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Business Observer Friday, Feb. 8, 2019 5 months ago

Entrepreneurship class teaches inmates how to start business

A pair of University of South Florida Sarasota-Manatee professors teach an entrepreneurship class at Hardee Correctional Institution.

A business professor and a criminology professor walk into a state prison.

That’s not the beginning of a joke. It’s something two University of South Florida Sarasota-Manatee professors do on a regular basis.

When Jessica Grosholz, an assistant professor of criminology, met Jean Kabongo, an associate professor of business, they started talking about teaching an entrepreneurship class in prison. That led to conversations with the administration at Hardee Correctional Institution in Hardee County.

Courtesy. Jean Kabongo, an associate professor of business at University of South Florida Sarasota-Manatee, teaches an entrepreneurship class to prison inmates.

The pair of professors taught their first entrepreneurship class at the state prison for men in September 2016. Now, just over two years later, the optional 10-week class, Introduction to Entrepreneurship, has a waiting list. The course is usually offered each fall, spring and summer semester. About 100 men have taken it, and recently, the teaching duo started their seventh class.

During the course, students learn how to perform an industry analysis, determine target markets, develop a business model, establish a business plan and create a marketing plan.

At the end of the class, inmates give startup pitches. Grosholz says they’ve gotten barbershop and lawn service business ideas as well as some trucking companies. “We end up with a lot of ideas geared more toward social entrepreneurship,” she tells Coffee Talk.

The business ideas also tend to focus on helping people — nonprofits, programs for at-risk youth and housing for ex-offenders. “Even traditional businesses that aren’t necessarily socially conscious, they sort of twist it in a way that it helps society or customers,” Grosholz says. “It’s almost as a way to repay what they’ve done to society.”

Originally, Grosholz and Kabongo thought they would teach men six months away from being released. “The men at Hardee are serving long sentences,” Grosholz says. “That was a challenge at first. About 35% of the men we’ve taught have life sentences.”

So they altered their thinking. Grosholz says she and Kabongo want to help the men develop skills and an entrepreneurial mindset that allows them to handle adversity and challenges — in jail or out. There are research aspects of the class, too, including how class participation affects conduct while incarcerated. Grosholz says, “It’s really giving them those skills to think like an entrepreneur — to be independent, to handle adversity.”

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