Southwest Venture Forum Raises $4K for Prison Entrepreneurship Program

by SMU Cox|

Through the Southwest Venture Forum, the Caruth Institute of Entrepreneurship at SMU Cox School of Business has been connecting entrepreneurs and start-ups with venture capitalists and investors since 1990. Despite COVID-19, the same kind of connections were made during the most recent Southwest Venture Forum on May 21, when the event went virtual. The Caruth Institute of Entrepreneurship took it a step further and used the opportunity to raise donations for the Prison Entrepreneurship Program.


The event usually welcomes 100 to 120 participants but saw 230 join the online Zoom meeting. With many facing financial challenges, participants were offered a pay-as-you-can option with proceeds donated to the Prison Entrepreneurship Program to support the general operations budget for ex-prisoners. More than $4,000 was raised. The Caruth Institute, through the United States Association for Small Business and Entrepreneurship, launched the world’s first certificate in prison entrepreneurship education in January.


“Entrepreneurs and small business owners who are ex-cons are being doubly hit in the current economic crisis not only with loss of business, but also because they are ineligible for Paycheck Protection Program assistance,” explains Simon Mak, executive director of the Caruth Institute for Entrepreneurship.


The Prison Entrepreneurship Program provides resources and real-world, values-based business skills to inmates so that once they are back in society, they have the tools, skills and support structure to pursue healthy, fulfilling and productive lives. The Cox School’s entrepreneurship students volunteer with the program, offering feedback on start-up ideas and helping judge the business plan competition.


The Southwest Venture Forum is a bimonthly breakfast meeting where entrepreneurs looking to start or expand their businesses meet with venture investors and the professional community to solicit financing and obtain advice. The May Forum featured advice from SMU Cox EMBA alumnus Matt Ogle, CEO and Founding Partner of Legacy Knight; Andy Swartz, Chief Investment Officer of J. Cleo Thompson Family Office; SMU Cox Adjunct Professor John Terry, Founder and CEO of ChurchillTerry; and David Ward, Managing Director of the Ward O’Hara Family Office. The next Forum, Private Equity Outlook 2020 and Beyond, is scheduled for September 17 and will take place at the Park City Club.  With the success of May’s meeting, future Southwest Venture Forum may include an online format to complement the in-person meeting.
Cutline: Top line, L to R: Matt Ogle, Legacy Knight; John Terry, Churchill Terry. Bottom line, L to R: David Ward, Ward O’Hara and Andy Swartz, J. Cleo Thompson Family