The Download: Brian Hamilton, Founder, Brian Hamilton Foundation

Brian Hamilton co-founded Raleigh-based Sageworks, arguably the nation’s first fintech company, which was (and is) one of the largest providers of software to U.S. banks. After serving for a number of years as CEO and then as Chairman, he sold the company to leading private equity firm Accel-KKR in 2018. He is also the founder of Inmates to Entrepreneurs, a national program that helps people with criminal records start their own small businesses; and the Brian Hamilton Foundation, which has the mission of entrepreneurship for all.

Hamilton holds multiple patents for his work in automating financial analysis. He is a regular guest on CNBC and is regularly quoted in and writes for major national media publications. He is also a contributor to Inc. magazine.

The first in his family to attend college, Brian holds an undergraduate degree from Sacred Heart University, where he served on the Board of Trustees, and an MBA from Duke University.

1. What is in your pockets?
Nothing is in my pockets. I don’t put my wallet in my pocket. I carry my wallet in my hands. There’s literally nothing in my pockets right now.

2. What exciting thing has happened recently for you or your organization?
At the Brian Hamilton Foundation, we help people start businesses. I’m not talking about helping people start tech businesses, but rather low-capital service businesses. The rate of entrepreneurship is actually going down and we’re trying to help people take part in the American dream through entrepreneurship. But these are not the usual high-flying tech businesses where they’re doing Series A, Series B and C and D. It’s really helping people start service businesses; maybe home cleaning or painting businesses, lawn service businesses, that type of thing.

It’s exciting that the New York Times recently covered Inmates to Entrepreneurs. I started that 27 years ago with a friend of mine, Reverend Robert Harris. He was doing ministry work in the prisons and I came along and it just occurred to me that these people who are getting out of prison have a hard time getting a job. So as an entrepreneur, my idea was don’t get a job, just create one. Go run your own business. And so I’ve been doing that for 27 years and since I sold the company, I have a greater opportunity to scale it.

We also just released Starter High, a free online course that teaches middle school and high school kids how to start businesses.

3. What is your favorite coffee spot?
Common Grounds is a coffee shop in downtown Apex. It is amazing. I’ve been there a thousand times. My son used to have a little band and they would play there on a Friday night.

4. What keeps you up at night?
I didn’t sleep for 20 years when I ran Sageworks. I was a real insomniac. But since I sold the company, I haven’t lost a night’s sleep, so I don’t stay up at night anymore. However, I do worry now about the condition of small businesses in the country. This really bothers me. I don’t think the government Paycheck Protection Program in place is going to be anywhere near fast enough to relieve small businesses, which create 60 percent of new jobs and the most innovation, by far. I am concerned we could lose five million businesses as a result of the shutdown—really awful.

5. What is your favorite restaurant or happy hour?
Frank’s Pizza on New Bern Avenue in Raleigh. It’s my favorite restaurant. I have known Frank for close to 25 years. And I’m telling you, it’s the greatest pizza place you’ll ever find no matter where you go—Chicago pizza, New York pizza—and it’s right on New Bern Avenue. He’s been in business since 1976 and that is a great place. And he does no advertising. It’s all word of mouth.

6. What is next for you or your organization?
It’s a great question. What’s next is to expand our programs nationally.