When Brian Hamilton was around 8 years old, he became an entrepreneur without even realizing it. Growing up in Milford, Conn., Hamilton began cutting lawns and shoveling snow from driveways. He continued to work his way through college in Connecticut and later grad school at Duke University by running businesses.
His huge entrepreneurial success came when he founded Raleigh-based Sageworks. Hamilton wanted to develop a system that converted financial numbers into plain language after he saw a huge need in the market. The technology he created is still used today by many accountants.
“I had noticed that the bank where I worked in and I noticed in the consulting work that I was doing that people didn’t understand their financial numbers,” Hamilton said.
In 2018, Sageworks was sold to Accel-KKR, a private equity firm. Hamilton was finally able to sleep after 20 years. He also was finally able to focus more on philanthropy.
Hamilton co-founded Inmates to Entrepreneurs after his friend Rev. Robert Harris brought him into prisons to speak with inmates. Many of the inmates expressed their desire to get a job once they left prison, but Hamilton knew that might be hard to do.
Of course, there was a possible solution: become an entrepreneur and create your own job. So Hamilton and Harris began teaching and mentoring at prisons.
This sort of work caught the attention of TV producers about 10 years ago, who were interested in creating a show that would spotlight Hamilton as a mentor to prison inmates. But a decade ago, Hamilton was too busy. Fast forward 10 years and now the ABC show Free Enterprise, showcasing Hamilton, will air starting Saturday morning, April 3.
Hamilton hopes that viewers and prisoners alike will have the process of starting a business demystified for them.
“Starting a business is not that hard, conceptually,” Hamilton said. “It’s pretty straightforward. It’s hard to do, of course. It’s very hard to do the work. But I’ve gone to business school, and I think we over-complicate the process. I really, really hope that we can demystify the whole thing about starting a business, especially that you can start a low-capital business. You don’t need a lot of money.”
In Free Enterprise, Hamilton will work with the people who have been incarcerated, helping them from their initial product idea to finding their first customer.
“That journey is fascinating, how you take an idea and turn it into a business virtually from nothing,” Hamilton said.
Hamilton believes that the biggest and most unifying proposition in our country is that everyone should get a second chance, but often that’s more in theory than in practice. He hopes Free Enterprise can do its small part in changing that.
“I’m most excited about showing that there are people in society who have made mistakes, but everybody deserves a second chance,” Hamilton said.
While finding a job after prison is exceedingly difficult, Hamilton also hopes to show that former inmates don’t need to just rely on the kindness of others—there’s also a practical way to get a second chance. The practical way, Hamilton says, is launching your own small business.
Which is precisely what Free Enterprise is going to show the nation every Saturday morning.