Kristi Mitchell had an idea, and she knew her students could make it happen.
In 2019, the Butler University Entrepreneurship Lecturer founded a nonprofit organization called the Launch HOPE Foundation, which aims to transform lives through the power of entrepreneurship. Combining industrial skills with business classes and hands-on start-up experience, the program is designed to help members of marginalized communities grow and prosper. While Mitchell laid the groundwork, she says the nonprofit may have never come to life without the team of interns she recruited from Butler’s Lacy School of Business.
“They really have been the driving force for getting everything up and running,” she says.
“HOPE” stands for Hope, Opportunity, Prosperity, and Entrepreneurship. Modeled after the Real Business Experience (RBE) and First-Year Business Experience (FBE) courses at Butler, the program’s content covers every aspect of starting a new business—but not just in theory. Participants learn the process through establishing their own businesses that can live beyond the last day of class. When Mitchell piloted the concept with an addiction recovery organization she had already been volunteering with, the program’s effectiveness quickly became clear.
“I saw this transformation in the participants through entrepreneurship models that are so much more impactful than typical reentry,” she says. “Once the women I was working with got through the barrier of thinking entrepreneurship wasn’t for them, they became so excited and passionate at the realization that they can do this.”
Because the model is similar to Butler’s RBE and FBE classes, that’s where Mitchell looked for interns to help put her idea into practice. With about 10 interns on the team at any time, the opportunity has allowed students to immediately apply what they have learned in class while making life-changing impacts for others.
When junior Ella Kappler first heard about Launch HOPE, the Marketing and Finance major was drawn to the chance to be part of creating a business from the ground up while using her business skills to help improve lives.
“I loved the FBE and thought it was a great way to get real-world experience, and this internship has allowed me to do that again while also doing something for the greater good,” says Kappler, who has been interning with Launch HOPE for two years. “It has been an incredible experience that has taught me a lot about myself, allowed me to gain leadership experience and professional skills, and helped me connect with the Indy community.”
After Mitchell shared her idea, Kappler and the other Launch HOPE interns got to work. They developed a business plan, designed a logo, wrote grant proposals, and more. The experience showed Kappler the value of flexibility, especially in nonprofit and startup environments.
“There are constant changes happening, so I have really learned the importance of being able to think on your feet and adapt,” she says. “This internship has helped me gain such a unique experience and connect with communities I never would have been exposed to otherwise. When can a 20 year old say they helped create a nonprofit that is working with so many different people?”
Launch HOPE’s first partnership and program site has been with the Hamilton County Jail. While serving three months following a third conviction for driving under the influence, Noblesville resident Kaitlin Vanderpool attended the Launch HOPE entrepreneurship classes, practiced sewing, and built the foundations for a new handmade apparel boutique called Kiki’s Collections—all with the support of Butler business students. The store launched on Etsy last fall.
“My students have helped Kaitlin conduct research, vet her business concept, develop a business model, set up an online storefront, and go to market,” Mitchell says. “All the things she couldn’t do by herself while incarcerated. Kaitlin is now learning how to become an entrepreneur, including financial management, operations, growth strategies, networking, and the value of a growth mindset.”
Kiki’s Collections sells hand-sewn baby clothes and blankets, as well as bandanas, bowties, and accessories for dogs. The company will be supported by the Launch HOPE Foundation’s business accelerator program for the next five years.
“I always knew I ultimately wanted to be my own boss,” Vanderpool says. “Launch HOPE gave me the time and the resources I needed to make that happen.”
Mitchell believes entrepreneurship allows people to take more control of their futures.
“Reentry from incarceration is hard,” she says. “These women know that this is a way out. When they walk out of jail, they aren’t going to have to look for a job right away. We’ll have their businesses up and running, and they’ll have inventory. And for the first five years, we will be there to help.”
Working as a lead intern alongside Kappler, junior Marketing major Emily Mead also joined Launch HOPE in early 2020 and helped lead the team of interns who partnered with Vanderpool to establish Kiki’s Collections.
“I wanted to contribute to an organization that has the potential to make a huge impact in the community,” Mead says. “It has been so great to learn and expand my knowledge alongside the amazing people who are part of this organization. Being around these women has grown my confidence, and the hands-on experiences we interns attain have set me up for success to be well-rounded in the marketing and communications field.”
Kappler agrees, saying the chance to work with Launch HOPE has been just one example of the personalized educational experiences that are widespread at Butler.
“My classes have taught me a lot of technical knowledge, but I’ve also had so many opportunities to strengthen my professional and transferable skills,” she says. “Our career mentors, the FBE and RBE classes—those are the things that really have made such a difference in my professional development and in my ability to provide value to this organization.”
Launch HOPE also currently serves communities at Phalen Leadership Academy. Mitchell says the organization plans to open similar programs at other Indianapolis sites, including Community Action of Greater Indianapolis and Him By Hers Charter School, eventually expanding to other cities. Though each partner will receive a personalized experience, all of the programs will focus on the combination of industrial skills (with many sites allowing participants to earn income for their sewing), entrepreneurship classes, and the business accelerator. Cohorts will typically last two to four months, with class sizes numbering anywhere from 10 to 50.
In addition to these satellites, Launch HOPE plans to establish a main campus that will employ more than 100 people at an industrial sewing center. This will serve as a live business model for those learning entrepreneurship skills, as well as a revenue source to help fund the program.
In the business class portion, Mitchell teaches participants about the idea of a growth mindset, which encourages staying open to change and looking for ways to creatively overcome obstacles. And by interacting with the participants, Mitchell hopes Butler students will learn the same lessons.
“Through working alongside these populations as servant leaders, the students see that a growth mindset can transform your life,” she says. “I hope that sticks with them.”
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