Looking for a new investment? These entrepreneurs-in-training might be your best bet.

Imagine you’re a venture capitalist, searching for an innovative young entrepreneur with whom to invest your cash.

You’re looking for someone smart — someone who can face and overcome all the obstacles that will lie in their path to success. You want a creative thinker, an innovator, someone who thinks outside the box in order to meet their bottom line. You want someone charismatic, with an ability to sell their product to anyone anywhere.

The best place to look? It might be prison.


Photo via iStock.

It turns out that a life of crime might actually prepare people for a life of corporate success.

"The same traits that would make anyone well-suited to the challenges of entrepreneurship are true for our EITs," says Mariah Dickinson, executive communications director at Defy Ventures, which provides business training to former prison inmates (or, as they're called at Defy, entrepreneurs-in-training, or EITs).

"But on top of that," she says, "I think many of our EITs have an even greater hunger to prove themselves and their worth to the world because of their situation."

But there’s one big problem: It’s really difficult for former inmates to make the connections and get the resources they need to make a fresh start in life.

"There are a lot of organizations with hiring policies that include background checks and questions about past criminal records," Dickinson says. "A lot of times, [having a record] ends up being a no-go for someone who's looking for a job."

Without a legal way to provide for themselves and their families, many feel forced to return to crime in order to make a living, even if they have the skills and desire to leave their criminal histories behind.

"I see these guys — I see so many successes. And some of the failures you see, I think are because they just plain didn't have the preparation and resources when they got out," says Glenn Dahl, co-founder of Dave's Killer Bread, a company which makes a point of offering employment to people who have criminal backgrounds. Dahl funded some of Defy Ventures' early programs and recently joined its advisory board. "We have people that are going to get out one way or the other," he adds. "We really need to try to do what we can to give them a chance when they get out."

That's where Defy comes in. It helps former prisoners parlay their talents into legitimate business opportunities.

Defy Founder Catherine Hoke high-fives a group of EITs. Photo by Defy Ventures.

Founded in 2010 by Catherine Hoke, Defy Ventures offers current and former inmates the opportunity to enroll in MBA-style programs that equip them with the skills they need to become employed or open their own businesses.

The EITs go through intensive leadership development, mentorships with corporate executives, financial investment training, and rigorous coursework, culminating in their own written business plan.

Judges listen to an EIT presentation. Photo by Defy Ventures.

Then they're offered the chance to enroll in a startup incubator and given opportunities to compete, "Shark Tank"-style, for seed money to start their own businesses.

Or they take what they've learned and use it to find employment. "We do have volunteers that have hired our EITs, or have connected them to hiring opportunities and gotten them interviews," Dickinson says. "The network really does help."

Volunteers and EITs do an exercise demonstrating that the two groups are not as different as they might seem. Photo by Defy Ventures.

The results, so far, have been better than great.

The National Institute of Justice reports that the recidivism rate in the United States hovers around 77% after five years. But according to Defy, only about 3% of their graduates find themselves back in jail, which, as Hoke told Bloomberg, is "unheard of."

That reduced return rate has huge cost implications. In California, one inmate costs the government over $70,000 per year, according to the California Legislative Analyst's Office. So by helping inmates establish themselves outside the system, Defy is saving taxpayer money.

Defy reports that their graduates have also started over 165 companies that were incubated as part of the program. They've created over 350 new jobs.

An EIT and his family celebrate on graduation day. Photo by Defy Ventures.

Participants in the program also gain something that's pretty important when it comes time to get a job out in the world: self-confidence.

"The important thing is learning how to present yourself when you get out," Dahl says. "They need to be prepared to sell themselves whether it’s in an interview, selling a business plan, or if it's just the energy that it takes to start fitting in in society. … All these kind of things are not done unless you have confidence."

Hoke presents seed money to a winning EIT. Photo via Defy Ventures.

Most importantly, Defy gives former inmates the opportunity to prove that people are not defined by their pasts.

"People actually rely on me now, and that's a beautiful thing," said Lasyah Palmer, a graduate and CEO of his company, LegalTech. "The biggest gift that I've received was to hear my oldest son say he was proud of me."

One of the most harmful stigmas associated with prisoners is that they can't, won't, or don't want to change. But the reality is that many people go through drastic life transformations while in prison that leave them with a strong desire to reinvent themselves in a positive way — a desire that almost everyone can relate to.

"We're all ex-somethings," Hoke says often, both on the organization's website and in real life. "I wish we’d ask ourselves, 'What would it be like if I was only known for the worst thing I’ve done?' Moved by empathy, we’d recognize people for who they are today and not for the mistakes they made yesterday."

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Dave's Killer Bread

On an old episode of "The Oprah Winfrey Show" in July 1992, Oprah put her audience through a social experiment that puts racism in a new light. Despite being nearly two decades old, it's as relevant today as ever.

She split the audience members into two groups based on their eye color. Those with brown eyes were given preferential treatment by getting to cut the line and given refreshments while they waited to be seated. Those with blue eyes were made to put on a green collar and wait in a crowd for two hours.

Staff were instructed to be extra polite to brown-eyed people and to discriminate against blue-eyed people. Her guest for that day's show was diversity expert Jane Elliott, who helped set up the experiment and played along, explaining that brown-eyed people were smarter than blue-eyed people.

Watch the video to see how this experiment plays out.

Oprah's Social Experiment on Her Audience www.youtube.com

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Cadbury has removed the words from its Dairy Milk chocolate bars in the U.K. to draw attention to a serious issue, senior loneliness.

On September 4, Cadbury released the limited-edition candy bars in supermarkets and for every one sold, the candy giant will donate 30p (37 cents) to Age UK, an organization dedicated to improving the quality of life for the elderly.

Cadbury was prompted to help the organization after it was revealed that 225,000 elderly people in the UK often go an entire week without speaking to another person.

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Well Being

Young people today are facing what seems to be greater exposure to complex issues like mental health, bullying, and youth violence. As a result, teachers are required to be well-versed in far more than school curriculum to ensure students are prepared to face the world inside and outside of the classroom. Acting as more than teachers, but also mentors, counselors, and cheerleaders, they must be equipped with practical and relevant resources to help their students navigate some of the more complicated social issues – though access to such tools isn't always guaranteed.

Take Dr. Jackie Sanderlin, for example, who's worked in the education system for over 25 years, and as a teacher for seven. Entering the profession, she didn't anticipate how much influence a student's home life could affect her classroom, including "students who lived in foster homes" and "lacked parental support."

Dr. Jackie Sanderlin, who's worked in the education system for over 25 years.

Valerie Anglemyer, a middle school teacher with more than 13 years of experience, says it can be difficult to create engaging course work that's applicable to the challenges students face. "I think that sometimes, teachers don't know where to begin. Teachers are always looking for ways to make learning in their classrooms more relevant."

So what resources do teachers turn to in an increasingly fractured world? "Joining a professional learning network that supports and challenges thinking is one of the most impactful things that a teacher can do to support their own learning," Anglemyer says.

Valerie Anglemyer, a middle school teacher with more than 13 years of experience.

A new program for teachers that offers this network along with other resources is the WE Teachers Program, an initiative developed by Walgreens in partnership with ME to WE and Mental Health America. WE Teachers provides tools and resources, at no cost to teachers, looking for guidance around the social issues related to poverty, youth violence, mental health, bullying, and diversity and inclusion. Through online modules and trainings as well as a digital community, these resources help them address the critical issues their students face.

Jessica Mauritzen, a high school Spanish teacher, credits a network of support for providing her with new opportunities to enrich the learning experience for her students. "This past year was a year of awakening for me and through support… I realized that I was able to teach in a way that built up our community, our school, and our students, and supported them to become young leaders," she says.

With the new WE Teachers program, teachers can learn to identify the tough issues affecting their students, secure the tools needed to address them in a supportive manner, and help students become more socially-conscious, compassionate, and engaged citizens.

It's a potentially life-saving experience for students, and in turn, "a great gift for teachers," says Dr. Sanderlin.

"I wish I had the WE Teachers program when I was a teacher because it provides the online training and resources teachers need to begin to grapple with these critical social issues that plague our students every day," she adds.

In addition to the WE Teachers curriculum, the program features a WE Teachers Award to honor educators who go above and beyond in their classrooms. At least 500 teachers will be recognized and each will receive a $500 Walgreens gift card, which is the average amount teachers spend out-of-pocket on supplies annually. Teachers can be nominated or apply themselves. To learn more about the awards and how to nominate an amazing teacher, or sign up for access to the teacher resources available through WE Teachers, visit walgreens.com/metowe.

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One of the major differences between women and men is that women are often judged based on their looks rather than their character or abilities.

"Men as well as women tend to establish the worth of individual women primarily by the way their body looks, research shows. We do not do this when we evaluate men," Naomi Ellemers Ph.D. wrote in Psychology Today.

Dr. Ellers believes that this tendency to judge a woman solely on her looks causes them to be seen as an object rather than a person.

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