I believe there is joy in the air,” said William Tiga Tita, lec­turer in entre­pre­neur­ship and inno­va­tion in the Col­lege of Busi­ness Admin­is­tra­tion at North­eastern University.

Tita, speaking at a cer­e­mony in Matthews Arena, was refer­ring to the pride felt by the newest grad­u­ates of the Safe and Sound Return Entre­pre­neur­ship Training Insti­tute, a pro­gram that helps pre­vi­ously incar­cer­ated women with a his­tory of drug pos­ses­sion and other infrac­tions reenter the work­force or start their own busi­ness by training them to use com­puters and create their own busi­ness plan.

The unique pro­gram was devel­oped by Northeastern’s Insti­tute on Urban Health Research (IUHR) and the Col­lege of Busi­ness Admin­is­tra­tion, in part­ner­ship with the Boston Public Health Commission’s Bureau of Addic­tions Pre­ven­tion, Treat­ment and Recovery Sup­port Services.

We try to get our par­tic­i­pants to seek out and explore their entre­pre­neurial DNA,” Tita said. “We have chal­lenged the women to con­vert the prob­lems and pain around them into oppor­tu­ni­ties by tap­ping into their nat­ural entre­pre­neurial instincts.”

During the cer­e­mony, grad­u­ates showed Pow­er­Point pre­sen­ta­tions sum­ma­rizing their future goals and busi­ness plans. They also earned cer­tifi­cates for com­pleting the pro­gram that can trans­late into col­lege credit at com­mu­nity colleges.

Pro­gram alumnus Tawanda McCants grad­u­ated from the pro­gram in July 2010 after suc­cess­fully com­pleting the Entre­pre­neur­ship Training pro­gram and the com­panion sub­stance abuse treatment.

A teary-​​eyed McCants shared her inspiring story with the grad­u­ates. “This pro­gram has opened doors for me,” she said. “It gave me the courage to sign up for my GED classes last Sep­tember, enroll in school and start a business.”

Today, McCants makes gift bas­kets filled with scented oils, jar can­dles and pil­lows that she sews and stuffs. She sells them for $15 to $25 each at school and to friends.

I want to grow the busi­ness and one day own my own little store,” McCants said.

Hort­ensia Amaro, director of the Insti­tute on Urban Health Research, applauded the graduate’s efforts. “To see that some women have started small busi­ness ven­tures so soon after grad­u­ating is well beyond our expectations.”

The pro­gram runs four times a year with about 10 to 12 women in each 10-​​week class. In addi­tion to com­puter skills, they are taught to write a résumé and develop a busi­ness. They also receive com­mu­nity reentry and com­pre­hen­sive substance-​​abuse treat­ment ser­vices through the Boston Public Health Commission’s addic­tions treat­ment programs.

The pro­gram is halfway through its three-​​year, $1.2 mil­lion fed­eral Sub­stance Abuse and Mental Health Ser­vices Admin­is­tra­tion grant awarded to Pro­fessor Hort­ensia Amaro, prin­cipal inves­ti­gator. Grad­uate stu­dents in the Col­lege of Social Sci­ences and Human­i­ties’ Mas­ters of Public Admin­is­tra­tion pro­gram are engaged in devel­oping a busi­ness plan as part of their cap­stone projects. The busi­ness plan being devel­oped by the stu­dents will assist the pro­gram in iden­ti­fying strate­gies and poten­tial fun­ders for the project’s sus­tain­ability and expan­sion. Other grad­uate stu­dents from the Bouve Col­lege of Health Sci­ences and the Col­lege of Crim­inal Jus­tice are also involved in the project as part of the eval­u­a­tion team.

This is really entre­pre­neur­ship 101. Now, we’re focusing on how to insti­tu­tion­alize this pro­gram and develop it fur­ther to include a more advanced phase of entre­pre­neur­ship training,” Amaro said.