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Start-up mania hits San Quentin prison as inmates turn entrepreneurs

thCA2X0FNIEditors note:

Currently prisoners make anywhere from $0.12 to $1.15 per hour based on data collected from Prison Policy.  Do you support prisoners becoming entrepreneurs?  And if so, should money earned go towards their stay in the prison, to their restitution funds (if applicable), in trust for their family, or on their books to be spent however they please?

This article is a repost from the DailyMailOnline.

By Associated Press

PUBLISHED:12:03 EST, 25  February 2013| UPDATED:12:26 EST, 25 February 2013

One by one, the entrepreneurs, clad in crisp  blue jeans and armed with PowerPoint presentations, stood before a roomful of  investors and tech bloggers to explain their dreams of changing the  world.

For these exuberant times in Silicon Valley,  the scene was familiar; the setting, less so.

With the young and ambitious flocking again  to northern California to launch Internet companies, there were signs one recent  morning that start-up mania has taken hold even behind the faded granite walls  of California’s most notorious prison.

‘Live stream has gone mainstream. Mobile  video usage went up and is expected to increase by 28 per cent over the next  five years,’ said Eddie Griffin, who was pitching a music streaming concept  called ‘At the Club’.

He happens to be finishing a third stint for  drug possession at San Quentin State Prison, near San Francisco, after spending  the last 15 years behind bars.

Entrepreneur: Eddie Griffin, an inmate at San Quentin State Prison, presents his start-up idea as was one of seven inmates who presented start-up proposals on Demo Day at the Last Mile programEntrepreneur: Eddie Griffin, an inmate at San Quentin  State Prison, presents his start-up idea as was one of seven inmates who  presented start-up proposals on Demo Day at the Last Mile program
New focus: Inmates in the Last Mile program at San Quentin State Prison prepare to present their start up ideas on February 22, 2013New focus: Inmates in the Last Mile program at San  Quentin State Prison prepare to present their start up ideas on February 22,  2013

Griffin was one of seven San Quentin inmates  who presented start-up proposals on ‘Demo Day’ as part of the Last Mile program,  an entrepreneurship course modeled on start-up incubators that take in batches  of young companies and provide them courses, informal advice and the seed  investments to grow.

According to business news website Xconomy,  incubator programs – which it tracks – have tripled in number for each of the  past three years, proliferating from Sao Paulo to Stockholm at a pace that has  fueled talk in tech circles of an ‘incubator bubble’.

Last Mile founder Chris Redlitz, a local  venture capitalist, says his goal was never to seek out a genuine investment  opportunity inside a prison but to educate inmates about tech entrepreneurship  and bridge the knowledge gap between Silicon Valley’s wired elite and the rest  of the region’s population.

Inmates, after all, are not allowed to run  businesses. They do not have access to cellphones — much less Apple Inc’s latest  iPhone developer tool kits — and they use computers only under close  supervision.

After his presentation in San Quentin’s  chapel, which received a rousing reception from an audience that included prison  warden Kevin R. Chappell, Griffin told a reporter it was unlikely he would  launch his startup idea immediately after being released this  summer.

‘I still have a lot to learn,’ said the  soft-spoken Detroit native. ‘I’ve never used a cellphone. Technology is kind of  foreign in this environment.’

But to hear the inmates use jargon such as  ‘lean start up’ and ‘minimum viable product’ speaks to an unmistakable truth  about the Bay Area zeitgeist, where start ups, for better or worse, have come to  embody upward mobility, ambition, and hustle.

‘If they were doing this in the eighties  there may have been a different theme or model,’ said Wade Roush, Xconomy’s  chief correspondent. ‘But in this day and age, becoming an entrepreneur or  starting a business is a form of self-actuation.’

Situated on prime waterfront land,  San  Quentin is perhaps California’s most storied prison and home to the  state’s  only death row. But it has also kept a longstanding progressive  reputation,  boasting a rare college degree-granting program and vibrant  arts  courses.

The Last Mile accepted ten inmates out of 50  applicants for its latest batch.

The program, which graduated its first class  of inmates last year, meets  twice a week to discuss start ups and lasts six  months, although the  most recent class took seven months due to a prison lock  down last year.

Some Last Mile participants, under official  supervision, have also joined  the online question-and-answer site Quora to  respond to questions about  prison life or describe what it felt like to commit  murder.

With a design capacity of 3,302, San Quentin currently houses 5,247 inmates: Ten out of 50 applicants of The Ten Mile Program are acceptedWith a design capacity of 3,302, San Quentin currently  houses 5,247 inmates: Ten out of 50 applicants of The Last Mile Program are  accepted
MC Hammer visits The Last Mile program: An entrepreneurship course modeled on start-up incubators that take in batches of young companies and provide them courses, informal advice and the seed investments to growMC Hammer visits The Last Mile program: An  entrepreneurship course modeled on start-up incubators that take in batches of  young companies and provide them courses, informal advice and the seed  investments to grow
Comrades: Jorge Heredia, an inmate at San Quentin State Prison, is congratulated by his fellow inmatesComrades: Jorge Heredia, an inmate at San Quentin State  Prison, is congratulated by his fellow inmates

The latest batch of start up ideas included a  fitness app that would motivate drug addicts to exercise, a cardiovascular  health organization, a social network for sufferers of post-traumatic stress  disorder, a food waste recycling program, and an e-commerce site for artists in  prison.

Because the likelihood is not great that  these companies will become funded and succeed, Redlitz said he was also working  to place the inmates in jobs at tech companies after their  release.

Rocketspace, a startup co-working space in  downtown San Francisco, has agreed to host an internship.

Rally.org, a crowd-funding site that counts  Redlitz among its investors, said it hoped to begin a program to seek  micro-investments from the public for the inmates’ ideas.

Sitting in the Demo Day audience was John  Collison, the 22-year-old co-founder of online payments startup Stripe, who  noted some stark differences between the inmates’ proposals and the fashionable  start ups du jour in Silicon Valley.

‘What’s frustrating is that all these  companies in the Valley, they’re ideas for the one or ten percent,’ Collison  said. ‘You have start ups like Uber or Taskrabbit, that’s like, “Oh, here’s  something to help you find a driver or find someone to clean your house”. Are  they solving real problems?’

The San Quentin inmates ‘were talking about  urban obesity, or PTSD’, Collison said. ‘It’s a completely different  perspective. We actually really need that.’

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