01 Mar 2007
HBS Alums Help Jailhouse Entrepreneurs Go StraightTopics:
Whether it’s an upfront enterprise on Main Street or illegal dealings on Mean Street, competition, risk management, and profitability are primary concerns in both business venues. That’s the theory behind the nonprofit Prison Entrepreneurship Program (PEP), which believes that success in criminal endeavors often borrows on traits that are valuable in legitimate commerce: a cool head, decisive decision-making, and the ability to read people. Texas-based PEP helps prepare prison inmates, upon their release, to join the regular workforce and to apply their innate entrepreneurial talents toward law-abiding start-up enterprises.
The brainchild of former venture capitalist Catherine Rohr, who founded the program in 2004, PEP has seen dozens of participants benefit from its demanding regimen. Multiple interviews and tests are required to gain admittance to its curriculum, which involves presentations, exams, and hours of daily homework. Taught by volunteers from the Texas business community, PEP graduates boast a 93 percent employment rate and a recidivism rate of less than 5 percent.
Says Rohr, who made a PEP presentation at HBS last fall, “Many of these guys are proven entrepreneurs. Like it or not, a drug dealer, for example, already knows a lot about what it takes to run a successful business. Teaching them passion is not something we have to do; what we teach them is how to go legit.”
At HBS, several students are helping aspiring PEP entrepreneurs prepare business plans, even as a number of former students continue to stay involved as alumni. Jamyn Edis (MBA ’05) first began working with inmates on their business plans while at HBS and continues to do so from his home in New York City, where he is a media and technology analyst. Edis explains that a typical PEP business plan might entail setting up a car wash, a truck haulage company, or a fast-food van. “PEP is a terrific program, and I would love to get even more involved,” Edis says. To that end, Edis, whose family has been affected by incarceration, is working to put together a documentary film about PEP.
Edis’s classmate, Eliot Kerlin (MBA ’05), serves on PEP’s board of directors and teaches at the program’s entrepreneurship school in Dallas. “For me,” Kerlin says, “one of PEP’s greatest strengths is that it involves spending a lot of quality time with the men, both while they’re in prison and after. PEP gives them hope and the vision of a changed life, equips them with the tools to succeed, and gives them models to emulate. It then goes on to provide support, encouragement, and accountability throughout the reentry process.” Concludes Kerlin, “With its impact on the executives and leaders who get involved with it, PEP is certainly a two-way street.”
Class of MBA 2005, Section G
Class of MBA 2005, Section G