Why ex-prisoners can be great entrepreneurs



MANILA, Philippines - Why are those behind bars being trained to run a business outside of them?

Various US-based non-governmental organizations and consultancy groups cite reasons like reducing the chances of ex-convicts going back to prison after their release (because they have difficulty getting jobs).

Others find potential diamond in the rough.

In various media reports in recent years -- the latest is Forbes magazine's feature on prison-focused Defy Ventures -- various individuals acknowledge that some inmates are natural entrepreneurs: charismatic, resourceful, willing to take risks, understand that product quality and customer quality are key currencies in the trade, and are adept at maintaining profit margins and cash flow.

Some made fantastic returns while honing these key characteristics, talents, and savviness common among successful businessmen.

But because these were from illegal and criminal acts, Defy's founder and former private equity professional Catherine Rohr was described by Forbes as saying in jest that the inmates need to brush up on their risk management skills.

"If we could somehow redirect their skillset, we’d be benefitting from our most overlooked talent pool," Forbes reported, citing insights from Rohr.

"They can be an entrepreneur because so many have been illegal entrepreneurs. If they put that energy into a legal business, they could potentially do well," said N.C. Department of Correction director of transition services Roshanna Parker was quoted by News Observer magazine as saying. 

Thus, aside from the usual portfolio of prison-based educational programs, mentoring classes meant to equip the inmates for legitimate entrepreneurial pursuits.

New York Times featured the inaugural graduates of Defy's “M.B.A.-style” program, which focuses not just on crunching numbers but also on soft skills.

"Hugging is part of the curriculum. The students’ handshakes were firm and well practiced; they dressed impeccably," the article reported.

Other groups, like Inmates to Entrepreneurs program founded by Sageworks founder and business consultant Brian Hamilton, facilitate seed financing.

Hamilton believes that "business ownership as a form of personal freedom resonates as deeply with middle managers trapped in desk jobs as it does with convicts trapped behead razor wire." - Rappler.com