Teresa Y. Hodge of R3 Score: “Social entrepreneurs solve social ills and I think women are well-suited to help solve them”

I believe women should not only become founders, but be social entrepreneurs too. Our world is in need of great repair. Social entrepreneurs solve social ills and I think women are well-suited to help solve them. Business run and led by women are statistically known to be successful companies. Multitasking is something I think women are […]

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I believe women should not only become founders, but be social entrepreneurs too. Our world is in need of great repair. Social entrepreneurs solve social ills and I think women are well-suited to help solve them.

Business run and led by women are statistically known to be successful companies. Multitasking is something I think women are naturally good at. We know how to problem-solve, manage and mediate, and can do so all at the same time.

As a part of our series about “Why We Need More Women Founders”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Teresa Hodge.

Teresa Y. Hodge is a serial entrepreneur and co-founder of two nationally recognized criminal justice innovation companies R3 Score Technologies, Inc. and Mission: Launch, Inc. She is a champion for people living with criminal records, since serving a 70-month federal prison sentence. Teresa strongly believes that tech interventions are necessary to restore the human capital loss by coming in contact with the criminal legal system.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”? What led you to this particular career path?

I served a 70-month federal prison sentence for a white-collar, non-violent offense, which sparked my social impact work and passion for criminal justice innovation. Going to prison came out of nowhere for me — never in a million years did I think I would go to prison and yet I did. It was this experience where I learned so much about the U.S. legal system and all the paths possible that can lead one in and out of prison. From that moment, I dedicated my life to creating solutions to help individuals and their families restore the human capital lost after coming into contact with the judicial system.

Today, I am the co-founder of two nationally recognized criminal justice innovation organizations: one for profit called R3 Score Technologies, Inc. and one non-profit called Mission: Launch. Under my leadership as the first CEO of R3 Score, the company became a venture capital-backed startup accepted into the #3 tech accelerator in the world, Techstars Impact, in 2019. Since then, R3 Score has gained national media exposure and customers across America.

I consider myself a serial entrepreneur and I absolutely love the ideation-to-launch phase of the startup cycle. Since coming home from prison, I have created a body of work that I am proud of, all while rebuilding my own life. Some of my proudest professional highlights include:

  • Launching the “Bank on 100 Million” multi-stakeholder network, designed to encourage business leaders and their companies to provide formerly incarcerated individuals with a fair chance to participate in the American economy
  • Becoming a Harvard Kennedy School Carr Center for Human Rights Policy Technology and Human Rights Fellows (2019–2020) and a Echoing Green Fellow (2018–2020)
  • Being an inaugural cohort member of New Profit’s Unlocked Futures accelerator (a partnership between Grammy Award-winning John Legend and Bank of America)
  • Authoring “Unlock Inclusion: A Pathway of Digital Inclusion for People Living with Criminal Records” as part of my 2015–2016 Open Society Soros Justice Advocacy Fellowship
  • Serving as a SXSW selected panelist (2016 & 2017) and becoming the 2017 Dewey Winburne SXSW Community Service Award recipient
  • Speaking at TEDx (“We’ve Made Coming Home Too Hard” )

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?

I have had so many interesting experiences, but one in particular was when I had the opportunity to meet and have conversations with Grammy award-winning singer John Legend. Now since my venture was not in the entertainment industry, it was a special treat to speak with a super amazing person with a big heart who leverages his voice and platform for social justice.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

One funny story I have is about working with my daughter and business partner Laurin. Laurin and I have a steadfast rule, whoever has the more senior position in the company has the final say in critical decisions, unless of course, the issue has been assigned to that person to make the decision.

There was one incident where Laurin had the final say on a decision, and didn’t think it was the right one. It was driving me crazy to honor our rule! Now, in a more traditional work environment, I could have let it go, but with Laurin, it was so hard! I tried to persuade her and even went into full-blown mom mode. While I was trying to control myself, but inside I was screaming, “Listen to me, I know what I’m talking about!”

The conversation became respectfully heated. One thing I give us credit for is disagreeing without being disrespectful and dishonoring one another. At this moment, however, I became frustrated and said to her “You’re being a brat.” She rightfully responded, “You are being a bully.” We were both right. Nonetheless, her calling me a bully allowed me to get out of our way and allow her to make the decision.

We of course recovered and I learned a valuable lesson: whether she made the right decision or not didn’t matter. It was her decision to make and not mine. It was my place to follow the rules we set and allow her to be responsible for being human in the workplace and not always getting it right. I remained a supportive team member and we continued to build the business.

The funniest part of this, though, is that we were living together at the time. So after the argument, the car ride home was pretty quiet; but when we got home, one of us said, “Hey, what do you want for dinner?” and from that moment, we left work outside of the house, enjoyed our meal together (and probably a glass of wine, we both love pairing wine with a meal occasionally) and moved on. Today when we tell this story we both fondly laugh at that incident because it made us stronger business partners.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

The person who I owe so much of my post-prison success to is my daughter and co-founder, Laurin Hodge Leonard. Laurin gave me the gift of empathy and unconditional love as I endured prison and is someone I both trust and respect. She was truly my backbone and kept shining the light to the future for me in the most meaningful way. Because she is a millennial, she has been my greatest teacher and reconnector to technology. Together we have been able to build a company and team with so much diversity that reflects who we are. Today, she is the current CEO of R3 Score and is driving the company forward.

Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?

I love The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho. I’ve read it twice and enjoyed it both times. It’s a book of wisdom and hope with practical life lessons. I feel like I should crack it open again soon, it’s an easy read and can reground me back to things I already know and believe to be true.

The quote I like best is, “No matter what he does, every person on earth plays a central role in the history of the world. And normally he doesn’t know it.” When I look back over my life and sit in this present moment, this quote rings true for me. =I feel like I’m doing my part to shape history concerning America’s criminal legal system and shaping a better future forward for millions of people, their families and the communities they live in.

Do you have a favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Do you have a story about how that was relevant in your life or your work?

“When life gives you lemons, make lemonade. “ It was a statement my dad said often to my sisters and me when we were growing up. It demonstrated to us that life just does not always go as planned. Hearing this helped me remain positive when life was not quite as sweet to me as I had hoped it would be. It allowed me to see the glass half full and maintain the type of optimism necessary to move forward.

It also helps that lemonade is also my favorite non-alcoholic beverage –I love it plain and infused with other flavors.

How have you used your success to make the world a better place?

It would have been easy for me return home, slip back into life and hide the fact that I went to prison — keep it as my dirty little secret and rebuild a productive and fulfilling life. As a matter of fact, my mother wanted me to do just that. She did not understand why I wanted to go public and relive the shame of having a conviction. She wanted to protect me from possible negative media attention and from having to relitigate what she knew was a painful period in my life.

However, the weight of hiding the record and not being able to live an authentic life was not an option for me — I wanted to bring all of who I am to the table and share my experiences with others. I have leveraged my past and ability to become relevant again as an entrepreneur to not only start businesses, but to also give a voice to people with conviction histories. This is my passion and I am committed to serving this market for the rest of my professional career.

Today, interestingly enough, my mom is my greatest cheerleader. She is so proud of the work my daughter and I are doing and how it can impact families everywhere.

Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the primary focus of our interview. According to this EY report, only about 20 percent of funded companies have women founders. This reflects great historical progress, but it also shows that more work still has to be done to empower women to create companies. In your opinion and experience what is currently holding back women from founding companies?

The answer is simple: access to the capital needed to start and grow a business. I’ve met so many men who’ve raised an exorbitant amount of money at the very early stages of their concept. Many had not successfully proved anything, and others were okay if they were wrong. I realized that was a privilege not afforded to many women founders, especially women of color.

Most of the women founders I met were serious and were carefully executing their business model with the knowledge they could not afford to waste any funding. The level of stress in these businesses were often felt, as the stakes were high and the possibility of failure would come at a cost beyond the business itself failing. We need to extend the privilege to access capital with greater confidence to women.

Can you share with our readers what you are doing to help empower women to become founders?

I use my platform as a speaker and thought leader to speak to groups focused on empowering women of all ages, from high school students to women a bit older such as myself. One thing successful women can do is leave a path, a map, crumbs, or insights for other women. For those of us who can blog or are willing to share parts of our lives in an authentic fashion, we should leverage social media so that life lessons and wisdom are accessible for others.

As a founder I love working with other women who have various levels of expertise. Women work and build in community, and we bring empathy and intellect to the table as well. I love encouraging and supporting the leadership of women.

Former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright has a quote about women helping women. Now, I’m not going to go as far to say there is a special place in hell for not helping women, but I do share the sentiments and the urgency for women supporting women. I also love how Mika Brzezinski Scarborough of MSNBC Morning Joe highlights women through her “Know Your Worth” platform. Any time we can uplift women and be an example, it is a great thing.

This might be intuitive to you, but I think it will be helpful to spell this out. Can you share a few reasons why more women should become founders?

I believe women should not only become founders, but be social entrepreneurs too. Our world is in need of great repair. Social entrepreneurs solve social ills and I think women are well-suited to help solve them.

Business run and led by women are statistically known to be successful companies. Multitasking is something I think women are naturally good at. We know how to problem-solve, manage and mediate, and can do so all at the same time.

Women bring so many capabilities to business that the world has not seen en masse, and there is so much room to improve products and services, as well as introduce disruptive technologies to the market. Our varied leadership styles are made to lead and head companies as well as heads of states.

Ok super. Here is the main question of our interview. Can you please share 5 things that can be done or should be done to help empower more women to become founders? If you can, please share an example or story for each.

  1. We have to encourage teenaged girls to choose a path of entrepreneurship by helping them become problem solvers within their own local communities. So many young girls are not encouraged to pursue business, rather they are encouraged to be “cute” or “stylish”. There is nothing wrong with being cute or stylish but as a strategy for a gender, it can be limiting and not allow young girls to realize their full potential. I love to hear stories about young people, especially girls, starting their own business or focusing on a solution to a local problem.
  2. We must heavily invest in STEM for young women to ensure more of them start or lead the next big tech giant because they know how to code and are not afraid to dream and explore the possibilities of technology. Technology is the future and that future has to include women solving problems and creating innovative tools.I have seen coding camps like Black Girls Code and Girls Code — this is the future; I wish I would have been exposed to such opportunities when I was young and starting to determine my own future.
  3. Make it easier for women of all ages to access capital at every stage or phase of an idea. The ideation capital that is needed when you have a basic though is crucial so that you can explore it more without the pressure of having to be right and seeing where it takes you. We must also make sure that women can access the growth capital they need to take deeper paths of exploration and, more importantly, scale. Capital has to be as easy to access for women of all colors and ages, as it is for men. Unless we address the capital gap, it is impossible for women especially those who have families to take the risk of being a founder.

Raising money as a Black woman has been a painful process. We had a good idea and it has taken so long to access the capital needed. We have had to build our company severely underfunded and yet we have persisted. But imagine how many more families and people we could have helped if we were adequately funded throughout our build cycle.

4. Highlight the success of women and demonstrate their strengths and successes — and not just when it’s Women History Month or in certain magazines or events that target women (although I appreciate these platforms); our strengths and success have to go mainstream. I’d love to see Forbes, Fortune, TechCrunch, Wall Street Journal, Bloomberg and other media companies continue to highlight the accomplishment of women and present them as an opportunity to invest in.

I love seeing all the bad ass women who are at the top of their game and the best in their industries. I know that for many of them, what they had to endure to become successful was nearly impossible or took a small miracle. I think it is also important to share the not-so-pretty stories associated with women being successful and the balancing act that it takes especially for those women who are mothers or wives with minimal support and resources.

5. Invest in the leadership of women. When anyone is able to take on new roles and opportunities and if those opportunities comes with the support and leeway to be right and to have an opportunity to figure it out when you’re not the confidence from those opportunities will create a path for women to step into the unknown and uncertainty of being a founder and create the next solution the world is awaiting.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good for the greatest number of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.

So glad you asked. That movement is called Bank on 100 Million and we anticipate fully launching it by September 2021.

Today more than 70 million Americans have an arrest and/or conviction record, and by the year 2030, this number will rise to 100 Million Americans. That is 1-in-2 working age adults. This number should be alarming to all of us. Especially because having a criminal record impacts every facet of life that allows a person to experience economic stability.

2020 was a year that changed everything with the coronavirus and the racial unrest. The criminal legal system and its devastating impact on all the people who come into contact with it is at the center of why there is a huge wealth gap. Additionally, Black and Brown people make up an unfair representation of those impacted by the legal system. Never before have we seen so many corporate pledges to address racial, income and social justice inequalities; however, the pledges have not materialized into action just yet. We have the power to change this and for me Bank on 100 Million is one path for how we get there.

Through this initiative, we aggregate new tools that make it easier for people with arrest and/or convictions to have a fair and trustworthy tool to provide a holistic examination of who they are today. We provide insights about our data assessment of this population and more. We operate off of transparency and anticipate leveraging blockchain and other new tools that are helping to democratize access to opportunity.

Bank on 100 Million is about inclusion. After the coronavirus global pandemic, we cannot afford to leave anyone behind and certainly not 100 million people. The path to rebuilding America and a vibrant economy must include people with conviction histories. It cannot be an afterthought or a small set aside. It requires us to be intentional and humane. When we have an economy and opportunities that work for all of us, we are a better and much safer society.

Bank on 100 Million is a plan of action that will span nine years. Our goal is to take the next several years to demonstrate the inherent strengths of people with records so that businesses are able to see them as viable employees and customers. For our business partners we will provide tools, strategies and insights. For people living with records, we will provide access to a game-changing product that allows them to demonstrate who they have become after coming in contact with the criminal justice system. We intend to work ourselves out of business by the year 2030. Success for us is seeing businesses no longer needing assistance in evaluating and accessing this untapped talent and underserved consumer market.

We are looking for people to join and support this movement.

We are very blessed that some very prominent names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them.

Jamie Diamond — President and CEO of JPMC. Jamie has been a champion of this cause and has been ushering in new strategies and working groups leveraging his position as a respected leader in the financial services industry. With all of the restrictions that exist as a result of the FDIC guidelines, it will take courageous leaders like him to step forward and challenge the status quo.

What I know from our research and the research that exists in the market is that most people with arrest and/or convictions are not the risk that is perceived by the general public. We are gathering the evidence to support and prove this point.

And of course, I’d love to talk with Oprah. I am a “Super Soul Sunday” fan and nothing brings me greater joy than pondering deep “soulful”, philosophical questions about life and living purposefully. Even in prison, I felt as though I was able to explore the ‘whys’ of life and how people express their beliefs globally. It has been my belief system and love for humanity that has allowed me to endure prison without breaking my spirit, remain hopeful while I was in prison, and exit prison with a plan. I kept my soul anchored throughout that journey.

How can our readers further follow your work online?

You can follow me on social media @TeresaYHodge on Twitter, LinkedIn, and Instagram. You can also follow my current work by visiting our website: www.Bankon100Million.com.

Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.

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