. The hope was that this allowed for peer-to-peer mentoring, accountability and sharing of the responsibilities that come with starting a new business.
As one of the participants put it, [su_pullquote]“Trust in the process’, advice to the future cohort. Understand that the turmoil and uncertainty, being uncomfortable, that is part. Particularly with your peers, in a management course they teach these stages of team development, you got your forming, storming, norming, performing, adjoining, follow that and that storming phase, unfortunately in our storming phase, people dropped out, people were doubting this, doubting themselves, it’s a part, this isn’t anything new, it’s gonna be conflict, it’s gonna be friction. That’s a part of what makes this work.”[/su_pullquote]
In the pilot we had a much smaller group than we’re accustomed to working with, so rather than having several teams within one cohort, we ended up with only one. However, this worked to everyone’s advantage and allowed us to provide more of a high-touch approach to the participants.
This pilot revealed quite a bit about whether and how our assumptions were borne out and validated, as well as what modifications are needed going forward in order to improve how we best serve returning citizen entrepreneurs. Those modifications will be central to our Learn/Earn/Build (LEB )Model. More to come about LEB in future REEP updates.