City Startup Labs: This Non-Profit Brings Help To Formerly Incarcerated Blacks To Back On Their Feet

by Gee NY

City Startup Labs (CSL) is making significant strides in addressing socio-economic mobility, particularly for formerly incarcerated entrepreneurs, value-added employees, and Black tech founders.

Founded by Henry Rock, CSL originated from the need to foster entrepreneurial activity among young Black men in urban America, aiming to shift them from the sidelines to the startup game. CLS was recently featured in an article by Blavity that acknowledged 10 Black-led community service organisations making a real difference.

Henry Rock, a facilitator of the Kauffman Foundation’s Icehouse Entrepreneurship and FastTrac New Venture Programs, delivered a TEDx talk in Charlotte in 2013, advocating for the reimagining of young Black men as a new class of entrepreneurs.

Following this, the Rockefeller Foundation awarded CSL a $100,000 grant, propelling the launch of a 2-year pilot in collaboration with the Urban League of the Central Carolinas in 2014.

The hybrid accelerator/incubator initiated by CSL targets young Black men aged 18-34, focusing on building human capital, social capital, and economic capital.

The program provides entrepreneurial education, mentoring, and coaching through progressive modules: Cultivation, Preparation, Education, and Demonstration.

The Center of Excellence for Entrepreneurial Competency, Innovation, and Leadership (CoE) at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, in affiliation with Ventureprise, was established in 2015.

CSL’s commitment to innovation led to the introduction of the ReEntry Entrepreneurship Program (REEP) in 2018, targeting Returning Citizens or formerly incarcerated individuals.

The program gained momentum with the Restorative Pathways Project in collaboration with Atrium Health in 2022. ARPA funding from Mecklenburg County and support from the Charlotte Area Fund facilitated the second cohort of REEP using the LBD model in 2023.

As Atrium Health expands its footprint, REEP plans to extend its efforts to Winston Salem, NC, and other markets.

With two cohorts per year, REEP remains dedicated to creating opportunities for socio-economic mobility among those often overlooked in traditional entrepreneurial spaces.

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