Kansas City-based Determination, Incorporated is refocusing its mission with a new social enterprise business that will directly place formerly incarcerated individuals into employment soon after they return home.
Strong Start Make Readies is expected to provide jobs to people exiting incarceration as members of make ready crews at Kansas City area apartment complexes, single-family rental properties, and affordable housing units. A make ready crew is responsible for cleaning, painting, and making minor repairs between the leases of a rental unit.
Determination, Incorporated will continue supporting formerly incarcerated entrepreneurs to create their own small businesses, but has adjusted its mission to also focus on employment, specifically in home building, home improvement, and affordable housing.
“The reality in working with people in re-entry is that it’s important to keep employment and entrepreneurship on the table, and on the table at the same time,” said Kyle J. Benson-Smith, founder and executive director of Determination, Incorporated.
“Because right when you come home from prison, most people are not in a position to jump into their businesses full-time, but they are in a position to start working at a business and doing other things to work toward their entrepreneurial goals,” Benson-Smith added.
Strong Start Make Readies — which begins its pilot program this summer — will serve three purposes for Determination, Incorporated: to hire people quickly after incarceration, to create earned revenue to support the nonprofit’s mission, and to build relationships that benefit second chance entrepreneurs.
“We were getting a lot of people coming to us with service-based businesses in and around residential construction,” Benson-Smith said. “We just saw an opportunity there to better serve our second chance entrepreneur community, and to meet a need out in the community with the lack of qualified contractors that exist.”
Because of the refocused mission and emphasis on service-based trades, Determination, Incorporated will also move into the Trades CoWork space at 17th and Troost when it opens later this year.
Founder William Hayes said the new direction made Determination, Incorporated a perfect match for Trades CoWork, which is dedicated exclusively to members of the trades industry.
“Our network of contractors will be able to help them, because we’re trying to develop an ecosystem of small contractors who work together,” Hayes said. “As [formerly incarcerated workers] start to prove themselves, we can start helping them build their own companies.”
Fittingly, second chance entrepreneur Jamon Buford, owner of Good Brothers Construction and Remodeling, agreed to serve as the foreman and field supervisor for Strong Start Make Readies.
Buford has been incarcerated three times, most recently serving seven years for federal drug charges. Upon his release in 2019, Buford’s ex-wife connected him to Determination, Incorporated and the Rise Up, Get Started entrepreneurship matching grant program.
Now that he’s succeeded in starting his own business, Buford wants to provide his time and expertise to the Strong Start Make Readies, and also provide inspiration to others who are trying to follow in his footsteps.
“I don’t have the money, but I have time,” Buford said. “I want to help. I want to be the inspiration to these guys, because we probably have a lot of similarities.”
Buford said that Strong Start Make Readies is an ideal landing spot for formerly incarcerated individuals as they re-enter society, and noted that these skills could travel.
“It’s not just having a job, but it gives them a platform,” Buford said. “They get a chance to see the types of responsibilities that go into having a business, like being accountable.”
The social enterprise business model — which Benson-Smith described as market opportunity meeting a social need — has actually been part of the plan for Determination, Incorporated since its founding in 2018.
“It’s been funny looking back on the plans I was writing in 2017 and 2018, because I would have been right on track if instead of writing, ‘2020: start social enterprise business,’ I had written, ‘2020: international pandemic,’” Benson-Smith said.
Despite the delay, he expressed excitement about finally creating a “for purpose” business.
“If I just wanted to create for myself a fundraising job, I would have worked for another nonprofit,” Benson-Smith said. “There are plenty of nonprofits that need fundraising support, and I could have taken those jobs, but I got into starting Determination, Incorporated with this being one of the things I was most looking forward to, and the experiment I was most interested in doing.”
This story is possible thanks to support from the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, a private, nonpartisan foundation that works together with communities in education and entrepreneurship to create uncommon solutions and empower people to shape their futures and be successful.