Skyler Rich is the founder of Forgive Everyone Co. and an entrepreneurship minor at Calvin. This is his story of starting his business and learning about entrepreneurship at Calvin.
Stage 1: Care about an injustice
I started to care about criminal justice reform during my first year at Calvin. Calvin completely changed my perspective politically and socially. My high school was predominantly white. So when I came to Calvin and made more friends outside of my race, I started to learn about the problems that their communities face. During Unlearn Week at Calvin (a week dedicated to examining racial injustice), one of my friends suggested I go see the documentary 13th with him. It basically details the criminal justice system. That documentary changed everything for me.
The part that caught my attention is what happens after incarceration. I realized that we’re not only locking people away—we’re systematically keeping them oppressed when they get out. I decided that someday, if I owned my own business, I’d want to ease the barriers for people who are getting out of prison. I thought that would be 15 years in the future.
Stage 2: Start a business
Sophomore year I switched to a business major. That whole year I had been thinking about how I could do something about the criminal justice system. One day I had a lightbulb moment in my communications class. We were going over the standard model of donating a certain percentage of profits to a good cause. All of a sudden I realized: I can just do something like this right now.
I went back to my dorm room that night and literally worked from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. By morning, I had set up a business where you could order a t-shirt and 20 percent of the proceeds would go to formerly incarcerated men and women.
Soon I started meeting with people who were formerly incarcerated and writing their stories for the website. I want to tell people’s stories in a way that’s empowering and reconciliatory instead of patronizing.
My longer term goal for Forgive Everyone Co. is to open up a retail company that will provide funding for nonprofits and tangible employment for people who are coming out of prison.
Stage 3: Apply your skills
Meanwhile I’m learning all these skills in my business classes that I’m applying to Forgive Everyone Co. One of the skills that’s helped me the most is accounting. I do all my own bookkeeping. I wouldn’t have known how to read profit-loss statements or balance sheets, let alone actually understand what to do with them, if it hadn’t been for my accounting class.
Also, one of my entrepreneurship professors designed an independent study just for me based around my business. The professors here care so much—you just need to go talk to them.
Learn more about Forgive Everyone Co. on their website: forgiveeveryoneco.com.