Prison entrepreneurship programme: Startup

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This is a case study featured in our From inmates to entrepreneurs report. Click here for the full report page

Startup is a highly successful charity established in 2006 which helps female prisoners set up businesses after their release. The programme was founded by Juliet Hope, an ex-investment banker at Rothschild Asset Management; its staff includes individuals with a mixture of both business and criminal justice backgrounds.

Since its inception, Startup has provided business support to over 1200 ex-prisoners and ex-offenders, with only one recorded reoffender among those that started businesses. The charity uses the 4-2-1 model adapted for our own economic case (see page 15), in which clients begin to receive support while still in prison (outcome one), with half of these going on to develop a business plan (outcome two) and a final cohort that receives grant funding and additional mentoring to start a business (outcome three). Startup participants are vetted solely based on their ideas, business acumen and motivation, not the nature of their crime. “We don’t want to cherry-pick those prisoners that are least likely to reoffend in the first place”, says Juliet.

One of Startup’s most unique features is its peer mentoring scheme, whereby the programme’s successfully self-employed clients give personal support to current participants. One way this is done is through opportunities to “experience a day in the life of” an ex-offender whose business is in the industry that a particular individual is interested in. In the early days, Juliet recruited professionals from the corporate and financial sectors to mentor, but this was unsuccessful because “they just couldn’t relate to each other. In Juliet’s experience, having a criminal background with similar challenges to face in common makes a big difference”.

Despite Startup’s impressive track record, the charity has struggled to access the funding it needs to meet the demand for its services, despite Juliet’s belief that up to half of exprisoners could be self-employed. She has focused on women following the Corston review (of women in the criminal justice system) and believes that self-employment is often the only way women leaving prison can become financially viable. Startup receives the lion’s share of its funding from charitable trusts and the Big Lottery Fund, with government funding hard to come by. This might be about to change, as the government’s new “Transforming Rehabilitation” agenda has promised to open up rehabilitation funds to third-sector providers. So far though, nothing has materialised, with Startup still awaiting funding as part of delivery with the London Women’s Consortium – promised as part of TR – for a London rehabilitation contract now.

Examples of sectors in which Startup clients have succeeded include web design, bookkeeping, chocolate making, beauty, floristry, jewellery design and personal training, among many others.

Startup’s achievements in reducing reoffending and getting ex-prisoners into business have been recognised through praise from 10 Downing Street and awards from the Centre for Social Justice, The Howard League for Penal Reform and the Oxfordshire Charity and Volunteer Awards.

The support offered includes:

  • Business planning support while in prison developing ideas and plans.
  • Startupnow Days hosted in prisons, inviting clients to present their ideas to a panel of business experts for advice and potential financial support.
  • Funding for materials and equipment (this financial backing is only ever given in the context of other support).
  • Access to an award winning peer mentor programme.
  • Design and printing of promotional material: as clients open the door to their home on release day their business cards are on the mat.
  • Regular workshops, drop in clinics and peerled meetings to facilitate peer support.