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Harnessing Unique Entrepreneurs

A CEO sitting across from an entrepreneur pitching his business idea is hardly unusual. This scene happens in boardrooms, coffee shops and restaurants across the country. But, a CEO listening to a pitch delivered by an incarcerated man behind bars is unique, and it’s just one part of an incredible program in Texas to transform the futures, families and communities of these men.

The Prison Entrepreneurship Program (PEP) is a renowned program that transforms inmates and executives by unlocking human potential through entrepreneurial passion, education and mentoring. According to an independent study by Baylor University, our globally recognized “entrepreneurship boot camp” now delivers the best results in Texas in terms of reducing recidivism, maximizing employment and fostering small business ownership among our graduates.

The results of the Prison Entrepreneurship Program speaks volumes:

• Less than 7 percent three-year recidivism rate (compared to a national average of nearly 50 percent) • 100 percent employed within 90 days of release from prison; in fact, our graduates average only 25 days “from prison to paycheck” • $11.50+/hour average starting wage (60 percent above minimum wage) • Nearly 100 percent still employed after 12 months (compared to a nearly 50 percent national unemployment rate among ex-offenders) • 185 businesses launched by PEP graduates, including at least three that generate over $1MM in gross revenue

After operating the entrepreneurial program outside of Houston since 2004, PEP has now recently launched training at the Estes Unit in Venus, Texas. The inaugural class at Estes has 82 men involved. All men are within three years of being released. The median age is 35 and none are sex offenders.

PEP’s services begin inside the prison system with a rigorous application and screening process that selects only the top 200-300 applicants from pool of thousands. Selected participants are transferred by the state to either the Cleveland Correctional Facility outside of Houston or the Estes Unit in Venus, Texas, where they begin with a 3-month in-prison character development program.

This is immediately followed by a 6-month in-prison “mini MBA” program that enables participants to earn a college Certificate in Entrepreneurship from Baylor University’s Hankamer School of Business (the #5 entrepreneurship program in the country, according to a 2013 Entrepreneurship Magazine study.) During the in-prison program, all graduates complete a financial literacy course, an employment workshop, a business etiquette course and a Toastmasters class; they also develop a complete business plan for a real business that they can pursue outside of prison and then pitch this plan over 120 times in a Shark Tank format in front of a panels of executive volunteers.

These in-prison services are then followed by post-release services which include: intensive case management with a dedicated re-entry specialist; an affordable housing program that provides a secure, supportive environment to begin rebuilding a life; assistance with finding employment through our relationships with local job placement agencies, local businesses, and PEP’s executive network; mock interviews and basic resume preparation led by seasoned HR volunteers; a basic needs assistance program that provides everything needed to stabilize after release, including professional attire; a weekly continuing education program led by volunteer business leaders through which graduates can earn a second diploma from PEP while expanding their network; and business start-up support services, including access to capital, consulting, affordable incubation space and access to PEP’s network as prospective customers for their businesses.

The next event is “Think Tank” on April 10, where PEP participants begin the Business Plan Competition segment of the program and brainstorm potential concepts for their plans. For more information on how to get involved, please contact Natalie Baker, Executive Relations Manager, at nbaker@pep.org. You can also learn more about PEP through this short video.

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