These Funding and Business Assistance Programs Are Helping Felons Restart Their Lives

For incarcerated felons and those who have been released, there are more funding choices than ever for starting a business. There are even training opportunities and mentorship programs.

Wait. Back up. Felons start businesses?

Yes, they do! Starting a business a terrific way to wipe the slate clean and start over. No one needs to know the business owner has a criminal record. But there’s no way to guarantee a funding provider won’t conduct a background check either.

Related: Surprising Funding Ideas for Your Business

Here are great business resources for convicted felons.

Mostly non-funding.

These services help felons and ex-convicts get their own funding.

1. The correctional facility

For those incarcerated at present, there may be options through the facility itself. California inmates can work with Defy Ventures (post-release), The Last Mile (develop skills for a technology startup), and Project ReMADE (post-release).

Inmates in Colorado, Connecticut, Illinois, New York, and Washington can also work with Defy Ventures. Indiana, Kansas, Michigan, and Oklahoma inmates can also work with The Last Mile.

Oregon and Washington state inmates can work with Mercy Corps Northwest for training, loans, and grants to start and grow a business.

In, Tennessee, BEST offers training, networking, mentoring, and more for inmates. Ohio inmates can receive in-prison education from the Ohio Prison Entrepreneurship Program, OPEP. In Virginia, Resilience Education offers training.

Florida’s female inmates can work with LEAP. The program offers a course on how to write a business plan and where to find funding to start a small business.

In Texas, the Prison Entrepreneurship Program, PEP, has an in-prison educational program which is a lot like a “mini-MBA.” Released participants can access a weekly “eSchool” program. For those completing the program, anyone starting a new business qualifies for a $500 eSchool Completion Bonus. This is a reimbursement for qualifying, to help with basic small business start-up costs.

2. HelpForFelons.org

HelpForFelons.org has lists of grants and loans for felons and links to reentry programs around the country. Getting thorough information involves clicking links and reviewing sites that come up to see if they apply.

3. Inmates to Entrepreneurs

In North Carolina, the Inmates to Entrepreneurs program offers in-person entrepreneurial training and online courses.

4. Your local community

This will vary greatly from place to place, but be sure to check all the available resources in the county you live in to see what you can learn.

Related: What Entrepreneurs Need to Know About Early-Stage Funding

Federal loans and grants

1. Federal education loans for felons

Financial need is the main criterion for getting a Pell Grant or student loan for going back to school. For a Pell Grant, a person can apply while still an inmate but cannot receive funds until release.

2. Grants.gov

Use grants.gov to search for federal government grants under a particular business idea, or by heritage or nationality, or other personal characteristics, rather than by the term “felon.”

There are more grants for nonprofits than for-profit businesses. Starting a nonprofit is often the best bet for getting federal government monies.

3. SBA microloans

SBA microloans are easier to get than standard SBA loans. Amounts run under $50,000, with an average of about $13,000.

A felony conviction does not automatically disqualify a person from getting an SBA loan. However, a conviction for a “crime of moral turpitude” does. In general, these crimes involve dishonesty, like embezzlement, or violence, like aggravated assault.

Federal non-monetary

1. Small Business Development Centers

The Association of Small Business Development Centers helps business owners and entrepreneurs with free advice and counseling from experts like lawyers, accountants, and marketing professionals. They host networking events, seminars, and webinars to help anyone start and grow a small business.

2. SCORE

At SCORE,  professionals, entrepreneurs, and former business owners serve as mentors, providing free consulting and advice. Find a local SCORE chapter or get mentoring online. The site offers resources like online courses, articles, webinars, etc.

Crowdfunding

1. Indiegogo and Kickstarter

Indiegogo and Kickstarter can help ex-offenders get financing to start businesses and bring new product ideas or inventions to life.

2. GoFundMe

GoFundMe is a personal financing site. Since the site acts as the go-between, donors feel confident giving money.

Online lending

1. Prosper

Prosper is a peer-to-peer lending platform. The entire process is online, with no background check. Hence criminal history does not affect getting a loan.

Related: Stages of Funding a Startup

Funding through working.

1. Freelancer marketplaces

Starting a business from home is often low cost and low risk. Ex-convicts with skills in graphic design, writing, IT, or marketing, can try UpWorkGuru, and Freelancer.

Justice-served entrepreneurs make the world a better place.

Normally, more than half of all ex-convicts are rearrested within three years. But recidivism rates for ex-convicts who go through reentry programs can be as low as PEP’s 7.5 percent.

For many persons with felony records, starting a new business can turn their lives around, and keep them out of prison for good.

“I didn’t know what an entrepreneur was but the[n] when Mr. Hamilton came to West Wilkes Middle School it changed my perspective on business careers.”

Caleb Huffman Student West Wilkes Middle School

Being an instructor… allows me to empower aspiring entrepreneurs with the business tools that they need to be successful in our society.

Monica Russell Instructor Inmates to Entrepreneurs

We believe that entrepreneurship unlocks the door to economic opportunity in the United States.

Margaret Froneberger Chief Executive Officer Brian Hamilton Foundation

Having your own company is for everyone, not just those born into privilege.

Brian Hamilton Founder Brian Hamilton Foundation