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

Lauren Martinez Image
Thursday, May 18, 2023
New South Bay program helps formerly incarcerated build business
Oakland-based ESO Ventures is partnering with Santa Clara County to provide a reentry small business incubator program for the formerly incarcerated.

SANTA CLARA COUNTY, Calif. (KGO) -- A new program in Santa Clara County aims to help formerly incarcerated individuals start or build a small business.

Across the Bay Area, there's a business ownership disparity. According to Santa Clara County, 6% of businesses are Hispanic-owned, and 1% are Black-owned.

ESO Ventures has helped hundreds of budding minority entrepreneurs across the Bay Area.

Now, the East Oakland-based company is partnering with Santa Clara County to provide a reentry small business incubator program.

Alfredo Mathew III, Co-Founder of ESO Ventures, said if you're in the high tech sector, they have tremendous access to venture capital and resources.

"We can't be the entrepreneurship capital of the world, when almost no one as access to entrepreneurship," Mathew said.

Through the partnership, they will be incubating and investing in 40 businesses owned by individuals with a criminal record over the next two years.

MORE: An in-depth look at how 2 Bay Area restorative justice programs work

Mathew said with the county, there will be a 20 week incubator that launches on July 10.

"Over these 20 weeks, they're going to get access to curriculum about business fundamentals, they're going to get one-to-one business coaching, they're going to get access to that first investment if they are ready, if they are formalized they can get access to $5 to $25,000 investment," Mathew said.

Mathew said if we want equitable entrepreneurship in the Bay Area, we need to invest in programs like this.

Sean Ward works for the Office of Diversion and Reentry Services of Santa Clara County.

"We work with them every day and we see these are people who have transformed their lives and they just need a chance - and for some of them, they have that bug," Ward said.

Marshall Williams started his own company in 2021 called Project Pet with the help and support services from ESO Ventures.

MORE: Program helps formerly incarcerated people graduate college

A program in California is helping formerly incarcerated people graduate from college and get their lives back on track.

"As a juvenile, I was exposed to the system, as an adult - I worked in the system," Williams said.

Williams said people reentering the community after getting out of the system start off with barriers.

"What are my forms of identification do I have - where am I staying? What's my environment is my housing stable?" Williams said.

Williams said Project Pet has products, programs and services dedicated to link healthy people and healthy pets.

"When you look at what the data that says around what animals do for our personal continence, PTSD, depression, anxiety, all the stuff that's in the news and the hype right now, what animals do for that equation is phenomenal, so we're here to accentuate that and get some budgetary alignment along the way," Williams said.

Williams said ESO was able to create an environment where there were like-minded entrepreneurs that were forward moving.

MORE: How the home-sharing economy is helping break the prison cycle in California

"It's a network of people who have been there done that that you don't really need to know personally to be able to receive benefit from," Williams said.

The reentry incubator program aims to create a positive change that will ultimately benefit the entire community.

"Santa Clara County looks out, because it's a really great opportunity level up your entrepreneurship game if you're in the reentry space for sure," Williams said.

The Office of Diversion and Reentry Services and ESO Ventures will host a program kickoff event on Monday, May 23 from 10 a.m. to noon. The even will be held at the Isaac Newton Senter Auditorium.

The county said anyone who has experience with the justice system, as well as community and faith-based organizations, are invited.

Now Streaming 24/7 Click Here

If you're on the ABC7 News app, click here to watch live