The U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) recently announced 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 be a ladder of opportunity for citizens who have served their debt to society but are struggling to find employment after incarceration. With 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.”
Aspire builds on Aspire Entrepreneurship Initiative, a public-private partnership announced in August between SBA, W.K. Kellogg Foundation, and microlender Justine PETERSEN. The pilot connects the formerly incarcerated to entrepreneurial training, education and microloans focusing on those who are parents. The pilot began in Detroit, Chicago, Louisville and St. Louis.
“60 percent of formerly incarcerated individuals remain unemployed one year after release,” said SBA Mid-Atlantic Regional Administrator Natalia Olson-Urtecho. “Self-employment must be seen as a viable alternative, and the Aspire Challenge leverages entrepreneurship as a tool to increase economic mobility.”
The competition awards prizes to entrepreneurial support organizations that propose innovative solutions to provide tools they 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.
SBA will award the prizes through the online competition platform, www.challenge.gov. The competition is open to all for-profit and non-profit entities and organizations with an account in the System for Award Management (SAM). The submission opened Dec. 29, and ends Feb. 12.
The SBA anticipates winners will be announced by March 14.
— Submitted by Cecelia Taylor