Navigating New Horizons: The Intersection of Entrepreneurship and Reentry

Why Entrepreneurship is a Pathway for Returning Citizens

This blog is part of a series of articles and events to highlight Second Chance Awareness Month.

People often seek entrepreneurship for its promise of financial stability, flexibility, and the possibility of creating opportunities for themselves and their community. For justice-involved citizens, entrepreneurship can serve as a lifeline, providing hope for reintegration into society and the autonomy for economic security. Reentering society can often be daunting as returning citizens are often faced with unique challenges related to stable housing, untapped mental health support, gaps in education, and securing gainful employment. Entrepreneurship creates a platform where, instead of being defined by their pasts, returning citizens can redefine themselves as innovators, leaders, and contributors to the economic ecosystem. Research shows that formerly incarcerated individuals are more likely to become entrepreneurs versus those without a criminal record.

For the 600,000 returning people released each year, finding employment can be difficult: the unemployment rate is 27.3% for the formerly incarcerated versus 5.8% in the general population.

Source: Prison Policy Initiative

Despite the idea that job security is based solely on qualifications and interview performance, the reality is glaringly different for individuals with justice involvement. For the 600,000 returning people released each year, finding employment can be difficult: the unemployment rate is 27.3% for the formerly incarcerated versus 5.8% in the general population. The pathway to sustainable job security for returning citizens is often littered with barriers that extend beyond a resume and job interview. This pathway is often obstructed by the lack of formal education, stigma, and employers that utilize criminal background checks as a screening tool for trustworthiness. These tools do not consider the capabilities and qualifications of an individual but often mitigate the opportunity for individuals to advance, even prior to participating in the interview process.

Opportunities for Support

Entrepreneurship offers a unique opportunity for returning citizens to leverage their existing skills and experiences to start a business without requiring formal schooling and the flexibility of eliminating preconceived biases often faced in the traditional workforce. Unlike traditional career paths that may require formal education or specialized training, many entrepreneurial ventures rely heavily on practical knowledge and resourcefulness. Along with these abilities, mentoring and other forms of support from municipal programs can increase the chance of success.

According to SCORE, an Entrepreneurial Support Organization whose mission is to foster vibrant small business communities through mentoring and education for the formerly incarcerated, successful entrepreneurship programs include key elements:

  • Broad program activities and support, such as job readiness and financial management
  • Mentoring
  • Interdependence, networking, and peer engagement
  • Tailored credit building and credit access

Not without its own set of unique challenges, entrepreneurship presents potential hurdles, including limited access to capital, business networks, and potential existing legal restrictions, which often result in most ventures being funded by friends, family, or bootstrapping. However, with support and access to resources, entrepreneurship can serve as a powerful vehicle for economic empowerment and community reintegration.

In essence, entrepreneurship can be a transformative force that transcends economic empowerment and becomes a catalyst for social change. By providing opportunities for justice involved citizens to pursue goals of entrepreneurship, city leaders unlock the unmatched potential for economic growth, but also a pathway that provides second chances. Moreover, entrepreneurship offers returning citizens the opportunity to make meaningful contributions to their communities. By launching businesses that cater to local needs and interests, entrepreneurs can stimulate economic growth and create job opportunities.

Collaborative Solutions

Municipalities can be well served by partnering with community-based organizations, institutions of higher learning, or other outside entities that have existing entrepreneurship programs. Often, these programs have flattened the learning curve and are in a position to scale up. The Pivot program in Washington, D.C., Pathway to Enterprise for Returning Citizens (PERC) program in Chicago, and in California, Santa Clara’s collaboration with private ventures are examples of variations of government, private, higher education, community-based organization, and corrections partnerships that assist justice-impacted people in jumpstarting their businesses.


Municipal Reentry Leaders Network

If you are a municipal leader looking to enhance your jurisdiction’s reentry programming, consider joining NLC’s Municipal Reentry Leaders Network (MRLN), which brings together city-led reentry center directors, as well as leaders from community-based organizations, returning citizens, and higher education reentry initiatives.

Inclusive Entrepreneurship, Economic Development Network

If you are a city leader working on inclusive entrepreneurship and economic development work, including engaging historically underserved populations such as formerly incarcerated individuals, you’re invited to join NLC’s City Inclusive Entrepreneurship and Economic Development Network on LinkedIn.

You’re Invited

Registration is open for the webinar, Bringing Lived Experience to City Hall: Justice Impacted Local Elected Officials, from 1 PM to 2:15 PM (ET) Thursday, April 25.

Connect with Us

If you are a municipal leader looking to launch or update your reentry program, reach out to us at – we’re here to help!

About the Authors

Tomeka Lee

About the Authors

Tomeka Lee is a Program Manager for Economic Development and Entrepreneurship at National League of Cities.

Tony McCright, Jr.

Tony McCright Jr. is the Program Manager for Justice Initiatives at the National League of Cities.