Posts Tagged ‘Baylor University’

PEP was just profiled in Tech.Co. The story, linked here, is below.

TechCoIn the classic novel Les Misérables by Victor Hugo, ex-convict Jean Valjean underwent a complete transformation after receiving unmerited forgiveness from the bishop he was trying to rob.  Valjean later became a dignified businessman and pillar of the community, advocating for the poor and powerless.  This picture of redemption is what thousands of inmates long to experience as they apply for admission to the Prison Entrepreneurship Program (PEP).

As a nonprofit, PEP seeks to “unlock human potential through entrepreneurial passion, education, and mentoring.”  Founded by business leaders who recognized the entrepreneurial spirit of Texas inmates, the organization has successfully produced over a thousand graduates since the program began in 2004.  PEP offers a rigorous curriculum with MBA-level coursework that challenges inmates and enables them to productively return to society after prison.

The PEP leadership conceived of the idea for the entrepreneurship program upon studying the profiles of criminals in the Texas prison system.  Prior to their arrest and conviction, many of the inmates were competently running their own burgeoning enterprises.  And although the businesses they owned may have been illegal, their ability to start and grow their companies demonstrated the presence of unrealized business acumen in the prison system.  PEP hopes the entrepreneurship program will repurpose the inmates’ entrepreneurial talents and channel them into legitimate business ventures.

Lending credibility to the program is Baylor University, which has been awarding PEP graduates with a Certificate of Entrepreneurship since 2013.  The certificate provides an incentive for inmates to excel and also helps to overcome the stigma of incarceration.  According to PEP, less than one percent of those enrolled in the program are white-collar criminals.  Most have drug-related offenses, with 50 percent doing time for violent crimes.

Just how effective is the Prison Entrepreneurship Program?  Baylor University announced that the employment rate of PEP graduates is over 93% and the recidivism rate is under 5%.  PEP estimates the program has saved the state of Texas $6 million in reduced recidivism.  Graduates have launched over 165 businesses, with at least two exceeding $1 million in gross revenues.

To learn more about the Prison Entrepreneurship Program, visit PEP’s website

PEP is 100% privately funded.  We rely on the generosity of hundreds of individual donors, grant-making foundations, and corporate sponsors to deliver our life-changing mission. And thanks to a recent study from Baylor University, we know that every dollar that these donors give to PEP generates at least a $3.40 return on investment to our community.

PEP is now embarking on an ambitious new plan to dramatically expand our impact. As we announced here, PEP recently launched our in-prison operations within a second prison in Texas. Our goal is to continue to scale our work in our home state until we can reach at least 10% of all of the inmates released from Texas prisons each year.

Today, we are proud to announce that the Scurlock Foundation has awarded PEP a remarkable FIVE-YEAR grant to support this expansion!

As Billy Wareing, a board member for the Scurlock Foundation, states:

“The Scurlock Foundation is honored to partner with PEP in their transformative work to end the cycle of recidivism in Texas prisons and bring hope to inmates who have lost heart.  The work that PEP does is redemptive in nature and we believe that God is working through PEP to restore families, bring hope through employment opportunities and ultimately restore all things through His son, Jesus.”

Please join us in thanking the Scurlock Foundation for their tremendous investment in our future!

This morning’s Chronicle of Higher Education features a nice article by Katherine Mangan about the Prison Entrepreneurship Program and our partnership with the Baylor University Hankamer School of Business (see our press release on this partnership here).

Business Schools’ Programs Turn Felons Into Entrepreneurs

At a prison near Houston, local business people critique presentations of business plans created by prisoners in a program run by Baylor U.


Mike Potts was halfway through a five-year prison sentence outside Houston when he heard about a program that would help him start a business when even buddies with clean records were struggling to find work.

The Prison Entrepreneurship Program, run by a nonprofit group of the same name, works with Baylor University’s Hankamer School of Business to train convicted felons to write business plans, market their ideas to investors, and develop workplace skills. Successful participants earn certificates from Baylor and, organizers hope, fare better than average in returning to society.

For six months in the Cleveland Correctional Center, Mr. Potts, 38, pored over Harvard Business School case studies with professors and M.B.A. students and engaged in classroom discussions with fellow inmates. He developed a plan for a home-renovation business that he presented over and over again, fine-tuning it with critiques from students and local business leaders.

Now Mr. Potts is one of about 850 graduates of the nine-year-old program, which has spawned a similar effort that started last spring at the University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business. The goal of both programs is to help ex-convicts avoid prison’s all-too-often revolving door.

In Texas, all of the graduates in the past three years have landed jobs within 90 days of their release, according to program administrators. Of 2009 graduates, fewer than 7 percent were back in prison within three years, compared with state and national averages of 25 and 50 percent, respectively.

Graduate students are central to both programs: Up to 50 students at Baylor participate each semester, visiting prisons and conducting market research for the participants, whose own Internet access is restricted. Students from more than a dozen other business schools, including those at Brown and Harvard Universities, the University of Houston, and Texas A&M University, also act as advisers to inmates, with a program employee serving as an electronic go-between.

Participants in the program have included former gang leaders, drug dealers, and even murderers. But the screening is strict: Only about 5 percent of applicants are accepted. They must have a high-school diploma or GED, be within three years of release, and demonstrate a commitment to changing their lives, program staff say. Those who get in are transferred to Cleveland, a minimum-security facility just north of Houston.

For three months, the inmates spend 22 hours a week on character development and computer skills. Then, for six months, they work 40 hours a week on college-level entrepreneurship training. Each inmate pitches a business plan dozens of times, culminating in a competition. In their navy-blue prison uniforms, they deliver 30-minute presentations to panels of students and business leaders.

“Lots of them take the creativity that got them into trouble and channel it to a more useful purpose,” says Greg G. Moore, a graduate of the program who now works there as a case manager, helping inmates transition out of prison.

“Most people, when they’re released, are given a $100 check, a set of clothes, and a bus ticket back to where they came from,” says Mr. Moore. But after having made more than 100 presentations, the program’s graduates have gained confidence, he says. “They know they have a target on their backs, and they have a lot to prove.”

As part of the program, graduates also get relocation assistance and continued mentoring.

Mr. Potts—whose drunken driving and fighting had landed him in jail and interrupted his fledgling gutter-installation business—says the program turned his life around. “I learned about financial spreadsheets, marketing, and public speaking, but the biggest thing I walked away with was character development,” he says. “I’d taken some college courses before, but I’d never completed one. I never followed through on anything before this.”

Within weeks of his release, in July 2011, Mr. Potts got his renovation company up and running. Today he has several employees and a two-month backlog of residential and commercial projects. His company is one of about 120 small businesses incubated in Cleveland’s cinderblock classrooms.

‘Time on Their Hands’

The program was already training inmates in 2007, when a Baylor alumnus who served on its board invited Gary R. Carini, associate dean for graduate programs, to visit.

Mr. Carini, a professor of management, was so impressed by the business-plan competition that he joined the board himself and recruited students, faculty, and staff members to help. “I was struck by the depth of the business plans that I saw,” he says. “It wasn’t a superficial analysis.”

Last year Baylor extended its partnership by awarding certificates to the program’s graduates.

In Virginia, the impetus for the program came from an inmate who wrote to Darden’s dean, Robert F. Bruner, asking whether the school could help him find a job after his release. The dean turned to Gregory B. Fairchild, an associate professor of business administration who has studied small-business financing in low-income communities.

Mr. Fairchild led a group of students to Texas to study the program there before adapting it. In Virginia, M.B.A. students go into both men’s and women’s prisons, and participants earn certificates in entrepreneurship from the university. Applicants must be enrolled in a vocational course, have a high-school diploma or GED, and be within 18 months of release.

A Darden certificate, Mr. Fair­child hopes, gives potential employers a reason to consider an ex-con. Unlike other credentials earned in prison, the certificates leave that part out. “The person isn’t carrying the scarlet letter that says ‘Virginia Department of Corrections,'” he says.

Graduates’ sharp skills may also be persuasive, says Mr. Fairchild. “If I’m a business owner, and you can walk into my gas station and help me determine how many tires I’d have to sell before I’d break even on a new tool for changing tires, that’s going to make a difference.”

In teaching cases that involve cash-flow analysis or inventory management, participants’ shaky math skills are one of the biggest roadblocks. Math review is a crucial part of the program.

The first visit to prison can be intimidating for professors and students. “I was amazed and engaged and afraid, all at the same time,” Mr. Fairchild says.

Laura Durity, one of 10 second-year M.B.A. students working with the program this year, has presented Darden case studies at both the men’s and the women’s prisons, using her professors’ Socratic method to stimulate discussion.

“Sometimes I forget I’m teaching in a prison. The students are very engaged,” she says. “They have time on their hands, so they’ve prepared well for the cases.” While some are initially uncomfortable being called on, she says, “most appreciate the fact that someone’s listening and cares what they think.”

Undergraduates at Virginia also assist inmates with market research. An aspiring baker, for instance, asked for help calculating the wholesale price for wedding cakes and pastries and identifying his competitors. A would-be plumber wanted to know about tax liability and insurance.

Texas inmates get similar feedback and encouragement as they strive to reinvent themselves. James Dovea, 43, has worked his way up to project manager at a solar-power company since he was released from prison, in 2010. The entrepreneurship program was the kick in the pants he needed, he says, while serving time for intoxication manslaughter.

“I had to man up and realize that if I’m going to do this, I’ll have to study hard and live with integrity,” he says. “You do whatever it takes to never come back here.”

Baylor University Certificate in Entrepreneurship

William G. was among the first PEP graduates to earn his Certificate in Entrepreneurship from Baylor University’s Hankamer School of Business

Graduates from the Prison Entrepreneurship Program can now earn their Certificates in Entrepreneurship from Baylor University‘s Hankamer School of Business through a new partnership between PEP and the university. See the official press release here.

“We offer a ‘mini MBA’ program within the Texas prison system that transforms inmates into entrepreneurs,” said Bert Smith, CEO of the Prison Entrepreneurship Program (PEP). Through the program, the inmates also develop complete business plans for a real venture that they can pursue after release.

During PEP’s Business Plan Competition at the Cleveland Correctional Center north of Houston, these inmates will pitch their business plans over 120 times — including to groups of more than 50 “free world” executives, entrepreneurs and MBA students who attend PEP’s in-prison eventsLearn more in this recent article in The New York Times.

Founded in 2004, PEP is a privately-funded nonprofit that engages executives, entrepreneurs and MBA students as volunteers in a values-based entrepreneurship boot camp that is offered within the Texas prison system. Each year, more than 5,000 inmates apply to be a part of PEP – but only the top 5 percent are selected for this elite program.

“Our graduates invest over 1,000 hours of work into our six-month Business Plan Competition class, which incorporates a college-level curriculum supplemented by Harvard MBA cases, the AP Writing Stylebook, Toastmasters, an employment workshop and a financial literacy course,” Smith said. “In addition, we focus at least half of our time on character assessment and development, built around PEP’s Ten Driving Values.”

“What impresses me the most is how these men not only complete this very rigorous program within a prison, but they do so while completing a full business plan for a real venture that they can launch after release from prison,” said Dr. Gary Carini, associate dean of the Graduate Program in Management & Entrepreneurship at the Baylor University Hankamer School of Business, and a member of the governing board for PEP.

PEP participants pitch their plans before panels of executive judges in a “Shark Tank” format at PEP’s monthly events. The presentations prepare the men for making their case in the free world – including to potential employers once they are released.

“I had been arrested four times before my 21st birthday,” said Harvey M., who graduated from PEP’s Class 10. Harvey is now rolling his first food truck in Houston. “Most of the world had written me off – but not PEP. They gave me the tools that I needed to succeed and even helped me to open my own business.”

Thanks to the preparation that they receive while in PEP, 100 percent of PEP’s graduates find a job within 90 days of release from prison. More than 120 of them have started their own businesses, including at least two that are now grossing more than $1 million in annual sales. And most impressively, the organization boasts some of the lowest recidivism rates in the country: PEP’s three-year recidivism rate has been as low as <5 percent, compared to the national average of nearly 50 percent.

“After reviewing the caliber of PEP’s curriculum and the quality of their results, Baylor University has agreed to award a Certificate in Entrepreneurship from the Hankamer School of Business to every graduate from PEP,” stated Carini.

The partnership began in December 2012, when 70 PEP graduates earned their certificates by completing the PEP Business Plan Competition class and graduating in a full cap-and-gown ceremony attended by their friends, family and PEP executive volunteers.

Established in 2004, Prison Entrepreneurship Program (PEP) is a Houston-based 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization. We are servant leaders on a mission to transform inmates and executives by unlocking human potential through entrepreneurial passion, education, and mentoring. Our groundbreaking results include a return-to-prison rate of less than 5%, employment rate of 100% within 90 days, and the successful launch of more than 100 businesses.

Baylor University is a private Christian university and a nationally ranked research institution, characterized as having “high research activity” by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching. The university provides a vibrant campus community for approximately 15,000 students by blending interdisciplinary research with an international reputation for educational excellence and a faculty commitment to teaching and scholarship. Chartered in 1845 by the Republic of Texas through the efforts of Baptist pioneers, Baylor is the oldest continually operating university in Texas. Located in Waco, Baylor welcomes students from all 50 states and more than 80 countries to study a broad range of degrees among its 11 nationally recognized academic divisions. Baylor sponsors 19 varsity athletic teams and is a founding member of the Big 12 Conference.

Baylor University’s Hankamer School of Business provides a rigorous academic experience, consisting of classroom and hands-on learning, guided by Christian commitment and a global perspective. Recognized nationally for several programs, including Entrepreneurship and Accounting, the school offers 24 undergraduate and 13 graduate areas of study. Visit and follow on Twitter at

PEP Pitch Day

PEP volunteers and participants reacting to the awesome new advisory board lineup. (We ARE pretty excited!)

Since 2004, the Prison Entrepreneurship Program has been guided by some of the strongest business minds to ever lend their time, talent and treasure to the nonprofit sector. We are particularly grateful for those who have served on our governing and advisory boards.

This group has included highly successful entrepreneurs, investors and politicians. It has also included lawyers, bankers and leaders from the corporate sector. And we are particularly grateful that it has always included men who first came to PEP as incarcerated men.

Together, these leaders are PEP’s ambassadors in the “free world.” They carry our message of hope out into the community, and their support is directly responsible for the ground-breaking results that PEP has delivered for the past eight years (see our 2011-2012 Annual Report for the full details of our impact).

PEP would like to welcome the following NEW members to our boards (see the full list here):

New National Advisory Board Members
New Houston Advisory Board Members
New Dallas Advisory Board Members
New Austin Advisory Board Member