New Entrepreneurs In Training Partnership with WI Department of Corrections

(Image Source: Javier Allegue Barros / Unsplash)

The Wisconsin Department of Corrections (WIDOC) and the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Division of Extension announce a new partnership to provide a free training program on entrepreneurship, employment readiness, and personal development at the Racine Youthful Offender Correctional Facility (RYOCF) and Robert E. Ellsworth Correctional Facility (REECC) in Union Grove. This new program includes post-release coaching and support to participants.

“We are thrilled to begin teaching in prisons now so people can work on their job plans and business ideas ahead of release,” said outgoing EIT Partnership co-director, Dr. Angie Allen.

This new program is part of the UW-Madison Extension Entrepreneur in Training Partnership (EITP), a collaborative effort with the national nonprofit, Defy Ventures. Extension is the exclusive provider of the full Defy Ventures in-custody and post-release program model in the state of Wisconsin, one of eight states nationally. Defy Ventures has eleven years of results, reducing recidivism among participants and preparing them to launch realistic and scalable businesses upon release. The organization’s 2020 data shows that there was a 7.2% return-to-prison rate among Defy graduates after three years, compared to 41% overall in Wisconsin (WIDOC, 2016).

Extension began offering Defy Ventures’ Entrepreneurship Bootcamp curriculum online to formerly incarcerated Wisconsinites in April 2021. These Bootcamps are assisted by community members who acted as business coaches, donating their time and expertise to help strengthen and refine the participants’ business ideas. Called “Entrepreneurs in Training,” or EITs, participants to date are working on startups including a mobile barbershop, yoga/meditation business, trucking and delivery, textbook sales, and a food truck. As part of the partnership with the WIDOC, Extension educators hired from the local community will teach the six-to-nine month “CEO of Your New Life” (CEOYNL) curriculum to cohorts at both facilities, beginning in 2022

While residents at RYOCF, REECC, and other correctional facilities in the state are able to learn the technical skills of many trades and work on other degree programs, until now there has been no consistent class offered within WIDOC facilities to teach business aspects of welding, barbering, carpentry or other employment-to-entrepreneurship pathways. Successful entrepreneurs need to know the basics of customer problem solving, marketing, pricing, and strategy in addition to their specific industry and skill.

UW-Madison Extension Community Development Institute educators who specialize in educational programs with entrepreneurs of color established the EIT Partnership to empower system impacted state residents. With the Defy curriculum, participants build skills that lead to generational wealth and a prosperous economy. The EIT Partnership offers advanced programming for program alumni through the Accelerator. EITs with scalable businesses who continue through the three-stage Accelerator after release are invited to pitch to an Investment Committee for a grant of up to $10,000 toward their business start-up.

The new partnership with WIDOC provides an opportunity to grow the EIT Partnership program and include more business coaching opportunities. “We look forward to including more business executives in the programs in Racine County to offer the EITs their best chance at start-up success,” Dr. Allen said.

The partnership is additionally funded by American Family Insurance and the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation.


Learn More

For more information, contact Ben Jones, Wisconsin Department of Corrections, Education Director, Division of Adult Instruction,  or EIT Partnership Director, Diana Hammer.

Learn more about the Entrepreneurs In Training Partnership.

To apply as an EIT in the post-release Entrepreneurship Bootcamp, use this form.

Register here to share your business expertise with EITs at in-custody or online group coaching events.


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