The U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) announced the Aspire Challenge, a prize competition of up to $1.2 million to expand access to entrepreneurial education and microloans for formerly incarcerated individuals. The competition will make up to 16 awards of $75,000 to organizations across the nation to assist in delivering entrepreneurial training and microloan assistance to formerly incarcerated individuals.
“Entrepreneurship and small business ownership are proven paths toward wealth creation and financial independence, especially for people who might otherwise feel trapped by their circumstances,” said Tameka Montgomery, Associate Administrator for the SBA’s Office of Entrepreneurial Development. “Entrepreneurship can even be a ladder of opportunity for citizens who have served their debt to society but are struggling to find employment after incarceration. With the training and startup tools provided through this competition, these citizens can finally start to rebuild their lives and build relationships with their families and communities.”
The Aspire Challenge will build on the momentum of the Aspire Entrepreneurship Initiative, a public-private partnership announced in August 2016 between the SBA, W.K. Kellogg Foundation, and microlender Justine PETERSEN. The pilot initiative connects formerly incarcerated individuals to entrepreneurial training, education and microloans, with a specific focus on those who are parents. The pilot was rolled out in Detroit, Mich., Chicago, Ill., Louisville, Ky. and St. Louis, Mo.
With approximately 60% of formerly incarcerated individuals remaining unemployed one year after release, self-employment must be seen as a viable alternative. The Aspire Challenge will leverage entrepreneurship as a tool to increase economic mobility for returning citizens through intensive entrepreneurial training and counseling and increased access to micro-loans. The competition will award prizes to entrepreneurial support organizations that propose innovative solutions to equipping returning citizens with the tools they need to succeed in entrepreneurship. Components by which the submissions will be assessed include recruitment methods, education/training delivery, provision of mentoring services, community connections and ways in which participants will be connected to access to capital and financial literacy.
The SBA will award the prizes to organizations through the online competition platform, www.challenge.gov. The competition is open to all for-profit and non-profit entities and organizations, and they must have an account in the System for Award Management (SAM). The submission period opens December 29, 2016 and will end on February 12, 2017. The SBA anticipates that winners will be announced no later than March 14, 2017.
Approximately 60% of formerly incarcerated individuals remain unemployed one year after their release, raising the risk of recidivism and resulting in lost lifetime earnings. This cycle has major implications for American families as nearly half of all U.S. children have at least one parent with a criminal record. In 2015, SBA expanded its Microloan Program to small business owners currently on probation or parole. The Aspire Entrepreneurship Initiative and the Aspire Challenge expand on policy changes to give formerly incarcerated individuals the opportunity to generate income and create economic prosperity for their families.