Not much more than a year ago Fabian Ruiz was in prison serving 21 years for killing the man who shot his older brother. Today he is an entrepreneur and founder of Infor-nation Corp., a company that provides Internet services to those still inside.
From committing a major crime at age 16 to creating a company was a long, circuitous journey, but Ruiz’s story shows that with determination and a little help along the way people who’ve been incarcerated can make it.
During his stay in prison, Ruiz participated in a variety of programs and earned his AA degree. After finishing the college program, he studied to become a paralegal by taking correspondent courses through Blackstone Career Institute and spent the next decade working as a paralegal in the law libraries of various prisons.
It was through working as an in-prison paralegal that he got the inspiration for his business. “The Internet was very useful for me, but in NY prisons there’s no Internet access,” Ruiz says.
“I was fortunate that I had family and friends who I corresponded with and had them go online and look for info for me in places like LexisNexis. That info was pretty valuable, and I always had an idea in the back of my mind that if they won’t let the Internet in, I would create a business facilitating that service for prisoners.
Joining Defy Ventures
When he was released from prison in 2011 Internet access was still not available to prisoners in New York prisons, and no one had started a service to cater to inmates who needed to search for things online.
At the same time, a friend told him about Defy Ventures, a New York City organization that helps a select group of formerly incarcerated individuals learn how to become entrepreneurs. Defy Ventures was founded by Catherine Rohr, who also created the Prison Entrepreneurship Program at the Cleveland State Prison in Texas.
Ruiz decided to apply for the Defy Ventures program, and after an information session and screening process, he was selected to be one of 100 participants in the organization’s first class.
Following a 45-day introductory training program during evenings and weekends, he was among the 50 participants chosen for an internship, in which professional mentors and trainers coach participants as they prepare to launch their own businesses.
At the end of the first six months – Defy Ventures is a yearlong program – Ruiz participated in various competitions in which he had to present business pitches and business plans. The people who win these contests, and those who the organization’s investors are confident can succeed, go into Defy Venture’s business incubator. Ruiz was one of only nine members from his class who made it that far.
“In the incubator, you start the business, and Defy Ventures provides different services like lawyers who formulate contracts and people who do marketing and website assistance,” Ruiz says. It also provided a mentor to work with Ruiz, and he was fortunate that his mentor is the COO of a multimillion-dollar hedge fund.
“He (my mentor) would come to class and see what we were learning, and then we’d have an hour to talk about things. Then we’d have meetings at his office and figure out how to get my financials together,” Ruiz says. “We would go on picnics with Defy, and it developed into a pretty good relationship.”
The final phase
The last phase of the class was to incorporate. Ruiz incorporated his business, Infor-nation Corp., in June but didn’t actually start the business until August.
Infor-nation Corp. offers remote Internet search, remote email management and remote Facebook management, charging a set fee for each service.
He used the $2,000 in grant money he received from winning a Defy Ventures business competition to print and distribute the company’s initial brochures to inmates in prisons, who then fill out their info and what they’d like to have done. He began with four New York prisons, but the New York State prison system did not allow him to provide email and Facebook services.
Ruiz is now looking to expand into New Jersey and has contacted 17 correctional facilities in that state. New Jersey doesn’t seem to have a problem with email or Facebook, so he will be able to offer his full range of services in prisons there.
At this point. Ruiz is working on Infor-nation part time while also being employed part time as a paralegal for a group of criminal trial attorneys.
What’s the most important thing he learned from the whole experience? “You can’t do it on your own. I’ve always been the type of person who tries to do everything on their own, never asks for help,” he says.
“There are different phases in Defy Ventures that concentrate on hard skills and soft skills. They teach textbook stuff and find out which kinds of characteristics you have that are strong and which are weak. It was doing those things that I realized I have to break out of old patterns and do new things to get results.”
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