There aren’t many people who would consider 2020 to have been a great year. Some will be approaching 2021 with a certain amount of anxiety whilst others will see it as an opportunity for change.

With over 800,000 jobs being lost since the start of the Covid pandemic and UK unemployment likely to reach 2.6 million by the middle of 2021, the outlook for job seekers looks pretty bleak.

But, could this be the time to consider starting your own business? During times of stress and struggle, people can often be forced to think ‘outside the box’ which can lead to new, innovative business ideas.

Take Derek Jones for example.

The name may not mean a lot to you but, if you or a family member or friend have ever been in prison you’ve probably come across the business that Derek started, Email A Prisoner – a specialist email service connecting those in prison with their friends and family on the outside.

Derek first got into trouble with the police when he was 11 years old. It started off with minor stuff but, by the time he’d reached the age of 21 he had been in custody 15 times and, his offending soon graduated to car theft and burglary. Derek recognises that laziness was a big part of his offending:

I wanted everything to come easy – I didn’t want to work for it. I wanted to do something else with my life, but I thought that was out of reach.

Although Derek had been in and out of prison, it was whilst he was remanded for 6 months in 2003 that he started to experience problems communicating with his friends and family. Having plenty of time to consider how the problem could be overcome, he had his ‘eureka moment’ – ‘Email’. A system whereby friends and family on the outside could send emails on a regular basis to those in prison which they’d receive quicker than a letter. Derek was convinced that demand would be huge and that it could be done at no cost to prisons or prisoners; the sender outside would pay.

He knew he needed to do further research to turn his idea into a viable business and he visited the prison library at every opportunity to find books on starting a business.

On release from prison, he was determined to stay out of trouble and was passionate about getting his idea off the ground. However, this was easier said than done; some people just couldn’t quite understand the concept and others told him that it was an impossible dream.

Derek contacted a local business support organisation and over the next four months did various business start-up courses. He was able to put a business plan together and managed to get a £2000 grant from a local enterprise agency. As well as the cash investment, Derek was also given a mentor who provided him with help and advice as well as huge amounts of encouragement.

It took Derek 2 years to get his business – Email A Prisoner – off the ground. It was initially trialled at Guy’s Marsh Prison in Dorset, where the pilot proved extremely popular with both the prison and users of the service. Getting other prisons to sign up was difficult to start with but Derek remained positive and has since sold his email service to over 130 prisons.

Derek has always been open and honest about his past and believes that as far as his own business is concerned, his criminal record has been a help to him.

So, do you think you could be the next Derek?

A report written by The Centre for Entrepreneurs found that individuals who had served time in prison displayed many traits which made them suitable for an entrepreneurial career, such as scoring highly on the need for self-achievement, personal innovation and the desire for independence.

If you’re struggling to find work or have been discriminated against in the past because of your criminal record, then self-employment may be something to consider. It’s not for everyone and although having a good idea is a great starting point, there’s a lot more too it. However, thanks to the internet, social media and innovative technology, it might just be easier than you think.

theRecord Editor

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