Dave’s Killer Bread Foundation’s Second Chance Summit tackles ex-offender employment issues

Dave's Killer Bread Foundation'sThe Dave’s Killer Bread Foundation brought together business, nonprofit and government leaders at its Second Chance Summit in San Francisco in early December. The goal: to educate attendees about the opportunities and resources available for employing people with criminal backgrounds

This was the organization’s fourth summit. Two others took place in Portland in 2014 and 2015, and the third in New York City earlier this year.

Speakers at the San Francisco event:
  • San Francisco District Attorney George Gascon, who discussed how gaining housing and employment are two key elements in helping second chance employees find success and ultimately in lowering recidivism rates. Providing employment opportunities makes a community safer by steering people away from committing crimes.
  • Jessica Jackson Sloan, the national director and co-founder of #cut50, who spoke about her personal experience with incarceration.
  • Joe DeLoss, founder of Hot Chicken Takeover in Columbus, Ohio, who discussed being a second chance/fair chance employer. He explained how at HCT, the fact that everyone starts at the bottom and the benefits offered speak to what employees actually need are what makes his business successful. The background check conducted of his employees is more than just looking at someone’s record but an honesty check. It makes sure that employees are open and honest about their past and know that it will not count against them. Currently, 68% of his staff is second chance employees, and he hopes to see that number grow in the future.
  • Seth Sundberg, founder of snack food company Prison Bars, who talked about his experience as a second chance employee and employer.
  • Van Jones, president and co-founder of The Dream Corps and #cut50, who gave the keynote address, encouraging people and companies to take a risk and hire second chance employees. Do not waste genius and make a difference in someone’s life by giving them a chance, he said.
Panels included second chance employers and employees

In addition to the speakers, panels addressed various issues related to second-chance employment.

A panel of second chance employees discussed their work experiences and how they got to where they are today. They all agreed that one of the things they were most afraid of in applying for a job was the fear of rejection because of their past. However, they were fortunate to find organizations to help them. To those on the panel, receiving a second chance means everything; it gives them somewhere positive to go, a way to provide for their families and hope. One of the most important ideas expressed during the panel session was that knowing, and learning to own, that the person you were in the past is not the person you are today.

The second chance employee panel, moderated by Paul Solomon, executive director of Sponsors, Inc., included Andre Eddings, assistant supervisor of the Wrap Department of Dave’s Killer Bread; Ruth Butler, administrative assistant at Homeboy Industries; Melissa Brewster, community engagement manager at Luminalt Solar; and Vanessa Velasquez.

Another panel consisted of employers. Panelists stressed that being a second chance employer is not something that most people think they can handle. What employers should know is that they need to take the time to get to know the people they are working with and to invest in their community. By providing jobs, they are helping the community, especially those looking for a second chance. They discussed how employers can help their second chance employers and how it can benefit them in the process.

Led by David Israel, founder of Pop! Gourmet Foods, the panel members included Ronnie Elrod, director of manufacturing for Dave’s Killer Bread; John Krause, owner of Big House Beans; Audrey Holmes, director of workforce development for Homeboy Industries; and Emma Rosenbush, general manager of Cala Restaurant.

Workshops dealt with a variety of issues

Six afternoon workshops focused on different ways employers and organizations that work with second chance employees can help them. The sessions also debunked some of the legal and insurance myths concerning employing second chance employees. Topics included getting leadership buy-in, employer insights for nonprofits, building a talent pipeline, best hiring practices and helping employees go from good to great through engagement.

The Dave’s Killer Bread Foundation focuses on empowering second chance employment. With the help of its Second Chance Playbook, available online free of charge, the organization is working on providing the resources necessary to teach companies about the benefits of hiring second chance employees.

Other organizations involved in planning and hosting the summit include #cut50, which aims to cut the prison population in half in the next 10 years, and REDF, which works to create job opportunities and pathways for those who have barriers to employment.

redf.org

Seth Sundberg used incarceration experience to create Prison Bars

Prison Bars

Seth Sundberg, founder of Prison Bars (center).

A growing number of inmates and those in reentry are using skills they learned in prison and in post-release programs to start their own businesses. But it’s not easy.

Just ask Seth Sundberg, founder and CEO of Prison Bars, a company that launched commercial production of its “criminally delicious” snack bars in late September.

The former professional basketball player – for the Los Angeles Lakers and 10 European teams – and mortgage company branch manager was convicted of tax fraud and served five years in prison where he worked in the kitchen.

One day he took out a box of chicken labeled “unfit for human consumption,” an experience that ultimately inspired him to search for healthy things to eat and create nutritious handmade granola bars that he sold to other prisoners. They were so popular that Sundberg not only made a fair amount of pocket money but once released thought they might have appeal on the outside as well.

Defy Ventures offered support system

Fortunately for him, about the time he left prison New York-headquartered Defy Ventures was expanding to San Francisco. This entrepreneurship development program works with formerly incarcerated individuals (and now works inside prisons as well) to help them create businesses.

While some participants need to develop the skills to run a business, for Sundberg the organization benefited him in other ways.

“I had the skill set to do the business, but had it not been for the support system at Defy and the accountability system of Defy, I wouldn’t have been able to do it,” he says. “It’s not easy to come back to life and repair relationships and everything and start a new business. Without that support and the structure of Defy this would not have happened.”

But happen it did, and now Prison Bars, which manufactures snack bars that are non-GMO and gluten free, has eight employees in its day-to-day operations. Five of them, including Sundberg, were incarcerated, and most of them he knew from prison.

After graduating from Defy in October 2015, Sundberg and a team began to make Prison Bars by hand in a commercial kitchen in San Francisco. The company also took tons of pre-orders, did events and sold T-shirts and coffee mugs to get the word out.

And the word is getting out.

“We have commitments from Bi-Rite Grocers to be in a couple of their stores,” Sundberg says. “Our primary market is local tech companies that provide all kinds of snacks for their employees and want to have a social impact. We have commitments from Google and are talking with some other large tech companies as well. That’s our primary model. We will get into retail distributions as a secondary piece.”

Need to be patient

One of the biggest challenges Sundberg is facing is the need to be patient and not grow his company too fast, but patience is something one develops in prison, he says.

One of his goals is to educate people on the issues related to incarceration, and that takes time. “Part of this is raising awareness among people who may not have been involved with incarceration. There are a lot of people who are receptive, but there’s still a lot of pushback as well,” he says. “We want to be a catalyst to start conversations.”

Now that the business is in commercial production, the next step for Prison Bars is to raise additional funding. He’s already taken out two Kiva zip loans, partly for the exposure that the organization offers.

Sundberg is currently creating bigger fundraising plans, although venture capital is not in the mix at this point. “We’re going to take on private investors. We took on two small private investors, and they’re going to get involved with the next round of funding and introduce us to more people,” he says. His goal is to expand inventory and develop new flavors.

Tips for budding reentry entrepreneurs

Sundberg has advice for those coming out of prison who may want to start their own businesses.

“One of Defy’s key points is to prove your concept quickly and become profitable quickly. A lot of guys inside have a lot of time to think and have a lot of grand visions, and those are great, but they are for company number two,” he says.

Beyond that, “Stay with it. Stay humble. Nothing is easy. The reentry piece is especially tough. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. The only way successful reentry occurs is through community. Be vulnerable and let people help you.”