Business Ownership Initiative Wins Second Year of Funding for REDi Program

Business Ownership Initiative (BOI) received a Program for Investment in Micro-entrepreneurs (PRIME) grant from the Small Business Administration for the second year in a row to continue the development of its Reentry Entrepreneurship Development Initiative (REDi).

REDi, which leveraged the IndyEast Promise Zone for funding, is a program designed for folks with a criminal history, both pre-release and post-release. The business-oriented classes target individuals with the entrepreneurial spirit, a desire to own and operate small businesses. REDi correlates well with the IndyEast Promise Zone goals:

  1. Safe IndyEast: We promise to create a welcoming environment in which all families and visitors feel safe and secure.  We aim to accomplish this by focused efforts on crime prevention… and supportive reentry services.
  2. Work IndyEast: We promise to develop vibrant neighborhood zones of business activity, industries, and commerce in which residents are employed in living wage jobs.  We aim to accomplish this through entrepreneurship, industrial reuse, and job training.

According to the National Institute of Justice, in a study taken from 2005-2010, two-thirds of released prisoners were rearrested within three years of release, and three-quarters were rearrested within five years of release. This prison-to-prison pipeline prevents individuals from participating in the local economy, inhibits them from contributing taxes, and drains our community’s economic resources by using tax dollars to house them in prison.

A study posted in the Justice Policy Journal examines recidivism rates in Indiana from 2005-2009, and cites a study that shows that “post-release employment was the most important predictor of recidivism and the success of an offender’s reentry into the community.” Those who find employment post release are less likely to reoffend and end up back in prison. However, there are significant obstacles to obtaining employment like being subjected to a criminal background check when applying to jobs. “Additionally, previous researchers also indicated that released offenders could not find an adequate job because of their deficiency in education and job-related skills.”

Precious Little, the REDi Program Manager at Business Ownership Initiative, puts it like this:

“Returning citizens often face many barriers, especially to employment opportunities. Research has shown that, given adequate resources, support and guidance, those who were illegal entrepreneurs can transfer their skills to become legal entrepreneurs. Opportunities in entrepreneurship and small business ownership can provide hope for a transformative future and a decrease in recidivism rates. REDi aims to assist participants in their business goals by reducing the barriers to business ownership and providing technical training, assistance and financing.”

The REDi program works to resolve the problem of recidivism directly by teaching people the business skills they need to compete and succeed in the market post-release. They do this by offering a free 6-week intensive business course, with the end goal of the participant having a clear idea of the concrete steps they can take to start their own small business. For those who are interested, BOI also offers other one-on-one business coaching to add even more skills to the entrepreneur’s toolbox and provide support to further the likelihood of success. Lastly, BOI is a provider of micro-loans to small business owners. The REDi program provided ex-offenders the knowledge necessary to pursue and acquire these loans in order to help get their business off the ground, and grow in the community.

In the months and years ahead, the IndyEast Promise Zone will be pursuing data related to the success of the REDi program. Specifically, we will be looking at the rate of participation, recidivism rates of participants compared to the general population, businesses successfully launched resulting from REDi, the staying power of those businesses in our community, and personal stories of how the REDi program has affected the lives of those who participated.

More information about the REDi program and an online application is available on the BOI website http://www.businessownership.org/get-redi. They offer the business course at PACE and the John Boner Neighborhood Center. The courses are free to individuals who qualify.

To date, the REDi program has graduated around 70 individuals from its intensive business course, helped launch four new businesses, and facilitated the acquisition of two microloans to help small businesses grow. As they work to build on those successes, our neighborhoods and residents are sure to be more safe, economically vibrant, and stable, contributing to a larger community that works for all Indy residents.