New program teaches business skills to incarcerated women

A sewing business is getting launched via the Launch HOPE Foundation with classes taught at Hamilton Co. jail. (photo courtesy: Hamilton Co. Jail)

NOBLESVILLE, Ind. (Inside INdiana Business) — A professor of entrepreneurship at Butler University is leading an effort to give women in marginalized communities a second chance in life by becoming business creators. The Launch HOPE Foundation works with women who face challenges, including incarceration, addiction and domestic violence. Professor Kristi Mitchell says HOPE is an acronym for hope, opportunity, prosperity and entrepreneurship, but it represents more than that.

“I want the women I work with one to have that hope, put those opportunities in front of them of business ownership and make that a realistic pathway,” said Mitchell. “I also want people to grab on to the mindset of prosperity.”

One entrepreneur taking part in the program is Kaitlin Vanderpool. She served three months in the Hamilton County jail following a third conviction for driving under the influence. Vanderpool admits her life was spinning out of control.

“Because of my struggles with alcoholism, I’ve never had any sort of stable view of the future. I just didn’t see it as something that was a possibility for me,” shared Vanderpool.

Vanderpool started taking entrepreneurship classes at the jail twice a week. It allowed her to gain self-respect and learn the basic skills of starting a business.

“I think that it’s given me a lot of hope that I can have a different future and go down a different path than I was going down prior to my incarceration,” said Vanderpool.

Vanderpool, who learned how to sew from her mother, is launching an e-commerce handmade apparel boutique through online marketplace Etsy (Nasdaq: ETSY)

“I always knew I ultimately wanted to be my own boss,” said Vanderpool. “Launch HOPE gave me the time and the resources I needed to make that happen.”

The resources include support from the Butler business students who volunteer for the program.

“My students have helped Kaitlin conduct research, vet her business concept, develop a business model, set-up an online storefront and go to market,” said Mitchel. “All the things she couldn’t do by herself while incarcerated.”

Nine other women are taking part in the pilot program at the jail.

 “Launch HOPE is a unique and incredible way to equip and empower these ladies to start careers and businesses they are passionate about,” said Captain Josh Carey, Hamilton County jail commander. “The hope is that these skills and concepts will allow them to support themselves and their families upon reentry into their communities.”

The Launch HOPE Foundation currently operates entrepreneurship centers in the Hamilton County Jail and the Phalen Leadership Academy on the east side of Indianapolis.  Mitchell says three new centers are planned in the coming months to support more budding entrepreneurs that want to transform their lives.

Kaitlin and her new company will be supported by the Launch HOPE Foundation Business Accelerator program for the next five years. 

“But it’s not over when I ‘graduate’ from the program,” said Vanderpool. “This program offered me a lifeline that I might not have gotten somewhere else. I want to be that for someone else. I want to serve as a mentor for those who come behind me.”