ZERO Model: Second Chance Innovation & Jobs

A national syndicate launching profitable companies and meaningful employment opportunities with the formerly incarcerated.

Photo of Katie Leonard
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Written by


  • I am not an employee of BNY Mellon, or an immediate family member of a BNY Mellon employee
  • I am over 18 years of age
  • My organization is incorporated as a non-profit, for-profit, or hybrid organization, or I have a partner that is incorporated and could accept funds on my behalf
  • I have already piloted my initiative and have some initial evidence of impact
  • My organization is headquartered and creating impact in the United States


  • Woman

Where are you making a difference?

Atlanta, GA Pittsburgh, PA Northern VA/Washington, DC Metro

Focus Areas (required)

  • Business & Social Enterprise
  • Development & Prosperity

Date Started


Organization Type

  • for-profit

Project Stage: Select the description below that best applies to your approach.

  • Scaling (expanding impact to many new places or in many new ways)


  • $1m - $5m

Website or social media URL(s) (optional)

Twitter URL


1.Founding Story: Share a story about the "Aha!" moment that led the founder(s) to get started or the story of how you saw the potential for this to succeed.

In 2012, at Federal Correctional Institution-Elkton, Daniel Bull was introduced to individuals he otherwise never would have met. It was during this time that he discovered the talent and innovative potential among people that society has deemed as having little value. Upon release from prison, Daniel quickly discovered the negative impacts a criminal history has on employment and housing. Daniel later connected with an innovator with an idea for a straw that would later be sold as a medical device. With personal savings of $10k, he helped launch the product. This collaboration laid the foundation for working with entrepreneurs with checkered pasts that lacked the resources to develop, launch and scale their business.

2. The Problem: What problem are you helping to solve?

A criminal history greatly impacts one’s ability to obtain employment which in turn has direct implications on individual economic, mental, physical and social health. ZERO Model incubators and portfolio companies understand the positive impacts of innovation, business, and employment opportunities in a community, and the impacts of a job and meaningful income on an individual level.

3. Your Solution: How are you planning to solve this problem? Share your specific approach.

ZERO Model incubators are for-profit entities that provide entrepreneurship opportunities and employment for people who were formerly incarcerated. This model is based on a fundamental belief in second chances, as well as the power of people with bold, innovative ideas. ZERO Model incubators provide business planning, start-up capital, and overall business support to entrepreneurs. Our entrepreneurs employ formerly incarcerated individuals, or are seeking a second chance themselves. ZERO Model portfolio companies seek to hire people with barriers to employment as well as pay a living base wage of $15.50 per hour. Current portfolio companies include a cyber security, food truck, medical devices and equipment, as well a construction company called WORK, which trains and equips returning citizens in various trades. ZERO Model incubators believe skill, talent, and innovation are not attributes that are exclusive and reserved for certain groups of people; ZERO Model incubators pride themselves on inclusivity. As a company of second chances, we value character, integrity, and transparency and believe that people can demonstrate that they are not defined by their past.

4. Example: Please walk us through a specific example of how your solution is working to solve the problem.

The ZERO Model works within three primary categories: launching businesses; hiring people with barriers to employment within those businesses; and working with partner-businesses to staff highly qualified, driven candidates through our own portfolio staffing company, JobRise. WORK, a ZERO Model portfolio company specializing in general contracting for light commercial and new residential construction, has seen significant success in second-chance employment. WORK combines a workforce development strategy with community redevelopment to deliver high quality social impact projects. WORK understands the significant barriers and hurdles faced by people with criminal histories; in addition to providing opportunities for employment, WORK provides the support needed for staff to establish and maintain a personal foundation (housing, substance abuse recovery, family connectedness, etc.).

5a. Too many people in the U.S. have unmet needs for financial products and services. How is your work reaching a population(s) that is currently underserved? If it is not reaching an underserved population yet, how might it in the near future?

ZERO Model incubators leverage the ambition, drive, and talent of highly qualified women and men with criminal histories. We work with a strong network of social service, workforce training, probation/parole, and re-entry organizations to create a network that allows maximum collective impact through referrals and placements.

5b. Please specify if the population you are reaching is underserved due to any of the following characteristics:

  • work status
  • other (please specify on question 5a)

6. Marketplace: Who else is addressing the same problem? How does the proposed project differ from these approaches?

ZERO Model has a specific niche as a for-profit, traditional business incubator primarily for previously incarcerated women and men. There are many organizations and nonprofits doing similar work; however, as a social enterprise in this space, ZERO Model is one of the only entities maximizing profits through collective impact with nonprofit and government partners, and using profits to empower others through innovation and job opportunities.

7. Impact: How has your project made a difference so far?

The ZERO Model framework has combined incubator and portfolio company revenues totaling more than $7M (2017). The ZERO Model has created opportunities for more than 150 employees, thirteen companies, and fourteen entrepreneurs. Providing an opportunity and living-wage to staff members has allowed the ZERO Model to make a significant impact on recidivism (the tendency to re-offend). Recidivism among staff members is very low (2.35 percent) compared to national data (76.6 percent). In 2016, Zero Six Eight's efforts in second-chance employment saved the City of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania $371, 875 by providing a living-wage that laid a foundation for increased social and economic stability. Comparable savings are anticipated in late 2018 and 2019 in Atlanta, GA and the Washington DC metro area with the launches of Zero Two Zero and Zero Eight Three.

8a. Spread Strategies: Moving forward, what are the main strategies for scaling your impact?

ZERO Model leverages the geographic location of its incubators by scaling existing portfolio companies that have a solid foundation to new markets. For example, Zero Two Zero-Atalanta and Zero Eight Three-Northern Va/Washington DC launched with two Pittsburgh, Pa based portfolio companies, JobRise (staffing company) and WORK (construction company). This strategy allows the ZERO Model to expand its reach geographically, and also allows each incubator to leverage staff, resources, complementary skill-sets, and resulting revenues and profits in a sustainable and meaningful way.

8b. If applicable, which of the following scaling strategies have you launched?

  • Organizational Growth
  • Franchising, Licensing, Accreditation

9. Financial Sustainability Plan: What is this solution’s plan to ensure financial sustainability?

ZERO Model incubators, portfolio companies and partner initiatives have operated sustainably since Sept. 2013; new partnerships will enhance our reach and growth with the same result. Resources are leveraged to not only provide a benefit to the entrepreneur, but to ZERO Model’s broader network of partners. Profits from each incubator and their respective portfolio companies are used to stabilize existing companies, launch new ideas, create new jobs and advance into new regions.

10. Team: What is the current composition of your team (types of roles, qualifications, full-time vs. part-time, board members, etc.), and how do you plan to evolve the team’s composition as the project grows?

ZERO Model/Zero Six Eight: Daniel Bull - $100MM in completed projects Background/Roles: General Contracting & Business Incubation Zero Eight Three: Katie Leonard - 10yrs Experience Background/Roles: Economic & Community Development, Stakeholder & Partner Relationships, Social Determinants of Health & Equity Zero Two Zero: Daniel Stinson - 8yrs Experience Background/Roles: Staffing, Branding & Marketing

How did you hear about this challenge?

  • Ashoka page or contact

Evaluation results

6 evaluations so far

1. Overall, would you champion this entry as a excellent example to move forward to the next phase of the challenge and become a semifinalist?

Yes, absolutely! - 66.7%

Yes/maybe - 16.7%

Maybe - 16.7%

Maybe/no - 0%

No - 0%

2. Is this entry INNOVATIVE?

Yes, absolutely! - 33.3%

Yes/maybe - 33.3%

Maybe - 33.3%

Maybe/no - 0%

No - 0%

3. Is this entry IMPACTFUL on financial wellbeing?

Yes, absolutely! - 83.3%

Yes/maybe - 16.7%

Maybe - 0%

Maybe/no - 0%

No - 0%

4. Is this entry SUSTAINABLE?

Yes, absolutely! - 16.7%

Yes/maybe - 83.3%

Maybe - 0%

Maybe/no - 0%

No - 0%

5. What are some of the HIGHLIGHTS of strengths of this entry?

Connection to underserved community - 100%

Clarity of Model - 66.7%

Clarity of Writing - 33.3%

Idea Originality - 33.3%

Understanding of the marketplace or sector - 66.7%

Impact measurement - 50%

Impact Potential - 50%

Financial Sustainability - 0%

Team - 50%

Partnerships - 16.7%

Potential to scale - 33.3%

6. What are some of the areas for IMPROVEMENT of this entry?

Connection to underserved community - 0%

Clarity of Model - 33.3%

Clarity of Writing - 33.3%

Idea Originality - 33.3%

Understanding of the marketplace or sector - 33.3%

Impact measurement - 33.3%

Impact Potential - 0%

Financial Sustainability - 100%

Team - 0%

Partnerships - 0%

Potential to scale - 100%


Join the conversation:

Photo of Joanna

This is fantastic! Working with formerly incarcerated entrepreneurs is a much-needed initiative.

Photo of Brittany Corner

Great Work so far!