Shark Tank-style event gives felons a chance to pitch small business ideas

Cornbread Hustle is a free program for felons that teaches entrepreneurship and business skills.
↓ Advertisement ↓

FLOWER MOUND, Texas -- A Shark Tank-style event gave felons a chance to pitch their small businesses to a room packed full of investors Thursday night. 
 
"Somebody listening to me? I couldn't imagine this ever," said Lasaundra Davis. "It really means a lot."
 
Davis was one of five participants who got on stage and pitched her business. She has a business called Just Made Lemonade, and she'd like money to find an investor to help her purchase equipment and expand production.
 
But not long ago, she was in a far different place. After struggling with drug addiction, she began selling and wound up in jail.

"I spent the year 2015 in prison, and I had an epiphany," said Davis.

When she got out of prison, she focused on her skills and settled on one talent in particular. "I make lemonade really good," she said. "So I was like, instead of me trying to push dope, I'm going to push a lemonade cart."
 
Davis is part of Cornbread Hustle, a free program for felons that teaches entrepreneurship and business skills. It was founded by entrepreneur Cheri Garcia, who herself struggled with drug addiction before finding a passion for business.

"Former drug dealers make really great entrepreneurs.  It's the same thing," said Garcia.

It's no secret that it can be hard for former prisoners to get work. In Texas, nearly 50 percent of those released from prison are rearrested within three years, according to state records. 

"Who's going to hire you? Who's going to take a chance on you?" said Paul Debord, another Cornbread Hustle participant.

Debord got out of prison a few years ago after serving 30 years for killing a man in a fight. "I didn't intend to kill the man, but God knows it happened, and I'm not proud of it," he said.
 
He entered the prison system in his late 20s, spending nearly all of his adult life incarcerated. But inside, he learned to do leatherwork in the prison workshop. Now he uses that skill for his new start, create custom-tooled leather goods for his business, The Texas Boot Ranch and Leather Emporium.
 
"A lot of guys are really trying to change themselves in there," he said.  "Here's your chance to get up here and present yourself.  What you know and what you can do."

↓ Advertisement ↓