Kaitlin Vanderpool walked into the Hamilton County Jail a newly convicted felon. She walked out an entrepreneur. The 36-year-old Noblesville resident is part of a new program led by Butler Professor Kristi Mitchell called the Launch HOPE Foundation.
“We’re trying to transform lives and help women from marginalized communities find hope through the power of entrepreneurship,” Mitchell says. “HOPE stands for Hope, Opportunity, Prosperity, and Entrepreneurship.”
Vanderpool was sentenced to three-months in jail in June following a third DUI (driving under the influence) conviction. A former newspaper reporter, and later a veterinarian tech, Vanderpool slowly sunk into the depths of alcohol following a divorce.
“Addiction doesn’t discriminate,” Vanderpool says. “I have been struggling with addiction for half my life. I know now that I cannot have a relationship with alcohol. This is the first time I feel like I have control over it. This program saved my life. I have a plan and I’m ready to go.”
The daughter of a seamstress, Vanderpool’s mom taught her how to sew. Through the Launch HOPE program, she was allowed to sew while also taking entrepreneurship classes at the jail twice a week. She is now preparing to launch her own handmade apparel boutique called Kiki’s Collections with the help of a team of business students from Butler University’s Lacy School of Business.
“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 adds. “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.” Kaitlin and her new company will be supported by the Launch HOPE Foundation Business Accelerator program for the next five years.
Vanderpool’s online store, KiKi’s Collections, launched on the Etsy platform last night. It will sell hand-sewn baby bibs, burp clothes, receiving blankets, and headbands as well as bandanas, bowties, and accessories for dogs. For now, she and her mom will do all the sewing, but eventually a Launch HOPE Industrial Center in Indianapolis will provide high quality employment and industrial sewing services which will create inventory for Vanderpool and other businesses.
“I always knew I ultimately wanted to be my own boss,” Vanderpool admits. “Launch HOPE gave me the time and the resources I needed to make that happen, but it’s not over when I ‘graduate’ from the program. This program offered me a lifeline that I might not have gotten somewhere else. I want to be that for someone else. I want to serve as a mentor for those who come behind me.”
The Hamilton County Jail currently has nine women enrolled in the Launch HOPE program, with an additional 10 women on a waitlist. They are learning basic sewing construction skills to create marketable products. So far, they have sewn dog beds for local animal shelters, holiday stockings for U.S. Army troops, and quilts for patients at Seton Hospital, a long-term acute care hospital.
“We’re thrilled to be the pilot for this program,” says jail commander Captain Josh Carey. “Launch HOPE is a unique and incredible way to equip and empower these ladies to start careers and businesses they are passionate about. The hope is that these skills and concepts will allow them to support themselves and their families upon reentry into their communities.”
The Launch HOPE Foundation currently operates entrepreneurship centers in the Hamilton County Jail and the Phalen Leadership Academy on the east side of Indianapolis. Three new entrepreneurship centers are planned in the coming months to support more budding entrepreneurs that want to transform their lives. Learn more at https://launchhopefoundation.org/. To visit Kiki’s Collections, check out www.etsy.com/shop/kikiscollections1.