Ruben Mauricio grew up in one of the roughest neighborhoods in San Antonio. After losing his father at age 5, he was trained by his stepfather to sell drugs at the age of 14 as a way to help his family make ends meet. He was kicked out of high school at age 17 and was incarcerated in his mid-20’s.

During a stint in solitary confinement, he wrote a letter to his mom explaining how things went from bad to worse. He then began his recovery by enrolling in the Prison Entrepreneurship Program (PEP) to learn about how to build a business and restore relationships with his family.

Upon release from the Texas prison system, Ruben became a diesel mechanic in the Permian Basin oil fields of West Texas. His entrepreneurial instincts fired up when he was servicing chemical treater and delivery trucks and noticed that the dealers and repair shops in Odessa and Midland were filled with repairs averaging $1,000 to tow the trucks, where they would be parked for 45 days.  

Ruben founded RPM Diesel Service as a mobile solution to avoid these costly delays. His company repairs trucks on site in an average of three hours. RPM earned $1.9 million in revenue in its first year of operation with a 33% profit margin. Those results were reported by Ruben on the stage of the George W. Bush Presidential Center where he won the inaugural PEP Shark Tank administered by Commonwealth.

As the event ended, a board member of Stanford University’s Hispanic entrepreneurs program came up to Ruben and invited him to join their next cohort. That would have been an inspiring close to the story but the next chapter did not fit the Hollywood script. Ruben sought a bank loan for a second truck and was denied because of his felony conviction. In today’s banking world, a criminal record carries more weight than a robust P/L and a fancy pitch competition victory at a presidential library.

In response, PEP established Entre Capital as a Community Development Financial Institution (CDFI) aimed at second chance entrepreneurs—notably, you must have a past felony conviction in addition to sound economics to quality for an Entre loan.

President George W. Bush and Harvard business professors Arthur Brooks and Michael Porter are among the nation’s leaders who have identified the Prison Entrepreneurship Program as a leading second chance solution in America. Professor Porter’s Initiative for a Competitive Inner City (ICIC) reported that “(PEP) ex-felons who start their own businesses create an annual economic impact of $122.5 million across the state of Texas.” This success story is compounded when you consider there is an estimated $4 million annual savings to taxpayers given PEP’s dramatically reduced recidivism rates compared the national average. The ICIC chart at right depicts other key findings.

While lauding these results, the ICIC team also challenged PEP to bolster their services as an entrepreneurial support organization. PEP took the task seriously and hired Commonwealth and its think tank partner, Sagamore Institute, to help design a post-release strategy that would highlight the hundreds of graduates who have built businesses, raise capital to invest in those ready to grow and provide training for those needing capacity building.

View our Game Day Program from our 2017 "How to Rescue and Restore America's Forgotten Youth" event.

Read "To Rescue and Restore" from The Quiet Revolution