With the help of the Innovation Hub, a social entrepreneur is helping change the game for incarcerated youth.
Every year more than 600,000 individuals are released from state and federal prisons. Despite seeking employment at higher rates than the general population, formerly incarcerated individuals are half as likely to get a job because of their criminal record.
The Guidance, Entrepreneurship, and Outreach Center (GEO) led by Chief Empowerment Officer Jaa'far Abdullah, knows the struggle firsthand. After noticing this fault in the system, Abdullah launched GEO through the Texas Tech Accelerator Program's social innovation track. His mission is to encourage people in and out of the prison system to pursue entrepreneurship as a form of employment.
GEO officially launched its first Business Plan Workshop in Lubbock and surrounding areas in 2022. The intervention program is designed to provide young people with the skills, resources and increased self-esteem needed to start their own businesses and become self-sufficient.
“The workshops are led by experienced local entrepreneurs and business leaders who will share their knowledge and expertise,” Abdullah explained. “Participants cover problem-solving, identifying solutions and marketing topics as they complete their business plan canvas and prepare to deliver their final pitches to our panel of business leaders.
“GEO is committed to providing students and their families with the tools and resources needed to become successful in life. We believe entrepreneurship can provide a bridge to healing and ultimately long-term success.”
Last August, Abdullah began a conversation with George Love, principal of the Lubbock County Juvenile Justice Center (LCJJC), and proposed a program to encourage incarcerated youth to consider entrepreneurship as a career path. After co-creating a syllabus with the help of Texas Tech Innovation Hub Managing Director Taysha Williams the four-week program launched in November.
“What truly sets this partnership and its program services apart from others is the foundation of leading and learning in cultivating a relationship of trust with the student,” Love explained. “The intentional and engaging approach to building upon students' strengths rather than reinforcing a deficit mindset jumpstarts the creative thought exchange and enhances cultural humility communication. As a result, students are seen, valued and appreciated for their experiences and more willing to share the dream and vision of their respective future that is developed by building upon their innate gifts and talents.”
Marcus Bullock, founder of Flikshop, kicked off the program by sharing his personal journey from prison to launching his own company and giving the attendees a first-hand look at success after incarceration.
During the second week, Abdullah and members of the GEO staff team introduced key concepts, including common personality traits of entrepreneurs and the Business Model Canvas (BMC), to the 24 young men participating in the program.
The following week, Williams expanded upon Abdullah's concepts by diving deeper into the BMC. Together they helped students work through realizing a problem, creating a viable business solution, identifying potential consumers, and determining revenue streams.
Williams and members of her team joined Abdullah for the final workshop where students were encouraged to present their BMC to the Innovation Hub staff. Each of the young man got up and presented ideas, ranging from an upcycled clothing store to a youth center.
“I am incredibly proud of the work that we have done with Dr. Love and the LCJJC,” Williams said. “This program encouraged the youth to be creative and think innovatively. I was blown away at how well thought-out their business ideas were on the final day of the program.
“They truly cared not only about making money but about their futures and life after incarceration. For me, that was a reward because these kids knew there was a path forward and they had hope. This partnership wouldn't have been possible without the passion and dedication shown by Jaafar over the last few months.”
For more information about GEO, visit TheGEOCenter.org or contact Jaa'far Abdullah.