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Building an Inclusive Workforce with Second-Chance Hiring

Building an Inclusive Workforce with Second-Chance Hiring

Working Fields Offers a Path to Employment and Confidence to Formerly Incarcerated People and Those in Recovery 

 

Mickey Wiles is the CEO and Founder of Working Fields, a mission-driven staffing agency that helps individuals overcome barriers to employment — such as substance use disorder, criminal justice system involvement, resource challenges, or work history gaps — and build stable futures. A U.S. Navy veteran, Mickey has worked in leadership roles at Ben & Jerry’s, Seventh Generation, and Burlington Labs, and served as Executive Director of Turning Point Center of Chittenden County, Vermont. Mickey is a person in long-term recovery and was provided a second chance after spending time in federal prison. 

For the last 18 years, Mickey has dedicated himself to helping others who need a second chance after addiction and/or criminal convictions. By collaborating with businesses across Vermont and New Hampshire, Working Fields has fostered a community of recovery-friendly workplaces that treat people in recovery or those with past convictions as they would treat anyone else.

In this conversation, The Kassan Group founder Jenny Kassan chats with Mickey about how Working Fields is contributing to the development of an inclusive, regenerative economy.

 

Jenny Kassan: How do you stay true to your business’ foundational principles while also being flexible enough to meet the shifting challenges of the day?

 

Mickey Wiles: Our foundational principles are reflected in our company values: love, humility, honesty, equity in action, stability, and gratitude. Our team keeps these values front and center by focusing every two months on the continued development of a different value. Our leadership team, which meets weekly and addresses the issues and challenges of a changing environment, always considers the company’s values in making company decisions. We embrace change, flexibility, and agility as long as we also always challenge ourselves to make decisions consistent with our values.

 

JK: Your company helps foster healthy and resilient communities. As we face large-scale challenges on a global scale, to what extent do you consider social entrepreneurship “borderless” and to what extent do solutions need to be localized? 

 

MW: Social entrepreneurship means placing people, planet, and prosperity for all at the core of business. These principles apply across the board regardless of where we operate. If we collectively operate with other like-minded businesses, then our reach is borderless. However, with this as the premise, our challenges are to be inclusive and take into consideration all individuals, recognizing that different societal groups have different needs and practices. As we expand and serve communities and varied groups of people, we need to always be aware of these differences.

 

JK: How do you see the practices and core values of your business as distinct from the “business as usual” status quo? What do you do to resist the pressure to “fit in” to the old economy paradigms?

 

MW: Avoiding “business as usual” is not a difficult task for us as our mission and vision are so different from other organizations in our space. When we remain true to our mission, we automatically are not operating as “business as usual.” We have faced situations that raise questions in light of our company values. In that case, we invite everyone in the organization to discuss the opportunity and the pros and cons. We gain input from everyone to ensure we hear all arguments. Then we make a decision based on that input and the leadership team’s assessment.

 

JK: Who inspires you in the social impact world and what is the one question you’d like to ask them?

 

MW: I’ve been fortunate to work with and learn from three fantastic leaders in the social impact world. I first worked for Ben & Jerry’s when social impact businesses were not as common as they are today. Both Ben [Cohen] and Jerry [Greenfield] led us to not accept the status quo and to challenge every decision we made to ensure it took into account our “triple bottom line” (that’s how we referred to social impact business). My next mentor was Jeffrey Hollender at Seventh Generation. His leadership demonstrated that there was an additional level of impact businesses can have on the world. I would ask all of them the same question: If you had to do it over again, what would you change and how would you counsel your younger self?

 

ABOUT MICKEY WILES

Mickey Wiles is the CEO and Founder of Working Fields, a mission-driven staffing agency that helps individuals overcome barriers to employment — such as substance use disorder, justice involvement, resource challenges, or work history gaps — and build stable futures. 

Mickey has had a long career in the private sector business community where he held various leaderships roles starting with a Boston high tech firm, Microcom, Inc. In Vermont he continued in leadership roles with Ben & Jerry’s, Seventh Generation and Burlington Labs. Mickey also held the position of Executive Director at the Turning Point Center of Chittenden County. Prior to starting his business career, Mickey served six years in the United States Navy.

Mickey is a person in long term recovery and was provided a second chance after spending time in Federal Prison. For the last 18 years, Mickey has dedicated his work to helping others who want a second chance after addiction and/or criminal convictions. Mickey is on the Board and Executive Committee of VBSR, the nation’s first business association of businesses for social responsibility. Mickey is also President of Vermont Roots & Wings Alliance, an organization dedicated to supporting the drug court system and participants in Vermont. 

 

ABOUT WORKING FIELDS

Working Fields is a mission-driven staffing agency that helps individuals overcome barriers to employment — such as substance use disorder, justice involvement, resource challenges, or work history gaps — and build stable futures. 

We don’t just place people in jobs: Our model includes robust, personalized support for workers. Every Working Fields associate benefits from direct account management, ongoing peer recovery or life coaching, and coordinated support from community partners. These services enable our associates to get and keep the jobs they want, while helping employers realize the potential of these dedicated workers. 

We work closely with community partners, particularly social service agencies, across Vermont and in Manchester, New Hampshire, to identify individuals in need of supportive employment services. These referrals have enabled us to help over 1,300 jobseekers since 2017.  

 

 

The Evolution of Investment Crowdfunding, and Where We Go from Here

The Evolution of Investment Crowdfunding, and Where We Go from Here

In 2009, I got together with Janelle Orsi to cofound a new nonprofit called Sustainable Economies Law Center (SELC).  The mission of SELC was to bring legal knowledge and support to those who are working to make our economy regenerative, healthy, just, and sustainable.

One of the very first things we tackled was securities law.  Having worked with many small businesses that lacked access to capital, we knew that a change to the law that would make it easier for small businesses to raise funding from their communities, customers, and fans could have a major positive impact for our small disadvantaged businesses.

We wrote a petition to the Securities and Exchange Commission in 2010 which got the attention of small business advocates, members of Congress, and eventually, the White House.  Amazingly enough, a new law was passed by Congress and signed into law by President Obama in 2012 that legalized investment crowdfunding at the national level.

It took four years for the Securities and Exchange Commission to adopt rules so that this new law could actually be used. 

We were hopeful that this was the silver bullet we had been waiting for to finally move significant funding into the hands of Main Street businesses and social ventures, especially those owned and run by entrepreneurs who have been almost completely locked out of mainstream finance (e.g. women, people of color, etc.).

The results so far have been mixed.  There is still a lot more that needs to be done for federal investment crowdfunding to fulfill its promise as an equalizer of opportunity.

Check out my talk on this topic at SuperCrowd22.

Building a Strategy to Fund Your Business On Your Terms

In this video, The Kassan Group founder Jenny Kassan outlines six important steps to designing your fundraising strategy.

Funding is an essential element of starting a business, but figuring out the best way to acquire it can be challenging, especially for mission-driven entrepreneurs who don’t want to give up their values to get their business off the ground.

In this video, Kassan Group founder, Jenny Kassan discusses her six-step process for raising capital without selling your soul. According to Jenny and her team, “The way you raise money should be consistent with what’s important to you and your business.”

These six pillars will lay down the proper foundation for your business to succeed while keeping your mission intact. This process consists of defining your goals and values; identifying your ideal investors; designing your offer; choosing your legal compliance strategy; creating an effective investor enrollment strategy; and addressing potential obstacles. Learn more about building the six pillars of your fundraising strategy in the following video.

The Kassan Group is planning a three-day virtual training to take a deep dive into these steps. If you’re looking for guidance on building a fundraising plan for your business in a way that meets your values, join us! Register for the event November 2-4 at JennyKassan.com/FundIt

 

How to Find the Right Investors for Your Small Business

In this video, Jenny Kassan describes a way to raise money for your business that lets you stay true to your goals and values and keeps you in control.

Every business needs funding to get off the ground, but determining the best way to attain it is no easy feat. Small business owners may think they have only three options: find investors via the venture capital (VC) path, take out a loan, or go the bootstrapping route. None of these options work well for the majority of businesses.

Fortunately, there is another way. In this video, Jenny Kassan, founder of The Kassan Group, shares how to raise money for your business without compromising what’s important to you. “You can get your business funded without having to sell your soul or give up control of your business.” 

Jenny recommends designing an investment opportunity that fits your business and to broaden your idea of who your investors could be. It’s important for business owners to remain transparent when discussing terms with prospective investors and to balance the investor’s needs with their own. This will help you find the right investors who come in on terms that are consistent with what you want for your business. Learn more about customizing your investment offering and getting creative about who your investors are in this video.

 

 

Looking for the right investors to help you grow your business? Sign up for our free email series and discover the 6 steps to finding values-aligned funding sources to help you achieve your goals! With the steps outlined in this series, you can make the process more efficient, less intimidating, and—dare we say it?—FUN! Sign up here.

Legal Compliance Options for Raising Capital

Legal Compliance Options for Raising Capital

To choose the right legal compliance strategy for your raise, you need to ask yourself four questions:

  1. Do I want to be able to publicly advertise the fact that I’m looking for investors?
  2. Do I want to include everyone as potential investors or limit myself to accredited investors?
  3. Do I want to be able to raise from all over the country or just one or a few states?
  4. How much do I want to raise?

With answers to these questions, it will be easier to narrow down the options that may be right for you.

Do you need a cheat sheet on the options you can choose from when raising investment capital to make sure your offering is compliant?  Check ours out here.

Exploring Non-VC Funding Models

Exploring Non-VC Funding Models

Jenny Kassan was recently interviewed in B Corp’s “B the Change” series, a collection of stories of people using business as a force for good.

In this Q&A, Jenny shares her perspective and advice on why and how social entrepreneurs can escape the “bootstrap trap” and fund their business’ growth without sacrificing their values and vision.

“Bootstrapping can kill your business. One of the most common reasons for business failure is undercapitalization. At The Kassan Group, we have coined the term “bootstrap trap.” This is the trap that an entrepreneur can get into when trying to use their own resources to fund their business. They find themselves in a constant struggle. . . If you’re in the bootstrap trap, this is likely not sustainable and will lead to burnout, financial ruin, and/or the inability to serve your clients or customers effectively.”

How do you escape the bootstrap trap and design a strategy to find and engage with values-aligned investors? Find out by reading the full interview here.