Chad Dillon has experienced a significant amount of business success following his move to Atlanta five years ago. After studying business marketing, he established The Boiler, a seafood restaurant located in Buckhead. His business acumen has proved very profitable in the company’s first year, as he netted more than $10 million.
His success and love of philanthropy recently resulted in an opportunity to impart wisdom to inmates at the Metro Reentry Facility in DeKalb County.
During the initial visit to the prison, Dillon was moved by the stories the inmates told, and decided that he was going to do more than just share advice.
Dillon decided he would give these men the opportunity to become business owners by donating funds to cover startup costs. He created an intensive 13-week program, where Dillon would discuss fundamentals and principles of business with the inmates. At the end of the training program, the men would then submit business pitches to Dillon and a host of judges, in the tradition of the television program “Shark Tank.” The winning pitches would be awarded with funds to cover business startup expenses.
“I literally was talking about business [with inmates], and they were so intrigued about how I started my business,” Dillon said. “I asked, ‘How can I help them see the vision that they can start their own business?’
“I told them: ‘I believe you all can create a business plan if you had the right resources and the right tools, and I’m going to give that to you. And to show you I’m serious about this, I’ll give you a reward for startup funds if you complete [the program].”
Initially, Dillon was going to use his own funds to award only the winning pitches. But he said that all of the pitches were so well-thought out and executed, that he decided to award all of the members of the program. Dillon awarded the top five pitches with awards of $2,000, and all other participants received awards of $1,000.
Particularly noteworthy to Dillon was the level of enthusiasm and competence that individuals demonstrated during the program. Most of the participants had served between 10 and 15 years in prison, yet still had the mindset and creativity to successfully pitch impressive business ideas to the program’s panel.
The rewarding of these funds is important to Dillon. He sees supporting these men (he steers clear of negative terms like inmates or felons; he prefers to call them “returning citizens”) as advantageous not only to them and their families, but to their communities. Dillon understands that rates of recidivism are high, particularly in the African American community. As such, he states that he wants to do his part to change that narrative. He believes that if these “citizens” are busy cultivating businesses, there would be no need or desire to engage in crime.
Dillon has since created the Venturing Outside Foundation; he wants to take the concept of donating start-up funds to former felons and develop the program on a national level.
Along with providing opportunities for former prisoners to create their own businesses, Dillon is also providing opportunities for individuals to work with him directly. Along with the highly successful The Boiler, Dillon has plans to create five new restaurants. Theses business will serve as a means of employment for individuals who would ordinarily deal with significant scrutiny as prior convicts.
“I’m big on helping these ‘returning citizens’ stay out of jail. A lot of people turn their back on them, and these are creative and talented men. They just don’t have opportunities.
“On job applications, they ask if you’re a convicted felon. If you check ‘yes,’ most of the times, it’s a wrap. So, what are these guys supposed to do? They can’t get a job, and the family support probably isn’t there; you’ve given them no choice but to go back to that criminal lifestyle. So, I’m putting them in my business just to help out. They appreciate the opportunity.”
Dillon has funded this initiative exclusively with his own money. He is open to the idea of state and Federal support for his initiative, but in the meantime, he continues using his own time, effort and money to provide a way for these men. Dillon says the work is meaningful, and has an obvious and much-needed positive effect on Black families and communities.
“It feels good to know that I can impact lives the way I have,” Dillon said. “A lot of people have success, and they don’t do anything to give back. They don’t feel that they’re obligated to. It’s a good feeling to know that I’ve impacted lives.”