Matt Connell got into a lot of trouble in high school.
In fact, he credits a teacher with leading him off a destructive path, and onto one that led him to found and run several businesses, and now work at Goodwin College as program director of the business administration program.
In that capacity, Connell is starting a pilot program called ENet Entrepreneurial Network, which is aimed at encouraging ex-offenders to try their hand at entrepreneurship. The one-year pilot will provide counseling and education to 15 people who have been released from prison within the last six months, and are interested in starting a business.
The program is funded through a $200,000 CT Next Higher Education Entrepreneurship grant.
Realizing he could have ended up in a position similar to people the program aims to serve, Connell says he strongly believes individuals shouldn’t be defined by their worst moment.
What are your goals for the ENet Entrepreneurial Network program? What would you consider a successful result?
The large goal is to help reduce recidivism. Smaller goals are to create independence and a sense of pride, ownership and confidence amongst participants.
We strive for individuals to start their own business, but will be happy if they become employed in a stable work environment. Success would be to see 85 percent of students finish the program, with a majority ready to start their own business and at the least working.
Is entrepreneurship becoming an increasing focus at higher-education institutions in Connecticut?
I would say it is becoming a focus nationwide on some level.
Why run an entrepreneurship program specifically geared toward ex-offenders?
As mentioned, individuals coming out of incarceration have difficulty getting employment. Some companies are great in their hiring, such as Bears BBQ. But it really creates obstacles for people that can lead to recidivism. When someone owns their own business their success is on them and no one else.
What are some of the biggest challenges ex-offenders interested in starting a business have in Connecticut?
Depending on the business, regulations that may not permit someone with a record. Customers could also potentially carry stigmas about someone that has been incarcerated. Also, getting business financing can be an issue for this population.
Why should people care whether or not people are starting businesses in Connecticut?
People should care because small businesses are the bedrock of a stable economic environment. Small business owners can uplift a community and lack thereof can deplete it.
Do you think state government is doing enough to foster entrepreneurship? What could officials do that they aren’t currently?
I think Connecticut is trying to create an ecosystem that is start-up friendly. There is a lot more that can be done.
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