RISE Business Academy

RISE Business Academy graduates

RISE Business Academy

Photo Credit: Courtesy of RISE Business Academy

Written by Nick Schinker

The addition of SourceLink Nebraska to the roster of resources in a program proven successful in reducing recidivism and empowering people with criminal histories to become small business owners will help further Nebraska economic development.

SourceLink Nebraska is a statewide platform that connects entrepreneurs to key service providers and resources supporting economic and community development. Similar to NetWork Kansas (a rural platform and KC SourceLink® an urban platform), SourceLink Nebraska increases efficiency and allows for broader statewide strategies to expand entrepreneurial and economic impact. The Nebraska Business Development Center (NBDC) serves as the host for the program.

SourceLink Nebraska will act as a partner resource for RISE Business Academy, a non-profit organization that prepares incarcerated persons for reentry into society and continues to support those persons post-release through intensive character development, employment readiness, job creation through entrepreneurship, and case management.

Scott Asmus, SourceLink Nebraska Network Builder, says SourceLink Nebraska is the ideal resource for all Nebraska entrepreneurs, as well as those outside the state interested in starting a business here. “RISE is an example of the many organizations whose goals SourceLink Nebraska can support,” Asmus says.

RISE currently serves in seven Nebraska prisons. Its six-month in-facility program focuses on character development, job readiness and entrepreneurship. Program graduates receive a RISE completion certificate, and a Certificate in Career Readiness from the UNO College of Business Administration.

The RISE curriculum components include Gallup assessments and training for participants (CliftonStrengths and Builder Profile 10), the Pathways to Freedom curriculum developed by the Prison Mindfulness Institute, and entrepreneurship and business curriculum created by the Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship.

RISE holds in-prison volunteer coaching events and business pitch competitions. Volunteers advise on resumes, leadership statements, business ideation, as well as lead mock interviews. Volunteers also judge pitch competitions and provide mentorship.

RISE founder and CEO Jeremy Bouman says the program has produced many successes since its initial launch as a chapter of a national organization in 2016. It became independent and rebranded as RISE in January 2019.

“We have more than 500 graduates of our in-facility training statewide,” Bouman says. “Upon release, 100 percent of our graduates obtain employment within 90 days. The recidivism rate for our graduates is around 12 percent, or about one third of the recidivism rate for non-graduates.”

RISE offers program graduates case management support upon release. Post-release services include a business accelerator, reentry planning, job readiness training and access to transitional housing.

To build upon the pre-release component of entrepreneurship, graduates after release may take part in the RISE Business Academy, a 12-week series focused on developing self-sufficiency, independence and economic growth through entrepreneurship. The RISE Business Academy is available to anyone in Nebraska with past misdemeanor or felony records.

Meeting once per week, participants develop a structured business plan while completing coursework tailored around entrepreneurial mindsets, marketing and sales methods, accounting, taxes, how to finance a business and how to protect it.

Upon the completion of academy coursework and business plan development, program participants must pitch their business to a panel of judges made up of community leaders, local business experts and entrepreneurs. The top placing winners of the RISE Business Academy Pitch Competition receive cash prizes to be invested in starting and developing their businesses.

Shawn Bina was a graduate of the first in-facility RISE cohort four years ago, and then became a graduate of the initial RISE Business Academy cohort in May 2021. Bina also won the academy’s pitch contest with his mobile auto repair business, At Your Convenience (aycnow.com) and received $1,500 as the first prize. Initially operating out of a minivan, the prize helped Bina upgrade to a former cable television utility truck that better suits his needs.

“The people who are part of the RISE program are the most humble, dedicated and giving people I have met in my life,” Bina says. “With other courses you take in prison, you never see those people again. RISE makes a huge difference because they stick with you and do all they can to help you succeed.”

Bina says obtaining information, mentorship and contacts through SourceLink Nebraska and the NBDC “are things I could never afford as a small business owner.”

Jamie Bright, SourceLink Nebraska Network Navigator, says that SourceLink Nebraska can help reduce barriers for entrepreneurs and business owners. “SourceLink Nebraska provides easy access to the right resource at the right time,” Bright says.

Bouman says NBDC representatives have taken part in the RISE Business Academy by leading classes on marketing and market research, and by offering guidance regarding small business development. “I think SourceLink Nebraska is a natural addition and will be a great resource for our program participants,” he says.

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