In September 2014, the Tom Tom Founders Festival launched the Founding Cville project which highlights local artists, civic leaders and entrepreneurs “whose groundbreaking and original work has impacted Charlottesville and the world.” Charlottesville Tomorrow is republishing the eighteen profiles of each of the inaugural Founders.

Greg Fairchild, Founder of the Prison Entrepreneurship Project

An inmate in the Fluvanna prison system may be surprised to find a professor from one of the nation’s premier business schools leading a workshop on entrepreneurship– but this vision of self-employment can be one that transforms the prospect of life after prison in an otherwise bleak job market. Greg Fairchild is a professor at the University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business, and was ranked by CNN as one of the top 10 business professors in the globe. His work as a professor employs principles of strategic management, entrepreneurship, and ethics in solving social problems, and it meets reality in helping provide prisoners new pathways to improve their lives.

How did this start? What was the inspiration?

My interest in prisoner reentry has roots in my work as an educator, as well as messages I received as a child. As an educator, I have seen firsthand the transformational capacity of the tools and techniques we use everyday at the University of Virginia. I believe that if we stretch ourselves, we can find that the same techniques can have impact in solving tough social problems. I am also certain that messages I received from the pulpit as a child were an influence. I can recall John Bradford, and “There but for the Grace of God go I.” I was reminded by my parents that much had been given to me, and much was expected.

The Prison Entrepreneurship Project is one component of a larger initiative, Resilience Education. My wife, Tierney, has been my partner from the inception. We share a hope in the unseen, and a belief that many communities and individuals go overlooked. Our current projects include entrepreneurship education for prisoners reentering society, and financial literacy for victims of intimate partner violence.

When did you begin to suspect this could be a success?

One of the biggest advantages in getting this going has been that so many people get why this work is important. It is difficult not to notice the size and growth of the currently and formerly incarcerated in our community, to recognize the staggering costs in dollars and personal suffering, and not want to do something to help others make an affirmative transition.

What has been the biggest positive impact you have observed?

It has been inspiring to actually see the connection happen between some of our most advantaged UVa students teaching men and women behind bars, seeing each ex-offenders as people, investing in their futures — that’s unique. It’s precious. I have reconnected with some of our ex-offender graduates. Some are in community college. One is starting his own educational effort. Many are working. One has started his own computer repair firm.

How do you define Founding?

I think founding, in this context, is finding the links between people that are not immediately obvious. Founding has been about suggesting a direction, making suggestions, and helping folks get involved using their talents and passions. All that was needed was connecting one set of resources to another set of needs.

What brought you to Charlottesville, and what keeps you here?

How great it is that I am able to interact with people attempting to make that next affirmative step in their lives. Some of those are at students at UVa and Darden. Some are presently behind bars. I see the educational task as the same, the contexts are just different.

What’s next?

Where we would like to go next is to broaden the connection. We have a wealth of talent in our community, University, and beyond. We can grow the range and type of programs that we offer here, and we can be a model for like-minded folks across the country. We can develop similar programs for other groups with limited resources. We can lower the walls around our Ivory towers.

Founding Cville culminated in an award ceremony at Tom Tom’s Fall Block Party
with over 6,000 in attendance | Credit: Tom Daly Photography