Hamilton County Jail program helps inmates start businesses

Kaitlin Vanderpool was at a low point when she entered the Hamilton County Jail. She’d been convicted of her third drunken driving offense and was sentenced in May to three months in jail and two years probation.

“It was my first incarceration, I was lost, directionless,” Vanderpool, 36, said. “I knew I had to do something different with my life so this never happens again.”

She spotted a paper flyer at the jail, something about entrepreneurial program for female inmates run by Butler University staff and interns. She signed up for the inaugural class.

Now, Vanderpool is out of jail and running her own fledgling business, called Kiki’s Collections, making scarves and clothing accessories for babies and pets.

“It saved my life,” said Vanderpool, who has been sober eight months. “I now wake up each day knowing I have something to get done.”

Vanderpool was the first graduate of the Launch HOPE Foundation program at the jail, administered by Butler professor Kristi Mitchell and a group of students at the Lacy School of Business. The program began a couple years ago at Phalen Leadership Academy in Indianapolis.

Kaitlin Vanderpool said her two dogs inspired her business Thursday, Dec. 16, 2021, in Noblesville. Vanderpool was in jail when she discovered Launch HOPE Foundation, a program helping female inmates develop business ideas. She now runs her own business making accessories for dogs and babies called Kiki's Collection.

The inmates, in classes of about eight, start from scratch with business ideas, as Mitchell talks them through their formation for two hours, twice a week, for three months.

The women are given guidance on what might work and what won’t, what parts of a plan can be altered and what should be simply discarded. They are encouraged to choose businesses that tap into their experiences skills,  like  drawing, sewing, cooking, sports, pottery.