Article By Dayton Business Journal
The link between educational inequity and incarceration has been studied for decades. In the U.S., as of 2003, more than 60% of state prison inmates did not receive a high school diploma — and a later study by researchers at Northeastern University found that about one in 10 young men who dropped out of high school were institutionalized.
A group of Dayton business leaders hope to change that narrative.
In November 2019, local entrepreneur Nate Dillard banded together with several of his colleagues to launch Innovators Collaborative (INC) Dayton — a multicultural entrepreneurship initiative that aims to build a leadership development pipeline to cultivate long-term intergenerational wealth for the Gem City’s urban youth.
The idea, Dillard said, is to leverage resources from The Entrepreneurs Center, the University of Dayton, Wright State University, Sinclair Community College and other entrepreneurial hubs to teach basic skills about STEM, financial literacy and business development to Dayton-area students from elementary through college.
“We wanted to create an entire program where you can measure how many kids are going to be entrepreneurs or professionals based on what they’re doing in school now,” Dillard told me. “There are simple things we can do to give a lot of urban youth a chance at a better lifestyle, and a better lifestyle for their families as well.”
At its core, INC Dayton is a marriage of like-minded mentorship and workforce development initiatives, including the Justice Mentoring Program, the Community Builders Academy, Trep House and MVP Academy. Those programs were launched by INC Dayton’s co-founders, including Dillard, Bernard Jones, Kémosiri A’akhutera and Larry Jenkins.
By leveraging shared resources that foster mentorship and entrepreneurship, INC Dayton’s founders aim to have a lasting impact — one that will uplift disadvantaged students throughout their educational journey and beyond to keep kids out of the prison system.
“We want to create an intergenerational program to create leaders that curb the school-to-prison pipeline,” Dillard said. “The idea is, you can measure (success) in a positive way instead of a negative way. That’s our whole focus.”
Senay Semere, director of Dayton’s Minority Business Assistance Center (MBAC), teamed up with Dillard and his partners last year to accelerate INC Dayton. The idea was to create a resource center at the MBAC where students of all age groups could connect with mentors from Wright State’s ONEIL Center and local entrepreneurs, with the ultimate goal of teaching long-term skills to foster student success and build a strong coalition of minority-owned startups.
Dillard hoped to welcome the first cohort of students into the program this spring, but the Covid-19 pandemic threw a wrench into those plans. Now, INC Dayton’s founders are exploring ways to roll out their programming in a virtual environment, and Dillard said he hopes to hit the ground running by spring of 2021.
INC Dayton is continuing to work with WSU’s ONEIL Center to fine-tune its program moving forward, and Dillard said he’s seeking opportunities to connect with the Boys & Girls Club of Dayton and the Dayton Early College Academy to teach in-demand workforce skills and entrepreneurship fundamentals to area students.
It all ties back to Dillard’s primary mission: to empower others in Dayton’s minority community with the skills and resources to succeed.
“There’s so many free resources out there, and there are so many people of all different backgrounds that want to help,” Dillard said. “We’re really just trying to capture that mission in different ways that appeal and speak to our community.”
“This whole partnership allows businesses to interact with one another and have access that previously was held behind a curtain,” Semere told me. “At the same time, it gives a service provider like myself access to new clients so that I can give them the information they need to access capital, resources (and) all sorts of avenues that are provided by the state of Ohio.”
Right now, the founders of Dayton Business Center are working to formalize relationships with a wide cross-section of resource providers and university partners. Dillard is leveraging his leadership roles at local entrepreneurial organizations, like Startup Grind Dayton and Dayton Driven, to get those conversations started.
“We’ve been talking to Wright State as well, and several other players in the region,” Dillard said. “We will be announcing some further partnerships in the next few months.”
After launch, Dayton Business Center’s founders plan to use those partnerships to roll out new features, like workforce-focused online courses and programs for business plan development. The full platform will be accessible on iOS, Android and web browsers.
“The Dayton business community needs this, because everyone’s success is rooted in each other,” Semere said. “The only way that we can push our communities forward is by interlocking them more.”