Become a BPA

  • About

    The Business Plan Advising Program is one of the highest-impact and most engaging volunteer activities available through PEP. Using existing business acumen and encouragement, Advisors support and accompany an inmate through his journey in this life-transforming program.

    • Overview

      The Business Plan Advising Program is a vital aspect of the in-prison curriculum for PEP participants. During the five-month, in-prison program, the men will experience three different learning opportunities simultaneously:

      • Entrepreneurship Theory – Participants complete an entire entrepreneurship textbook during the course of the class. This teaching provides a foundation to their entrepreneurship education and introduces them to business terminology which will soon become part of their everyday vocabularies.
      • Business Plans – Participants begin working on their business concepts immediately upon the commencement of the class. This hands-on experience helps re-enforce the theory they are learning, and it also provides them with a viable option for economic opportunity upon release.
      • Life Skills – Many inmates have lacked productive mentorship in their lives, often resulting in the lack of moral decision-making and basic life skills. Throughout PEP, the men will learn how to properly shake hands, transition back into fatherhood, dress like a professional, eat at a formal dinner, make educated relationship decisions, deal with addictions, etc.

      The Business Plan Advisor Program is closely tied to the crafting of business plans mentioned in number two above. Although PEP participants have great business ideas, they often lack a greater understanding of business strategy, and because they don’t have Internet access, they are unable to get recent pricing and competitive information to make their plans complete.

      The advising process is a great way for PEP participants to get conceptual and grammatical feedback on their business plans, and it is an excellent opportunity for a businessperson to give back to the community in a way that utilizes his/her core skill sets. It is truly and win-win situation with both sides sharing in the opportunity to learn from one another.

    • The Participants

      You may not be familiar with the demographics of the Texas prison population so here are some quick statics to give you a snapshot of characteristics for PEP participants:

      • Age: 18 to 65, with 70% of participants in their 20s and 30s
      • Ethnicity: Approximately 30% African American, 35% Caucasian and 35% Hispanic
      • Education level: Ranges from sixth grade education to master’s degrees; all participants have earned their GED or HS diploma; most have very little or no college education
      • Prison sentences: Average of five years served (actual time served ranges from 12 months to 30 years), with 55% of participants having served more than one prison term
      • Criminal charges: Approximately 50% violent offenses; nearly 80% are drug-related (whether violent or not); no sexual offenses; less than 1% are “white-collar crimes”
      • Geographic location: 90% of participants came from Dallas, Tarrant and Harris counties in Texas and return to them upon release
      • Socio-economic status: Most participants were raised in poverty, and upon release, most live in poverty (with approximately 80% being released to half-way housing)
      • Gender: male only
    • Benefits

      The Business Plan Advisor Program is a truly win-win opportunity for both the volunteers and participants.

      Business Plan Advisors have the opportunity to:

      • Give back to their communities utilizing their core skill sets.
      • Help someone who is proactively helping themselves.
      • Invest in the life of another human being by sharing their business expertise.
      • Network with other business professionals during visits to the prison.

      Participants have the opportunity to:

      • Receive one-on-one feedback from business coaches who are committed to their success.
      • Receive assistance in the writing of their business plans.
      • Learn to think with a business mindset.
      • Benefit from the support of a complete stranger who cares about their ideas and their future.

      With this win-win volunteer opportunity, we consistently hear about the transformation that happens on both sides of the advising relationship, and that’s what PEP is all about!

    • Participant Testimonial

      The experience of having a Business Plan Advisor was so much more than I expected. When I got the feedback on my Personal Statement, I was shocked! Not only did this guy give me tons of good advice, but he had mentioned an excerpt from what I had told him is my favorite book. I couldn’t believe it. Not only did he take the time to perfect my statement, but he also read my favorite book. I have been in prison so long I didn’t even realize there were people who were so willing to help someone, and that inspired me to start breaking down barriers and treating people the way he was treating me—with kindness.

      When my Advisor came to prison, we sat one-on-one to work on my business plan while getting to know each other. We talked about everything: France (he was studying abroad), girls, life, music, and everything else you could imagine. It was so cool for me. I gained a new friend that day.

      My Advisor came to prison again for my graduation ceremony. Afterwards, he came up and gave me a great big bear hug. He said he was proud of me for all I had accomplished—no, for all we had accomplished—and I was grateful to him.

      I experienced a philanthropic act in its most pure form. What could seem so simple to you could mean the whole world to someone sitting behind these walls. I urge you sign up for this. The experience could end up as one of the most meaningful of your life.

      -Ryan H., Class 10

      Advisor Testimonials

      Being a Business Plan Advisor was a very rewarding experience. While I was unable to make it to Texas from Massachusetts where I was going to school, I still felt fully a part of making PEP a success. Learning about the budding entrepreneurs I was assigned to work with was both heartbreaking and hopeful. Reading about their past in their own words was extraordinary. In particular I was touched by the personal responsibility each man took for his own actions and the responsibility each man was taking for his future. PEP has certainly played a strong role in restoring these men, and it was fun to play a small part in the process by providing feedback on their business plans.

      From a volunteer perspective, this program is a great opportunity for time-constrained people since the time commitment is limited and flexible. It will be fun to continue learning about PEP success stories and hopefully learn that I played a small part in the changing the life of a young entrepreneur for the better.

      -Craig D., MIT MBA Student

      When I started my MBA program at the University of Dallas, I never thought I would take a class that would involve mentoring a prisoner. Even when I signed up for the PEP class with Prof. Watters, I never expected to leave the class wanting to do more for the program.

      Before visiting the Cleveland Unit, I wanted to go there, do my time and then get out as soon as possible. I did not like the idea of spending my Friday and Saturday with prisoners. But then I walked into the PEP room, met at ton of PEP participants, including my mentee, Aaron. Once I was there I did not want to leave. The room was filled with so much energy, excitement, respect and gratefulness. Over the next 24 hours my face hurt so much from smiling and laughing and come Saturday afternoon, I did not want to leave. These guys really changed the way I thought about inmates in this program. I could see the change in the way they talked, walked and presented themselves. They were ready to face the world as new men who would never go back to the life they once lived.

      Throughout the advising process, I have seen Aaron’s plan go from a vision to reality. I am so proud of him and excited to see what he is going to do once released. The PEP program has changed my life forever.

      -Jennifer B., University of Dallas MBA Student

      Click here to learn about how the faculty and students at the University of Dallas and the Prison Entrepreneurship Program are engaging to combat recidivism and strengthen their communities.

  • Thank you for your interest in learning more about becoming a Business Plan Advisor! We have put together an FAQ section here that will answer many of your questions about getting involved because we hope that you will be well-informed before you make the decision to sign-up. If you have any questions that aren’t answered here, please review the Current Advisor tab. If you’re seeking further information … please Contact Us to answer your questions or provide more information.

    FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS

    What is a business plan advisor?

    Who can get involved as a business plan advisor?

    Can I see examples of the work I’ll be doing?

    What is the time commitment and duration?

    Can I see a sample schedule?

    Am I required to go to prison?

    How do I know with whom I will be working?

    How does the communication process work between my participant and me?

    What if my participant quits or gets separated from the program?

    How do I sign up?

    THE ROLE

    What is a business plan advisor?

    As a Business Plan Advisor, your job is to help the participant produce a grammatically correct and conceptually sound business plan. We aren’t just doing a feel good exercise where the men create business plans that are “good for an inmate.” Our participants already have an X on their backs when released so they need to meet an even higher standard. Their business plans should rival those written by MBA students, and we hope you will provide great feedback and guidance to help them reach that high standard.

    The role of an Advisor is an extremely rewarding position. You not only help participants learn and improve skills that equip them for future success, you also receive a sense of fulfillment and purpose through the program. Previous Advisors found that their role exceeded their initial expectations and they got out what they put into the program.

    The specific duties of an advisor include:

    Grammatical Feedback: Correct any misspelling and grammatical errors, but do not re-write the paper. Help the men to learn through this process by providing suggestions rather than re-writing the document.

    Conceptual Feedback: Be direct with your feedback and try to steer him in the right direction. Don’t be afraid to tell him one of his ideas may not work if you don’t think it is feasible. Help him create a conceptually-sound business plan.

    Business Consulting: Challenge him to think about things he may not have considered. Use your business toolkit to suggest different marketing and pricing strategies. You’re the expert—give him some direction!

    Market Research: The participants have no Internet access and some have been locked up for long periods of time. Use your research skills to help them find information on pricing, competitors and the market.

    Reality Check: The profit margins on mowing a lawn shouldn’t be 90%. Use data to provide a reality check when the plan seems unrealistic.

    Financial Advice: Of all the business plan sections, the financials are usually the most confusing for our participants. You will be the sounding board for financial projections.

    Encouragement: You can include words of encouragement along with any general comments about the document.

    Who can get involved as a business plan advisor?

    A strong Business Plan Advisor will have a formal education in business and/or real world business or entrepreneurship experience. The advisor will be looked to as the business expert so, at minimum, a basic foundation of business knowledge is a must.

    Examples of great advisor profiles include:

    • Business professionals and executives
    • Entrepreneurs
    • MBA students
    • Professional communicators, such as writers, editors and marketing professionals
    • Academics with business-related backgrounds
    • Lawyers

    PEP needs volunteers who will be dedicated to this experience throughout the five-month duration of the in-prison class. Because the process includes tight timelines that coincide with our curriculum, you must make a commitment to return business plan files on time. It is disappointing to a participant if their advisor fails to live out their commitment in a timely and professional manner. If you doubt your ability to commit to this volunteer opportunity, please don’t sign up.

    Can I see examples of the work I’ll be doing?

    Absolutely. Click the links below to see sample documents.

    Business Plan Sample – This document is a complete business plan from PEP’s Class 17 graduate who won the Business Plan Competition for his class.

    Advisor Feedback – These documents show examples of the grammatical and conceptual feedback provided by Business Plan Advisors.

    TIME COMMITMENT

    What is the time commitment and duration?

    PEP runs two classes per year at each unit and your commitment is for only one class at a time. The approximate class schedule is broken down as follows:

    CLEVELAND

    Class 1: January – June
    Class 1 advising: February – May

    Class 2: July – December
    Class 2 advising: August – November


    ESTES

    Class 1: April - September
    Class 1 advising: May - August

    Class 2: October - March
    Class 2 advising: November - February

    Over the course of a four-month advising process, you will spend about 1-2 hours every week editing business plans for both content and grammar. For the market research assignment, you will likely spend 2-6 hours over a two week time period. See the sample schedule below for a breakdown of what that looks like.

    Can I see a sample schedule?

    Below is a sample schedule to give you an overview of the entire advising process. Please keep in mind this is an “ideal” schedule—holidays, prison lockdowns and hurricane evacuations can all have a profound effect on this schedule, but this is what we strive to accomplish!

    BUSINESS PLAN ADVISOR PROCESS

    Am I required to go to prison?

    Business Plan Advisors are not required to attend prison events; however, we highly encourage you to do so because you are going to be one of the most influential factors in the business plan creation process. Your full support would be greatly appreciated by your PEP participant—and we’re certain that your volunteer experience will be vastly richer and rewarding once you’ve seen firsthand the mission to which you’re contributing.

    The prison where PEP operates is located in Cleveland, Texas, which is about 30 minutes north of Houston.

    Meeting your participant in prison gives you the chance to:

    • Put a face with a name and a story. It’s a great opportunity for you to establish a solid, professional relationship with your participant.
    • Have a real conversation about the business plan in addition to the one-way feedback you provide during the business plan creation process. That one-on-one time is so valuable, and the participants really enjoy the quality opportunity to soak up all of your business expertise—nothing can replace human interaction!
    • Be available for questions to provide additional understanding of business strategies. Your participant likely has no formal training in business. You will be bombarded with all sorts of questions which will help your participant gain valuable understanding.

    The events we highly encourage for Business Plan Advisors are the Saturday events where you get to spend the entire day providing in-depth feedback and coaching. These events include Concept Day, Business Plan Workshop and Pitch Day. Of course, you are welcome to attend any and all other class events, as well. For more information and to sign up to attend an event, view Cleveland Events or Estes (Venus) Events.

    How do I know who I will be working with?

    You will be paired with a one of our program participants based on assignments made by our in-prison staff. Whenever possible, we seek to match an advisor’s area of expertise with the industry of a participant’s business plan.

    Occasionally, one participant may have two advisors, should we have a generous number of volunteers. This is a great situation for the participants, as they get feedback from two perspectives which will help make his business plan even stronger. Please know that even if there are two advisors, your input is still vitally important so please don’t ever assume you can skip a week of feedback. We ask for your commitment 100% whether there are one or two advisors for your participant—you can each bring something important to the business plan.

    You will get to know your participant’s story of incarceration early in the business plan advising process through the Personal Statement document. PEP participants are of all races, ages and criminal backgrounds (minus sexual offenses) so we hope that having the opportunity to know your participant’s background and story will prove helpful in understanding where your participant has been and what he hopes to accomplish with his life.

    How does the communication process work between my participant and me?

    The communication between you and your participant during the business plan advising process will be handled by PEP staff members. Your email address will never be given to your participant, and you will never communicate directly with anyone in prison.

    The participants will type their business plan files using Microsoft Word and Excel in the prison computer lab, and the files will be sent to the Advising Program Manager who will then send the files directly to each Business Plan Advisor. You will receive the files, feedback instructions and a deadline each week there is an assignment. You will review the documents for grammar and content and then send them back to the Advising Program Manager prior to the deadline. The files then get sent to a PEP staff member who will bring them into prison each week.

    It is important to respect all of the assignment deadlines, as your participant is waiting on your feedback. He will get a limited amount of computer time each week so it’s imperative that your feedback has been received by his assigned computer time. Please make every effort to submit the files prior to the deadline.

    It is PEP policy that our volunteers do not write letters to the participants while they are incarcerated. The Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ) has strict rules about volunteer-inmate communication so we prefer not to have our volunteers write letters to the participants. You are free to release your contact information for the participant to contact you post-release, but until then, please stick to visiting prison and providing feedback on the business plan documentation.

    What if my participant quits or gets separated from the program?

    Occasionally, participants quit or must be separated from the program. This has nothing to do with the Business Plan Advisor or the quality or quantity of help that your participant received from you. Most likely he couldn’t handle the intense workload required by PEP, or he was removed because he did not exhibit the level of change that we require for a participant in our program. The separation can occur for several reasons including work ethic, attitude, not abiding by rules, etc. We always wish our former participants the best moving forward, and they will have access to the materials that were provided during the advising process. Therefore, the help and attention that you provide is still very important and in no way a waste of effort. It’s very possible that the spark we starting seeing in him will ignite in time.

    Separations are always very disappointing but are truly for the best. We want you to fully engage with your participant but also be aware of the realities of our program. If your participant is separated, you are welcome to stay involved by being reassigned to another participant, or you can sign up to get involved again during the next class.

    How do I sign up?

    Easy! Click on the tab that says Sign-Up, complete the form and hit the Submit button.

  • Current Advisors

    We appreciate your volunteer support of our participants through the Business Plan Advising Program! Please review the comprehensive information here which provides many details about this exciting volunteer opportunity. You can download a PDF of your complete Advising Instructions here.

    • Cleveland Schedule

      Should you have any questions, please email Chase Mayr at cmayr@pep.org.


      Assignment Date Sent to Advisor Date Due Back from Advisor
      1. Personal Statement, Leadership Statement and Product Offering Wednesday, August 16, 2017 Friday, September 1, 2017
      2: Market Research Wednesday, August 23, 2017 Friday, September 8, 2017
      3: Market, Competition, Differentiation Wednesday, August 30, 2017 Friday, September 8, 2017
      4: Vision, Objectives & Mission Statement Wednesday, September 6, 2017 Friday, September 15, 2017
      5: Financials Wednesday, September 13, 2017 Friday, September 22, 2017
      6: Resume Wednesday, September 20, 2017 Friday, September 29, 2017
      7: Marketing Strategy Wednesday, September 27, 2017 Friday, October 6, 2017
      No Assignment this Week
      8: Full Business Plan Wednesday, October 18, 2017 Friday, October 27, 2017
    • Estes Schedule

      Should you have any questions, please email Chase Mayr at cmayr@pep.org.


      Assignment Date Sent to Advisor Date Due Back from Advisor
      1. Personal Fit, Letter to Advisor, Initial Idea and Purpose Monday, November 6, 2017 Monday, November 13, 2017
      2. Opportunity, Solution Monday, November 13, 2017 Monday, November 20, 2017
      3. Customers, Marketing, Differntiators and Market Research Monday, November 20, 2017 Monday, December 4, 2017
      4. Financials Monday, December 11, 2017 Monday, December 18, 2017
      5. Customers, Marketing and Differentiators (Revised) Monday, December 18, 2017 Friday, July 7, 2017
      6. Full Business Plan Sunday, January 15, 2017 Sunday, January 22, 2017
      7. Resume Sunday, February 19, 2017 Sunday, February 26, 2017
    • Advising Instructions

      In an effort to equip you as a Business Plan Advisor, we have included in-depth instructions along with instructions for each section of the business plan. Please read the instructions carefully before you dig in to the business plan!

      You can also download a PDF of these complete Advising Instructions here.

      General Instructions

      Track changes: All changes to the document should be made using the Track Changes feature in Microsoft Word. The document should open with Track Changes already activated. If it is not activated, go to the Tools menu and click Track Changes. For newer versions of Word, go to the Review tab and click Track Changes.

      Formatting: Please do not change the font or aesthetics of the file. We have a standardized format across all plans.

      File names: Please do not change the file names. We have an automated process to handle the files we receive from each advisor, and it saves us time to have standardized file names.

      Encouragement: We hope that you build a meaningful relationship with your participant, and to facilitate that relationship, we encourage you to include words of support at the end of the document you are editing. Due to prison restrictions, this communication should stay within reasonable, professional bounds. It should not include any promises or personal information including, your email address, phone number or mailing address. Please include these comments in the document that you are editing or in a second document. Anything sent in the email back to the Advising Program Manager (not as an attachment) will not reach the prison.

      Gifts: You cannot give gifts to participants. This includes money (including cash deposited through the prison system), books and other materials that are of value to the participant’s project. These items can instead be donated to PEP and added to the prison library (see next bullet).

      Donations: Books and other information relevant to the participants can be donated to the PEP library, in honor of the participant, but they cannot become the property of the participant, per prison rules. Donated items can be sent to the main PEP office: 4140 Director’s Row, Suite B, Houston, TX 77092.

      Letter to Participant

      Please write your participant a letter as a separate Word document. Please do not send photos of you or your family. Please save as “LastnameFirstinitial Advisor Letter.doc” (last name of PEP participant + first initial). Please include the following in the letter:

        Your Name
      • Your School/Company
      • Your favorite hobbies
      • A little about your professional background
      • Why you chose to volunteer for PEP
      • Whether you plan to visit prison

      Participant Profile for Business Plan Advisor

      This document does not require editing. This is your introduction to the participant.

      Personal Statement

      The Personal Statement tells the participant’s story with the goal of demonstrating personal transformation. This is not a standard part of a business plan, but because of his history, we feel it is important to include. We tell the participant that the day he committed his crime, he was the furthest away from being considered “financially backable” as a future entrepreneur—even to the most high-risk venture capitalist. For people to trust him as an entrepreneur, the participant must demonstrate that he has changed his values and is ready to live a productive life. Therefore, we ask him to share his story, in detail, including his childhood and criminal history. Then we ask him to answer the questions: How have you changed? Why do you want to become an entrepreneur? Why should society trust you with a small business? Ideally, the document should provide good evidence of personal transformation.

      Please suggest the elimination of anything that seems like “too much information.” It’s good for the participant to talk about his upbringing, family situation, crime, etc., but there is a fine line between what is appropriate and what is considered too much information. Also, please suggest the elimination of sections where the participant goes into far too much detail (e.g., lengthy descriptions of family members or that he owned a red tricycle growing up). Help your participant create a concise and moving Personal Statement. Please use your best judgment.

      The Personal Statement should be up to two pages, single-spaced in length and written in first person form (e.g., I was born in Houston, Texas).

      Mission Statement

      The Mission Statement is a brief description of what the participant’s business will provide for its customers. This statement should be two to three sentences long and should provide an understanding of the business’s goals. The statement must include the following four components:

      1. company name,
      2. location of business,
      3. brief description of product or service and
      4. a differentiating quality/feature of the product or service.

      Leadership Statement

      The purpose of the Leadership Statement is to establish credibility as a future entrepreneur by highlighting the participant’s experience, accomplishments and leadership abilities. This professional biography can include both free-world and prison accomplishments such as classes, education and work experience. He should also state his role and responsibilities in his new company. It should be written in third person (e.g., John Doe has 30 years of work experience in the construction industry.) and should be two to four paragraphs in length.

      Information provided in this statement should not have significant overlap with the Personal Statement (although there may be a bit of overlap)—they have two different purposes.

      Market Research

      Many of our participants have been incarcerated for extensive periods of time, ranging from 18 months to 30 years. While they’ve been locked up, the world has changed significantly—pricing, technology, the Internet, cell phones, distribution channels, etc. Many have little understanding of business competition, differentiation and current markets. Inmates are not granted Internet access; thus, you are their link to the outside world in terms of collecting relevant information from which they will write their business plans.

      Your participant will complete his market research request form, which includes his mission statement, industry and market research requests. There is a place on the form where he may have indicated any known sources where you may find relevant industry information. He may know exactly where to point you, or he may have no idea. He may ask for relevant demographic information or may still be a bit confused about what he needs to ask for or what is “relevant.”

      Your job is to determine the type of information he will really need to write his business plan and to track down this information on his behalf. On the second half of the form, we’ve indicated some research items that would help him write his plan. Please feel free to review the completed business plan under the Samples tab to get an idea of the finished product. The Market, Competition and Differentiation section will give you a good feel for the type of information necessary to create the plan.

      Helpful information will include:

      • Names of competitors: both large, national competitors, and small regional competitors. Please include direct competitors and indirect competitors (e.g., for McDonald’s, a direct competitor is Burger King, and indirect competitors include any other non-burger fast food restaurant or even cooking meals at home).
      • Pricing information: This is one of the most important things you can supply! Your participant may not know what his products/services sell for, and it’s difficult to build a financial plan without accurate pricing information. For a catering business, you could send competitors’ menus. For a barber shop, send a list of services and prices. For some businesses, it would be helpful if you picked up the phone and called a few local competitors in the participant’s regional area to get pricing information.
      • Start-up costs: When considering start-up costs, please provide pricing information for the lowest-cost alternative. We encourage each participant to start businesses with start-up costs of $10,000 or less—unless he has family money or personal funds saved. For example, you could rationalize a cost of $30,000 to start a landscaping business, which could be the case if you were to purchase a brand new truck and all of the equipment up-front. A low cost alternative could include distributing flyers door-to-door, purchasing a used lawn mower and pulling the lawn mower in a small trailer behind a bicycle. The point is: please provide the lowest cost alternatives for starting their businesses. They may think they need to purchase a truck to start a business, but maybe leasing would be a more affordable option!
      • Differentiation: What is the main competitive advantage and strategy to differentiate in your participant’s industry? Do most businesses compete on price, cost, customer service, brand or quality? Try to provide creative ideas on how to stand out in his industry.
      • Market: Is it highly fragmented? Consolidating? How large is the market nationwide? How large is the market in his region? Is demand increasing or not? What are the main trends? Barriers to entry? Seasonal trends?

      Please note that if your participant made a very unusual, hard-to-find request, you do not have to fulfill every bit of the request! He probably can live without all of the information. Please use your best judgment in determining the critical information.

      Also, we try to compile good research sites and sources to prevent the duplication of efforts. Please send the Advising Program Manager links to any helpful web sites or sources of information. If you come across any books that would be helpful to your participant, please notify the Advising Program Manager of the book title and author, and PEP may be able to purchase it for the participant.

      You will notice that some of these forms are incomplete and many also include spelling and grammatical errors. For many participants, the first few weeks in PEP have been their first-ever exposure to a computer. We have to teach them how to use a mouse so please bear with us as we teach them how to type!

      You have two options for submitting market research information for your participant:

      1. Copy information from your research into a Microsoft Word document, and send it along with the completed market research form provided.
      2. 1) If you would like to print out information from your research, you can send the information to our Houston office. Please include the participant’s name and business name and the completed market research form on the top of the package. Please send the information to:
        PEP
        Attn: Business Plan Advising
        P.O. Box 924708
        Houston, TX 77292

      Of all deadlines throughout the advising process, the market research deadline is the most important! Writing the rest of their plans is dependent upon the receipt of this information so please respond in a timely manner!

      IMPORTANT NOTE: Please do not include any maps in your market research, as TDCJ policies prohibit maps inside the prison. Thank you in advance for helping us stay in compliance with prison policies.

      Résumé

      The résumé is an extremely important document for your participant, as he will use this document to help find employment upon release. It is imperative that you spend the time to help make this document as complete and correct as possible.

      Here are some considerations for the résumé:

      • Please note that the participant wrote “State of Texas” to reflect the jobs he has had in prison. This is the acceptable way to state his prison experience without putting words like “prison, jail, incarcerated, etc.” on his résumé. We advise the participant to reveal his criminal background at the interview and on the job application form, but not explicitly on his résumé.
      • We encourage the participant to include prison work experience whenever possible. Please help him convey his skills and abilities utilized in that experience.
      • For his PEP experience, we use the name “PEP-Entrepreneurship Program.” He can list this under “Work Experience” or under “Education.”
      • If his résumé has gaps of two or more years due to incarceration, we encourage him to put the following statement at the bottom of his résumé: “Personal statement available upon request to explain missing time in workforce.”
      • Additionally, you will note that his résumé says “Graduate” regarding PEP and is written as though he has completed the program. This is so he can use this résumé the day he is released.
      • Lastly, please do not change the formatting or style. All PEP résumés are in the same format.

      Product/Service Offering

      In this section, the participant should describe his product or service in great detail. He does not need to go into pricing or marketing, but he should elaborate on the range of products/services and how they will be delivered. This should be one to three paragraphs.

      Market, Competition and Differentiation (“MCD”)

      For the MCD section, the participant relies on the market research you provided. If the participant does not have the necessary information, we told him to write what he needed and literally put in a blank line (e.g., “The landscaping industry is a $____ billion market”). PLEASE make the time to obtain necessary market research and fill in the blanks for him. However, if he is asking for unnecessary or irrelevant data, add a comment stating why you feel the information is not needed.

      MCD should be three separate sections. If he didn’t have any information on his competitors, he may have had very little to write. Please try to obtain information on both regional and national competitors. Think outside of the box. For home remodeling, other companies in the same business are direct competitors. Our participants also compete against stores like Home Depot who are willing to train homeowners to do the work themselves. Home Depot may also have its own contractors in-house who can perform the work.

      For differentiation, we encourage our participants to compete on issues other than price. We do not want our men to fall into the trap of thinking they always have to be the least costly. Offer suggestions where the participant can create added value for his customer (convenience, cleanliness, response time, etc.).

      Marketing Strategy

      This document should have separate sections labeled: Price, Place and Promotion. These sections should contain specific information on each topic. For example, the participant’s business probably offers one, two or three products/services. He should specifically discuss the pricing of each. He may need to discuss his overall pricing strategy, as well. For promotion, consider whether the marketing technique is cost-effective and consistent with the business’s products/services. For example, distributing fliers in a grocery store parking lot is not the most effective way to promote premium bathroom tile work.

      An optional section that may be included is his “Sales Pitch,” in which he could write one to two paragraphs of his “elevator pitch” to a potential customer. The sales pitch can be written in the first person. Each of these sub-sections should be a separate paragraph with a header.

      Vision and Objectives

      The participant should have written tangible, quantifiable goals for several time periods. We instructed him to use bullet points and to write in fragments. An example of good objectives:

      • Hire first employee.
      • Obtain DBA.
      • Expand to Ft. Worth.
      • Increase profits by 10%.

      Examples of poorly written objectives:

      • I want to grow the business.
      • Get more customers.

      Included in the Vision and Objectives document is the participant’s Community Impact section. We teach him about giving generously to the community and about corporate social responsibility. Each participant has hurt society by committing his crime and taking up taxpayer dollars while incarcerated. We hope that his business not only becomes successful, but also creates significance in the lives of others. We encourage him to give back personally beginning right when he is released, so that giving and volunteering become a way of life—not something that he waits until he becomes “rich” to do.

      That said, you will notice that a participant may be a bit ambitious with his plans (e.g., giving back 20% of his first year’s revenues). We do encourage him to tithe (10%) out of his personal income, but giving back so aggressively out of his company’s revenue may be too much. Please advise him to give back generously but in a realistic way. He does not need to give back financially out of his company; he can also give by providing pro-bono services (e.g., a window washing business could clean a church’s windows for free).

      Corporate social responsibility is a different matter than corporate giving and will be more relevant to some businesses than others. Please help your participant to brainstorm on the best ways to run an ethical and socially-conscious business. He may have written that he will be running an “honest business” which really doesn’t need to be stated in writing; honesty is to be assumed.

      Complete Business Plan

      The final document you will receive is the complete business plan. Besides including the sections which you have previously reviewed, you will see the following sections for the first time. Please read the entire plan and review it closely for internal consistency and completeness. Realize it is possible the participant has more than one advisor, and as such, he may have received different changes and/or feedback from both of you and had to choose between the comments. Because of this, all of your previous comments may not have been included in the final draft. Please do not let that limit your feedback.

      • Financial Projection: The Excel spreadsheet is a 12-month budget for his company’s first year in operation. The first two worksheets detail the assumptions the participant is using. The third worksheet provides an income statement and cash flow statement calculated from the assumptions. A participant’s numbers may be unrealistic. Please provide feedback on realistic budget projections. Please write your comments and/or suggestions in a Word document, rather than changing the numbers directly in the spreadsheet.
      • Financial Summary: In the Product/Service Offering section, the participant described what the company will offer. The Financial Summary should explain his revenue model with numbers (average sales price, variable cost and gross profit per unit). This is the meat and potatoes of whether his business concept can be profitable. This section also includes a brief description of overhead and net income. He may also include a breakeven point.
      • Financing Strategy: This section details how much money the participant needs to start his business, a brief summary of what he will use the money for and how he intends to raise his initial capital. Most business plans will require $10,000 or less in initial capital. This may seem extremely small to you; however, we encourage the participant to bootstrap his business. If the participant is looking for third-party funding, he should distinguish between debt and equity and how he intends to repay either.
      • Executive Summary: The last item the participant writes is the Executive Summary. This will include two to four sentence summaries of each section except Vision and Objectives. A reader should be able to have a good understanding of the basic business concept. We intend to send this to judges of our Business Plan Competition. As such, ask yourself, “What, if anything, is missing from this to give the reader an accurate picture of the participant’s business?” Lastly, please do not change the formatting/summary style. All of the PEP Executive Summaries are in the same format.
    • Visiting Prison

      Business Plan Advisors are not required to attend prison events; however, we highly encourage you to do so. You are going to be one of the most influential factors in the business plan creation process, and your full support would be greatly appreciated by your PEP participant. We’re certain that your volunteer experience will be vastly richer and rewarding once you’ve seen firsthand the mission to which you’re contributing.

      The prison where PEP operates is located in Cleveland, Texas, which is about 30 minutes north of Houston.

      The events we highly encourage for Business Plan Advisors are the Saturday events where you get to spend the entire day providing in-depth feedback and coaching. These events include Concept Day, Business Plan Workshop and Pitch Day. Of course, you are welcome to attend any and all other class events, as well. For more information and to sign up to attend an event, click here.

    • What is the lag time between sending and receiving information from my participant?

      Ideally, your participant will write a section of his business plan one week; it will be sent to you the next week and he will have the chance to look over your edits the following week. Remember that is the ideal situation! If there is a prison event that week or other events that affect the class schedule, such as a lockdown or hurricane evacuation, the advising timeline may shift accordingly.

      What do I need to do if I am going to be away from email during the class, and I cannot complete the assignments on time?

      If you know ahead of time that you are going to be away from email for a significant amount of time, please reconsider signing up to be an Advisor. Our participants depend on you so your availability and access to email are necessary.

      If you are only going to be away from email for a week or two, please communicate this to the Advising Program Manager ahead of time so you can make alternate arrangements. Ideally, you will find a replacement for yourself that week so your participant will see no interruption in the advising process.

      What happens if I submit an assignment past the deadline?

      We understand that life happens. Work and family situations can disrupt even our most important plans! That said; remember that your participant is waiting on your feedback to make progress on his business plan. Please make every attempt to respect the deadlines and your participant even when other things come up.

      Will I have the opportunity to work with my participant post release, if there is mutual interest?

      We highly encourage you to stay involved with your participant even after the class has ended; however, since letters are not allowed by PEP, prison visits are the only way to stay in touch until your participant is released. We would love for you to continue the coaching process during prison visits to the next class’s events.

      You can release your contact information to be given to your participant upon his release from prison. That puts your contact information in his hands so he is free to get in touch with you. We encourage you to stay involved with him in the role of a coach and friend; however, you need to be smart about your involvement.

      • Women, we would encourage you to just stick with working with the men inside prison. Our female staff members never visit the halfway houses alone, ride in a car alone or hang out in private with PEP graduates, and neither should you. This is in no way a sign of distrust or lack of respect, it’s just smart. Our program as a whole is more important than any single relationship so please respect our philosophy on this. If you have any questions at all, contact a PEP staff member at 832-767-0928.
      • Men, feel free to stay in touch with your participant upon release. After four weeks of living right in the free world, our participants are eligible to apply for an official mentor. It would be great if you and your participant joined that program when he’s ready so we are able to provide support to the both of you for the relationship.
      • If you stay involved post release, never invite the graduate into your home, as that is against TDCJ rules.
      • If the graduate ever asks you for something, speak about it directly with a PEP employee. He should never ask you for money for himself or his family, and he should never use guilt or manipulation to get something from you. If you ever feel uncomfortable or unsure, please contact a PEP employee at 832-767-0928. Again, be smart.

      What if the role of a Business Plan Advisor interferes too much with my study and/or work time?

      If you don’t have time to commit to this process, please don’t sign up! Again, your participant is going to depend on you so if you don’t feel as though you’ll be able to be dependable, please don’t sign up!

      Are participants matched to only one Business Plan Advisors?

      That depends on how many volunteers sign up to be Advisors. During the recruiting process, we aim to get at least as many Advisors as we have participants. If our numbers are low, we may ask some Advisors to take on two participants. If our numbers are high, we may assign two Advisors to the same participant.

      We feel that two advisors/participant is a great situation for the participant because he’ll get twice as much good feedback on this business plan. However, this in no way diminishes the need for each advisor to still complete all assignments on time.

      Why do some changes I make to assignments not make it into the final business plan?

      There can be multiple reasons why your suggestions didn’t get implemented.

      • The participant didn’t agree with your changes so he didn’t include them in the document.
      • The participant did not get enough computer time the week that he received your feedback, and he wasn’t able to implement your suggestions.
      • The participant forgot to include that change.

      Regardless of the actual reason, please continue to make suggestions based on your best judgment, and your participant will have another opportunity to review your feedback before his plan is finalized.

      If I find a lot of information on my participant’s business, how can I send the information other than via e-mail?

      If you have a lot of market research or related business plan information you would to send to your participant, and email won’t work, please feel free to send the information to our Houston office. Make sure to include the participant’s name and the name of his business.

      PEP
      Attn: Business Plan Advising
      PO Box 926274
      Houston, TX 77292

      Remember, no materials that have a monetary value or maps are allowed in the prison, and you cannot send gifts to the participants. Books and other information relevant to the participants can be donated to PEP library, in honor of the participant, but they cannot become the property of the participant, per prison rules. Donated items can be sent to the main PEP office: 4140 Director’s Row, Suite B, Houston, TX, 77092.

  • Business Plan Advisors have the opportunity to:

    • Give back to their communities utilizing their core skill sets.
    • Help someone who is proactively helping themselves.
    • Invest in the life of another human being by sharing their business expertise.
    • Network with other business professionals during visits to the prison.
    Sign Up Today