Lauderhill program helping ex-cons find new opportunities through entrepreneurship

LAUDERHILL, Fla. – When a person has a chance to open their own business, they can feel that a dream aligns with an opportunity.

But for a segment of the population, they never get the chance because of a mistake in their past.

A new program is trying to change that narrative.

Miko Atkinson is on the verge of opening up his very own ghost kitchen, an entrepreneurial concept that would be a first for Lauderhill.

“We’ve cornered into a location, we just got the approval from the city,” he said. “It’s no actual eating on premises but everybody can come there come get their orders, send in your Uber Eats, there will be locker systems for people to come grab their food and put in their code, and it’s all autonomous.”

Getting to this point has not been an easy journey for Atkinson because of a prior prison stint.

His record from more than a decade ago meant that most opportunities were met with closed doors, until a brand new pilot program created a new path.

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“By us graduating LIEP, we’re actually getting a chance to jump over some of those boundaries,” Atkinson said.

LIEP stands for Lauderhill Inclusive Entrepreneurship Program and is aimed specifically at city residents who are trying to distance themselves from their criminal past.

“They are creating a pipeline to prosperity for themselves, but secondly, these are all brand new businesses,” said Lauderhill Vice Mayor Melissa P. Dunn. “They’re going to be hiring people, they’re going to be paying taxes, and I think that’s phenomenal.”

From tech and transportation companies to a non-profit organization that helps abused children, LEAP is turning bright ideas into real businesses.

Giovanni Sairras, who himself has been in those shoes before, serves as a success coach.

“Our motto is just giving back to the communities that we once took from,” he said.

Sairras now runs his own re-entry mentoring program.

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“If I can’t find the person that I’m looking for, then maybe I need to be that person, maybe it’s time for me to lead by example, and that’s exactly what I did,” he said.

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