WILMINGTON — Before explaining the mission of Inmates to Entrepreneurs, founder Brian Hamilton asked an audience at Wilmington’s MLK Center whether anyone had gone their whole life without making a mistake. No one stood up.
For some of us, mistakes are private matters that (we hope) our bosses never find out about. For anyone who has been incarcerated, they’re a Google search away, and can land a job application in the reject pile.
Inmates to Entrepreneurs helps North Carolinians with criminal backgrounds start their own businesses, and will soon open a Wilmington office. The group held a launch party Thursday, giving locals the low-down on the services it offers.
“We want to get to the communities where the most need is,” Hamilton said. “There are two ways out of poverty in the United States largely: one is through education, and the other is through entrepreneurship.”
Inmates to Entrepreneurs is Raleigh-based, and has offices in Charlotte. Besides a free eight-week course offered thrice yearly, the group gives former inmates online resources and hosts seminars at prisons and out in the community.
The group’s Wilmington course, open to anyone with a criminal background, kicks off Aug. 21 at the New Hanover County Library at 201 Chestnut Street. Applications are due Aug. 15.
Michael Adams, who will direct Inmates to Entrepreneurs’ Wilmington office (location to be announced), said program participants in Raleigh have founded a host of businesses in web design, landscaping, painting, pet grooming. One graduate started Raleigh’s Trap Burger food truck, and another is launching a subscription lingerie service. Most started with less than $500.
Co-chair A.J. Ware knows the business-founding process personally.
After getting out of prison in 2000 for a robbery conviction, he started painting rooms for a woman he met by chance. One room led to another, and eventually he picked up painting jobs throughout her subdivision. After 14 months of work in the neighborhood, he had two vans and four employees.
“I know what you need and the challenges you’re going to go though,” Ware told the crowd Thursday.
Want more information?
The Inmates to Entrepreneurs team can be reached at Info@InmatesToEntrepreneurs.org.
People interested in signing up for the Wilmington eight-week entrepreneurship course, which starts on Aug. 21, can do so by visiting InmatesToEntrepreneurs.org/Wilmington-course-application.
Hamilton said Inmates to Entrepreneurs is looking not just for participants, but business owners to mentor.
“America is supposed to be the country of second chances,” he said. “That is a very fundamental American value. If that gets compromised, we are in big trouble.”