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New Program At Donovan Prison Will Train Inmates As Entrepreneurs

Visitors approaching the exercise yard in D block at Donovan State Prison. Se...

Photo by Promise Yee

Above: Visitors approaching the exercise yard in D block at Donovan State Prison. Sept 1 2015

Inmates at a state prison in Otay Mesa can now begin a one-year program that will train them in entrepreneurial skills and end with a "Shark Tank" style pitching session to venture capitalists.

Inmates at the Richard J. Donovan Correctional Facility, a state prison in Otay Mesa, can now begin a one-year program that will train them in entrepreneurial skills and end with a "Shark Tank" style pitching session to venture capitalists.

The program, called Defy Ventures, is already in place in prisons across the country.

When San Diego tech entrepreneur Neil Senturia learned about it, he decided to bring it to Donovan prison.

"It was impressive in that lots of programs exist for when you get out of prison, but there are very few programs for when you're in," said Senturia, the CEO of Blackbird Ventures and husband of City Councilwoman Barbara Bry. "The idea of bringing entrepreneurial thinking into the prison moved me."

Defy Ventures launched at Donovan on Friday. Over the next year, about 50 inmates, called "entrepreneurs in training," will take online and in-person training. They'll learn how to talk to people, write resumes and do accounting and finance, Senturia said.

They'll also each write a business plan and present it to a panel of executives of Fortune 500 companies, venture capitalists and other business leaders, in the style of the TV show, "Shark Tank."

"They're not going to start Cisco or Oracle, they're going to start food trucks, they're going to start lawn servicing, they're going to start barber shops," Senturia said. "Simple businesses, but they begin to have the possibility."

In other prisons, inmates who went through the Defy Ventures program launched 44 businesses, according to the program's website.

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Claire Trageser
Investigative Reporter

opening quote marksclosing quote marksAs a member of the KPBS investigative team, my job is to hold the powerful in San Diego County accountable. I've done in-depth investigations on political campaigns, police officer misconduct and neighborhood quality of life issues.

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