Pilot program enables inmates to become business owners • Current Publishing
By Anna Skinner and Rachel Greenberg
When inmate Jennifer Bellah leaves Hamilton County Jail, she has a detailed business plan to follow to start her own baking business. She will soon be a graduate of the new Launch HOPE Foundation, which provides inmates with skills such as sewing or entrepreneurship to prepare them for life outside prison so that they are less likely to return behind bars.
The Launch HOPE Foundation began in the Hamilton County Jail earlier this year. It is only accessible to female prisoners. The program is led by butler teacher Kristi Mitchell, who teaches women entrepreneurial skills. Part of the program teaches women tangible skills, such as sewing.
Bellah, who is serving time for theft, is grateful for the experience of the Launch HOPE Foundation. She said that with a history of theft it is difficult to get a good job, but now she is considering becoming self-employed.
âIt’s like a merry-go-round,â she said. âI don’t want to fly. I don’t want to use drugs. But I can’t wait three weeks to get my salary because I was living in a hotel. I have to go out and do this (fly). You never had a hand to go down (the merry-go-round), and now I have that hand to go down. This is what they do. God put me here for a reason because I wasn’t going to be arrested on my own.
Bellah previously worked for Cake Bake on Broad Ripple and is skilled in cake decorating. As she followed her business plan with the Launch HOPE Foundation, she wanted to start a wedding cake and cupcake business, but realized that she needed more recognition in this industry before. to launch this dream.
âI still bake cupcakes and cakes, but to start off, I’m going to be doing business-to-business. To start as a decorator you have to have a (well known) name, âsaid Bellah. âSo, to establish myself for the first few years, I’ll be making cupcakes, cookies, gourmet English muffins and scones for businesses, so I won’t have a showcase. “
Bellah’s baked goods will be sold in other businesses, offices, cafes, cafeterias and hospitals.
Bellah is due out on or before December 28, and she can’t wait to get started. She said her dream was real.
âI always thought about doing my own business, but I didn’t know how to do it,â Bellah said. âI had no idea. I never would have had the confidence to do it either. So now I have literally put together a full business plan. All we’re waiting for is that I’m going out. It’s wonderful.
“(Mitchell) taught us a lot how to get from point A to point B.”
Mitchell, an Indianapolis resident, teaches women a business acceleration program while in prison and after release.
âI check the business concepts, and when they are released they have the opportunity to enter the business accelerator where they bring their business to market,â Mitchell said.
College students serving as interns help new entrepreneurs start a proof of concept plan, marketing, website design, and supplier research.
âWhatever the unique needs of their business, they work with the entrepreneur – not just for them, but with them for the entrepreneur to learn simultaneously,â Mitchell said.
Mitchell said much of the course was aimed at changing the mindsets of inmates.
âWhen we’re inside prisons, we work a lot with the spirit of entrepreneurial growth,â Mitchell said. âJust having the mindset of a growth mindset helps when they come out. If you change the way you think, the things you think about change. That’s a key factor in terms of of “I can do it. I don’t have to do what I used to do. It gives them hope that there is more than just menial work for them.”
Nine women are enrolled in the program at the Hamilton County Jail. Ten other women are on the waiting list.
The Launch HOPE Foundation also has an Entrepreneurship Center at the Phalen Leadership Academy in the eastern part of Indianapolis. Three new entrepreneurship centers are planned.
To learn more, visit launchhopefoundation.org.
Hamilton County Sheriff Dennis Quakenbush said the goal of the Launch HOPE Foundation is to show inmates that the county is invested in their success.
âWe’re trying to invest in them and hopefully give them a skill to help them be more confident and successful when they leave here,â Quakenbush said.
Although most inmates at Hamilton County Jail are incarcerated for an average of 60 days, Quakenbush said it was always important to teach them entrepreneurial skills.
âObviously they’ve hit a low point and we’re trying to intervene so they don’t come back,â Quakenbush said. âHow can we help them to be more successful and more productive in society? This is really what we are focused on.