In the best of times, finding gainful employment is challenging for individuals with criminal histories or justice system involvement who are often automatically screened out of job opportunities. In the COVID 19 era, this challenge is harder than ever, with multiple businesses closed down or reducing their hours and services. However, with support from some generous community partners, a group of BOSS participants have entered a competition to overcome this challenge by creating their own economic opportunity, and starting their own business.

The BOSS Entrepreneurship Program is a special project made possible by the Oakland Rotary Club and EACH Foundation. Participants in the BOSS Career Training and Employment Center (CTEC) have been invited to submit applications to compete for a small business start-up grant funded by Rotary and EACH. To date, CTEC has received applications for business ideas in the retail, food, c-commerce, social enterprise, and entertainment sectors. Said one applicant, echoing the feelings of most people with the desire to start their own business, “I am a very hard worker and wanna own my own and follow my dreams.”

Every applicant is being provided with a packet of business development materials, including self-questionnaires to help them refine their idea, sample business plan templates, and advice for pitching their idea to investors. Each applicant is also being matched with a BOSS mentor, who will coach them through their preparations for the pitch event.

The competition pitch event will be held virtually later this summer, as a ‘Shark Tank’ style event where applicants pitch their ideas one at a time to a panel of judges. Judges will include Oakland Rotary members and other local members of the business community.

The selected winner will receive a cash grant to help them launch their business, with continued mentoring for the first year and the expectation that they will report to BOSS quarterly on their progress. All applicants will receive continued support for their business goals, including referrals to other start-up resources.

Since the launch of CTEC in 2014, self-employment has been a path several of our participants have wanted to pursue – over the years, CTEC has helped participants create businesses in catering, fashion design, pest control, and other fields. CTEC has also offered a regular workshop on entrepreneurship (skills needed for self-employment, barriers and pitfalls, resources and best practices). BOSS is dedicated to helping people find jobs and achieve their dreams – including business creation!

Stay tuned for a story later this summer about the results of the pitch event and our winner!

To partner with CTEC as an employer or mentor, contact Charlette Viney at 510-844-8221 or

Donate here to support CTEC and other BOSS programs that help people overcome poverty, homelessness, and injustice!