When he’s working, venture capitalist Christopher Redlitz invests in startups. For example, he’s put money into Rap Genius, a hyped-up company based in Brooklyn.
When he’s not working, Redlitz likes to go to a prison and help a bunch of convicts try to get their lives in order.
Redlitz is the founder of a group called The Last Mile.
Its mission: help ex-cons become product members of society by introducing them to startups and technology.
The organisation is called The Last Mile, says Relitz, because “one of the most difficult challenges facing the incarcerated is their eventual transition from inside the prison walls to functioning successfully in the free world. It is truly the ‘final step’ to freedom.”
To make that final step easier, The Last Mile puts 10 inmates at California’s San Quentin prison through a six month entrepreneurship course modelled on startup incubators like Y-Combinator or Tech Stars.
At the end of the program, the inmates put on a “Demo Day” just like participants in YC or Tech Stars would.
In an interview with Connie Loizos of Strictly VC, Relitz said during The Last Mile’s last demo day, 100 people from the “outside” showed up — 12 of them VCs.
One big difference is that The Last Mile’s enterpreneurs aren’t actually allowed to run business. Another: innmates don’t have computers or smartphones. (Through the program, some of them tweet, blog, and answer questions on Quora, but they only do this by writing out text and giving it to a Last Mile volunteer to put on the Web.)
Still, Reitliz says The Last Mile has had major successes. He tells Loizos several former inmates have created their own companies since Last Mile was started. One former inmate has his own Web consulting business. Another built “a teen tech hub.” Redlitz is also getting some inmates internships at startups.
Some of the convicts who go through The Last Mile are in prision for committing very serious crimes. Some fo them are murderers, he tells Loisos.
“We have guys who are in for murder,” he says, “I think it’s important not to judge all crimes the same. Many of the guys have been in gangs, so you have to look at that background and where they come from.”
“We do require that they’ve graduated or are close to graduating from the prison’s university program.”
“Otherwise, it’s just like in the real world: Some people don’t know they have special talents and can be effective entrepreneurs. Maybe these guys are A Type personalities. They were just selling the wrong stuff.”
Redlitz and his partner, Beverly Parenti, recently gave a TED Talk on their program:
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