ASBA Equips Formerly Incarcerated Aspiring Entrepreneurs with Resources to Succeed upon Re-Entry into the Community

by Emma Lenihan

At the Arizona Small Business Association, we know that formerly incarcerated individuals — people who have spent time in jail or prison — face disproportionate employment challenges upon returning home. ASBA is working to empower these individuals to broaden their economic horizons through an innovative entrepreneurial mentorship program called Growing Opportunities (GO).

This free program equips justice-involved individuals with the skills necessary to start their own thriving business, become an independent contractor, or develop their employment skills to establish a long-term career.

Typically, working for an employer comes with a list of barriers to entry such as background checks and having to explain gaps in work history. A study from the Urban Institute of Justice Policy Center found that 71% of people released from prison say their record affects their ability to obtain a job.

The barriers of attaining traditional employment lead many formerly incarcerated people to consider self-employment as an alternative. The Center for an Urban Future found that 40% of New York prisoners participating in re-entry programs were interested in self-employment post-release. Entrepreneurship is one solution to the workforce challenges justice-involved individuals face daily.

ASBA has partnered with two key technology companies, Journeyage and MentorCloud, to develop and deploy professional development training, business courses and one-on-one mentorship for formerly incarcerated individuals. The action-based training teaches the learners the pros and cons of working for themselves, and what to do once they make the decision to leap into entrepreneurship. Participants are concurrently matched with a mentor who is able to help them set goals, work through roadblocks and provide ongoing support and encouragement as they progress through the program.

To learn more about mentorship and partnership opportunities, please visit or contact program administrators at

GO Program for Employers

In addition to supporting formerly-incarcerated learners, ASBA also partnered with Journeyage and Lucero Consulting Group — a local business consulting firm — to develop on-demand training for existing businesses to learn about hiring and contracting justice-involved individuals. The GO program aims to encourage employers to reconsider hiring individuals with a criminal record. Topics covered in the learning include breaking down preconceived assumptions, benefits of hiring formerly incarcerated employees, best recruitment strategies, communication and expectations, and becoming an ally to the justice-impacted community.

Post-release employment status and income are some of the most important predictors of recidivism, the tendency of a convicted criminal to re-offend.

The Prison Policy Initiative recently published data showing that four years post-release, formerly incarcerated people were earning just 53% of the median US workers’ wage.” Meanwhile, researchers at the Urban Institute found that the more an employee earned post-release, the lower the likelihood of re-incarceration.

Through the GO program, ASBA is working to reduce recidivism rates and build the Arizona economy. According to a recent economic impact analysis performed by ASBA, small business operations in Arizona generate an estimated $191.4 billion in direct economic activity annually — a value equal to more than half of all state gross domestic product. Given the significant contributions of Arizona’s small businesses, nurturing the pipeline of future entrepreneurs is critical for the long-term success and diversification of Arizona’s economy.

Fair chance hiring practices have become increasingly popular as employers continue to face labor shortages and have begun searching for unconventional solutions. Businesses can tap into a booming market of willing employees by hiring previously incarcerated individuals and also contribute to reducing Arizona’s recidivism rates, building better futures for not only their business but the state as a whole.

To learn more about employing justice-involved individuals, please visit

Emma Lenihan is the director of program development at the Arizona Small Business Association. To learn more about ASBA, visit

Journeyage is a Phoenix-based company specializing in creating modern, engaging training material for their clients. The company believes one-size training does not fit all, and empowers its clients’ employees to accomplish their purpose through personalized training at scale. To learn more about Journeyage and its product, visit

MentorCloud is rehumanizing the workplace by empowering companies to engage with the humans behind their employees more fully. Our people-development platform leverages the power of mentoring and human-to-human learning to help teams build new competencies, promote career opportunities and tie people growth to business objectives. To learn more about MentorCloud and its product, visit

Lucero Consulting Group is an Arizona-based consulting company that provides businesses and nonprofits across the country with a wide range of marketing and consulting services and event management services. To learn more about LCG and its services, visit

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