Inmates were the entrepreneurs at this unique and revolutionary Demo Day held at San Quentin, a prison located outside San Francisco. One by one the participants of the second class of The Last Mile's accelerator program pitched their businesses to the small audience.
The Last Mile accelerator is unequivocal proof of how giving people the right tools and education can empower them to give back to their societies.
The seven entrepreneurs that pitched their business earlier this year are still serving their sentences in prison. They were trained for six months in technology, entrepreneurship, marketing, and finance and were instructed to create a business plan for a market need they were passionate about as their final projects.
The Last Mile was created by husband and wife team Chris Redlitz and Beverly Parenti in an effort to leverage technology for social change outside of their already successful KickLabs accelerator program. Like any accelerator worth its salt, the Last Mile has hosted guest speakers like Guy Kawasaki and has introduced participants to technology heads like First Round Capital founder Josh Kopelman and venture capitalist Erik Moore.
"We named the program ‘The Last Mile’ because one of the most difficult challenges facing the incarcerated is their eventual transition from inside the prison walls to functioning successfully in the free world," writes Redlitz on the company's website.
An average prisoner costs taxpayers $31,286 and 40% of freed prisoners are incarcerated again within 3 years. The Last Mile has shown its astounding potential in changing that trend.
Tulio Cardozo, one of the first graduates of the program, started Collaborative Benefit after he completed the program and left prison. Cardozo's training through The Last Mile helped him recognize the need for creating a LinkedIn for inmates after the head of a CRM company wanted to hire him following a brief conversation at a department store.
The Last Mile gave him the savvy and know-how to not only engage with the CEO but to recognize the opportunity to start a business himself even though as he said to the crowd he "was really afraid" when he left prison. Cardozo, who now works at KickLabs, is proof of the powerful impact of empowering anyone through education and training to confidently pursue life- and society-changing goals.
One of the more familiar faces among the entrepreneurs is Chrisfino Kenyatta Leal, the winner of 2013's Quora Answer of the Year. Leal introduced himself to the Demo Day crowd as the Founder and CEO of Coach Potato and still has eight years left in his 25-year sentence.
"Throughout the 17+ years of my incarceration, I’ve been forced to sit on the sideline and watch how the proliferation of the internet and social media have transformed not only the way we communicate but also the way businesses operate and compete," writes Leal.
"The Last Mile offers me a unique opportunity to get off the sideline and into the game by learning how to harness the power of the new online universe and use it to breather life into novel business ideas or improve existing ones."
Leal succinctly summarizes the impact of The Last Mile on inmates like him, and highlights exactly why cofounders Parenti and Reddlitz are cloning their San Quentin program to five new prisons in 2013. Their goal is to partner with the government and technology luminaries to launch a nationwide program to alleviate the financial mess in prisons.