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Incarceration to Entrepreneurship: CTNext $300K Grant Positions Goodwin University Business Cohorts for Success

On August 18, 2020, the inaugural graduates of Goodwin University’s Entrepreneurial Network (ENet) program stepped up to the podium, one by one, to outline the challenging paths they had traveled, the watershed moments when they decided to turn their lives around, and the cherished business plans in which they invested their time, energy, and dreams. The 11 members of the first ENet cohort were making the transition from incarceration to entrepreneurship, supported by funds from a CTNext Higher Education Entrepreneurship and Innovation grant. CTNext encourages innovative entrepreneurs in Connecticut by providing direct assistance in terms of capital, mentorship, networking, and skills development.

To build on the successful examples set by the first group of ENet participants, CTNext recently awarded Goodwin $300,000 to provide a second year of entrepreneurial training to incarcerated and formerly incarcerated individuals and to connect them with resources to support the growth of their businesses.

During the 2020-21 academic year, ENet will run two cohorts facilitated by program director Dr. Matt Connell. One cohort will be held on ground at Goodwin’s East Hartford campus, and the other will be run at the Willard-Cybulski Correctional Institution in Enfield. Live streaming and video conferencing will be used to accommodate any current COVID-19 regulations at the correctional institution.

The two cohorts will comprise 10 students each, and run simultaneously so if an incarcerated participant is released during the program, they can seamlessly transition to the on-campus cohort.

Participants successfully completing the program earn an 18-credit business start-up certificate, pitch their business idea at a University event scheduled for August 2021, and receive $1,500 in start-up funds.

The program is not without its challenges, however. “I had fears and doubts,” said Osvalgo “OB” Lugo, a member of the first ENet cohort. “I thought I was too old to go back to school.” But through perseverance and support, Lugo completed the program and earlier this year opened Look Sharp Barber Shop at 3 Brown Street in East Hartford.

“You go from having an idea to formulating and quantifying that idea,” he added.

Both organizations envision great outcomes from the forward-thinking partnership, believed to be the first in the country to include currently incarcerated individuals.

“One of the things I find so amazing is how students enter this program with a business idea, some that they have been thinking about for years, and leave ready to hang their shingle and make the dream a reality,” Connell explains. “You only need look as far as Look Sharp Barber Shop to see the economic impact to the individual students, their local communities, and the state economy. In the first cohort, every student filed their LLC incorporation as they prepared to be business owners.”

“The Willard-Cybulski Correctional Institution is extremely happy and grateful to be collaborating with Goodwin University on the ENet grant,” adds Warden Eulalia Garcia. “This program is providing the men in our custody with a valuable opportunity to become entrepreneurs. Part of successful community re-entry includes education, and we are pleased to be able to allow participants to be given this amazing opportunity to better their lives and strive for excellence. We are looking forward to the great success stories that will evolve from this partnership.”

To learn more about ENet and the business start-up certificate opportunity at Goodwin University, please contact Matt Connell at mconnell@goodwin.edu or 860-913-2171.