The Empower Group Helps Businesses Become Fair Chance Employers

How this Cincinnati startup is helping businesses expand their career offerings

The Empower Group logo. The right side of the image features a person kissing a smiling child's cheek.

In today’s market, it can be difficult for both employers and job seekers to find the right fit for company openings and their own careers. Searching for a job can be even more difficult for individuals who have been formerly incarcerated or face other employment barriers. Cincinnati-based startup, The Empower Group, is tackling those inequities with Fair Chance consulting services that help connect businesses with skilled professionals.

“When companies open up to hiring formerly incarcerated individuals, they can increase their talent pool up to 33 percent,” Co-founder Basette Smith II said. “And it’s not just the talent pool —- we’re talking about increasing retention, lowering turnover costs, and building employee engagement. It ends up being a win-win for businesses and employees.”

Fair Chance employment is an intentional effort by employers to consider individuals who experience barriers to employment, both long and short term. As former social services employees at Nehemiah Manufacturing Company, both Smith and his co-founder, Elle Baker, have seen the positive impact of fair chance programs and how they can be instrumental in shaping successful business practices.

“Companies all across the nation are interested in engaging in Fair Chance employment, but they either don’t know how to get started or they have already started but are struggling to find the right mix of support for their workforce,” Smith said. “We’re seeing businesses saying, ‘I see you, and I want to give you that second chance.”

After recognizing the growing need for Fair Chance consulting services, Baker and Smith moved to fill the gap with their own company. While starting out, they found the Cincinnati area to be the ideal spot for building their business, with strategic, local partnerships in the social services community that have helped the founders forge their own path in the industry.

“Cincinnati is unique in its community and network of social services, which enable us to help companies in building their own ecosystems of support,” Baker said. “We have so many phenomenal agencies in our area that help make this work successful.”

Now, the startup is looking to expand, both within the Ohio community and more broadly across the nation. Flywheel Social Enterprise Hub is helping them do just that. The Empower Group was recently selected alongside three other startups to participate in the organization’s ElevateEquity cohort, an eight-week accelerator program focused on entrepreneurs working to address systemic inequities.

“Working with Flywheel has been instrumental in our development,” Baker said. “It’s been a wonderful experience for us, with weekly workshops and meetings with a team of coaches to focus on specific goals to get us to the next step. The accelerator culminates in a ‘demo day,’ which is an opportunity for us founders to pitch and present our business to a room full of potential investors. It’s a great way for us to locally connect with future clients and partners.”

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