South Bay program helps formerly incarcerated people learn to become entrepreneurs

Lauren Martinez Image
Monday, November 20, 2023
South Bay program teaches former incarcerated people small business
Fourteen formerly incarcerated individuals are starting a new chapter as small business owners.

SANTA CLARA COUNTY, Calif. (KGO) -- Fourteen formerly incarcerated individuals are starting a new chapter as small business owners.

It's all thanks to the company ESO Ventures and Santa Clara County.

For the first time, they've partnered to provide a 20-week-long incubator program this year. They help people with criminal records develop and fund their businesses.

Friday night was the first-ever ReEntry Entrepreneurship Summit.

Participants shared their stories, gave their elevator pitch or brought their business.

RELATED: South Bay's reentry program aims to help formerly incarcerated build a business

Alberto Tirrez, owner of Fotobombers Booth, was a panelist. He talked about his journey from life on the streets to becoming a grandfather of four.

"It feels amazing. It's really mind-blowing. It's still kind of surreal," Tirrez said.

Never giving up on a dream was important to Tirrez. He uses the word "NO" as an acronym for "next opportunity."

His business Fotobombers Booth started in June and has already branched off to Las Vegas.

"Fotobombers started getting so many gigs, I had to quit my job, and now I'm doing it full time," Tirrez said.

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The 20-week program included two training sessions a week.

Tirrez said he learned how to be financially responsible.

"It's for the kids and the grandkids to leave that generational wealth and break some generational curses. I just feel like it's a gift from God. I really can't fully explain. I'm nervous, I'm anxious, I'm excited. But really, I'm just proud of myself, and I'm really happy and grateful for ESO," Tirrez said.

Marion Araque is the ReEntry program manager at ESO Ventures.

"This is a community that's left behind, and it's a community that's hungry, and the resilience and the perseverance. You give them an opportunity and see just see what they can do," Araque said.

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Melissa Contreras started her catering company out of her home. She reflected on how hard finding a job after incarceration was.

"Safeway, Costco, even Dollar Tree -- nobody would hire me because I was a high-risk parolee," Contreras said.

In April her company Un Taco Mas was valued at zero. Now, she's made nearly $150,000 in revenue.

"For the first time in my life, I'm able to afford a vacation. For the first time in my life if my car breaks down, I'm able to fix it without worrying," Contreras said.

Currently, Contreras is putting her daughter through college, who is studying to be CNA.

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Like many of her fellow cohorts, Contreras credits the training and mentorship the ReEntry business program provided.

"Because when someone like me comes out here, if we don't have someone helping us or leading us in the right direction, we end back doing the same things that we were doing," Contreras said.

Over the next two years, ESO will be incubating and investing in 40 entrepreneurs looking to restart their life. The mission is to build a more equitable entrepreneurial community.

"I'm very happy, because I persevered. You know my dad told me 'Persevere, persevere.' I didn't know what that meant, but it means to keep going even though things get tough, and I'm there, you know? I'm doing it," Contreras said.

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