As a justice-impacted serial entrepreneur with 20+ years of experience in the correctional industry, Sean Hosman has a unique perspective on both business and second chances. Using technology to drive criminal justice reform is one of his many passions. He became justice-involved through addiction, and now, 10 years clean, he is dedicated to achieving racial equality in corrections and ending mass incarceration. In 1998, he founded Vant4ge, a human services and predictive analytics technology company that has revolutionized correctional care and case management. He is also the co-founder of Persevere, a non-profit that teaches justice-involved individuals to code-behind prison bars, and Banyan Labs, a technology development company that hires Persevere graduates. Each business plays a vital role in increasing public safety and improving outcomes in the criminal justice system, while also bringing hope, skills, and opportunity to justice-involved individuals. Through his work with these companies, Sean is focused on changing lives and stopping the cycle of multi-generational incarceration. He received both his bachelor’s and his law degree from Brigham Young University.
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Table of Contents
Thank you for joining us today. Please introduce yourself to our readers. They want to know you, some of the background story to bring some context to your interview.
Sean Hosman: I founded and continue to run three different companies. In 1998, I founded Vant4ge, a human services and predictive analytics technology company that has revolutionized correctional care and case management. Later I was co-founder of Persevere, a non-profit that teaches justice-involved individuals to code-behind prison walls. Most recently I created Banyan Labs, a technology development company that hires Persevere graduates. Each business plays a vital role in increasing public safety and improving outcomes in the criminal justice system, while also bringing hope, skills, and opportunity to justice-involved individuals. My motivation for creating these companies was to change lives, achieve racial equality in corrections, and end mass incarceration.
Just as my career was becoming the most successful it had ever been, I, unfortunately, became an alcoholic and a drug addict. Between 2010 and 2012, I was arrested 12 times. Once I got clean and sober in July 2012, I had a decision to make: would I be able to be effective as a leader of my company, and as an advocate for improving the criminal justice system? I decided that I could — and that I could do even more. I stuck with my purpose and my mission, and have since grown several companies in this space, and developed a new focus for working directly with those impacted by the criminal justice system. These companies are working to bring them real hope, valuable skills, and meaningful opportunity, and help them change their lives.
You are a successful entrepreneur, so we’d like your viewpoint, do you believe entrepreneurs are born or made? Explain.
Sean Hosman: They are absolutely made. I don’t believe in being born into anything. You have to choose to pursue this kind of career—it means working 80-hour weeks, giving it your all, and knowing it could take years before becoming successful. But if you have the right motivation, if you know what your doing is going to make the world a better place, then it’s an easy choice to make.
If you were asked to describe yourself as an entrepreneur in a few words, what would you say?
Sean Hosman: I like to say I’m a serial entrepreneur because I’ve started three companies and I’m very actively involved in all of them. And all three companies work hand-in-hand to help dismantle mass incarceration and better serve those who are justice impacted. I’m very driven by that mission, and though it’s unlikely that I’ll see an end to mass incarceration in the next five or ten years, I’m willing to do everything I can to help make a difference.
Tell us about what your company does and how did it change over the years?
Sean Hosman: I founded Vant4ge in 1998. It’s a human services and predictive analytics technology company that has revolutionized correctional care and case management. Our platforms streamline risk-needs assessment, case planning, and communications throughout the continuum of correctional care. Customizable technology has been designed to provide an efficient, collaborative care system that increases chances for offenders’ success to reduce recidivism rates. We do all of this to increase public safety while reducing mass incarceration and disproportionate minority confinement, reinvesting in communities, and helping to build the most effective frameworks that combine the best research, practices, policies, technology, and programs.
Thank you for all that. Now for the main focus of this interview. With close to 11.000 new businesses registered daily in the US, what must an entrepreneur assume when starting a business?
Sean Hosman: Your team will make or break you. I want to work with people who are smart, experienced, and ready to make a difference; and that’s who I hired when I started each of these three companies. When you have high expectations and people who are eager to meet those expectations, they don’t mess around. A big part of this is encouraging people to generate ideas, even if they aren’t fully fleshed out or perfect just yet. A positive environment will encourage great ideas to thrive. In the end, you get an unstoppable team. Also, you have to earnestly and genuinely care about your customer’s pain points and want to solve them. When people know you care and you are genuine, it isn’t hard to help them.
Did you make any wrong assumptions before starting a business that you ended up paying dearly for?
Sean Hosman: No wrong assumptions, but some major mistakes. Just as my career was becoming the most successful it had ever been, I, unfortunately, became an alcoholic and a drug addict. Between 2010 and 2012, I was arrested 12 times. Once I got clean and sober in July 2012, I had a decision to make: would I be able to be effective as a leader of my company, and as an advocate for improving the criminal justice system? I decided that I could — and that I could do even more. I stuck with my purpose and my mission, and have since grown several companies in this space, and developed a new focus for working directly with those impacted by the criminal justice system. These companies are working to bring them real hope, valuable skills, and meaningful opportunity, and help them change their lives.
If you could go back in time to when you first started your business, what advice would you give yourself and why? Explain.
Sean Hosman: No matter how you’re trying to make a positive change in the world, there are always going to be people who are invested in keeping things exactly the way that they are. Maybe they have a financial interest in the status quo, or maybe they just haven’t come around to your way of thinking yet. In corrections, there are still plenty of people who think that incarceration should just be about punishment and not rehabilitation. Not everyone is going to be a cheerleader for the things that we’re trying to do, but you can’t let that discourage you.
What is the worst advice you received regarding running a business and what lesson would you like others to learn from your experience?
Sean Hosman: I would sometimes run into people who would say that the things I wanted to do can’t be done, or that I shouldn’t even try. Or they would tell me that if my idea was any good, someone else would already be doing that. It all boils down to different versions of “that’s not possible.” But that advice is coming from a place of fear, from people who will never even try to get good ideas off the ground. People who think that way will find it much harder to become successful.
In your opinion, how has COVID-19 changed what entrepreneurs should assume before starting a business? What hasn’t changed?
Sean Hosman: COVID-19 confirmed something for a lot of us: your company has to be adaptable. You never know when something is going to change the way you do business, and if you can’t adapt, you’ll be left behind. For COVID-19, that meant swiftly shifting to remote work and implementing new strategies for keeping everyone connected even though people couldn’t meet in person for a very long time. This pandemic wasn’t the first event to shake up business and it won’t be the last, but if you are adaptable you’ll always be able to run a successful business.
What is a common myth about entrepreneurship that aspiring entrepreneurs and would-be business owners believe in? What advice would you give them?
Sean Hosman: There is a myth that if you are an entrepreneur that you have to do everything yourself. I believe that passion, leadership, and courage can bring together a smart, capable team of leaders who can help you in other areas. And then you aren’t doing things on your own, you can trust that team to help you handle everything. The more you can bring people together, the better your business will be.
What traits, qualities, and assumptions do you believe are most important to have before starting a business?
Sean Hosman: The number one trait for me is grit. For example, it might be easy for some people who have publicly battled addiction and had their mugshot plastered online to give up, but I couldn’t do it. This cause is too important, and I wasn’t about to let it go.
The next trait is being adaptable. When COVID-19 hit, a lot of things turned upside down. We had to worry about the safety of employees and Persevere, students, while also making sure that we were able to continue to help the people who needed it most. So we made it work; we started our employees working from home. We started teaching Persevere students through live video conferencing — which was the first-ever event for many correctional facilities.
And the last trait, if you can call it a trait, is that I believe in what I’m doing. When you are genuine, it comes through in everything you do. The people you hire can feel it, the clients you work with can see it, and people can share your vision. Back when I was working at a law firm helping banks make more money, I was good at my job — but I didn’t believe in it. Who would? That’s why it never would have worked for me in the long term.
How can aspiring leaders prepare themselves for the future challenges of entrepreneurship? Are there any books, websites, or even movies to learn from?
Sean Hosman: Books can be really useful, but my favorite sources for entrepreneurs are social media, blogs, and LinkedIn. They provide real-time info, which is critical because economies and corporate structures can change so quickly. The best thing is to follow and listen and learn from real successful people in real time. That is better than any book or movie. That being said, my favorite book for entrepreneurs is Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance by Angela Duckworth.
You have shared quite a bit of your wisdom and our readers thank you for your generosity but would also love to know: If you could choose any job other than being an entrepreneur, what would it be?
Sean Hosman: This answer is a bit of a cheat because it still involves one of my businesses, but I would love to work in some capacity at my nonprofit, persevere. Instead of running the business, it would be great to be an instructor for those incarcerated individuals and their families, teaching them the skills they need to have a successful career after release. I guess no matter what I do, I’d want to make a difference in the lives of the justice impacted.
Thank you so much for your time, I believe I speak for all of our readers when I say that this has been incredibly insightful. We do have one more question: If you could add anyone to Mount Rushmore, but not a politician, who would it be; why?
Sean Hosman: I wouldn’t add anyone’s face to Mount Rushmore. The Black Hills, where Mount Rushmore is located, was agreed to be the property of the Sioux/Lakota nation in a treaty in 1868. Only a few years later, when rumors surfaced that there was gold in the area, the United States violated their treaty and took the land away with military force. This land belongs to the Native Americans who lived there long before colonizers seized it, and I believe that any decisions about what should be done with Mount Rushmore to the Sioux/Lakota people. I would want to serve the people who were wronged.
Jed Morley, VIP Contributor to ValiantCEO and the host of this interview would like to thank Sean Hosman for taking the time to do this interview and share his knowledge and experience with our readers.
If you would like to get in touch with Sean Hosman or his company, you can do it through his – Linkedin Page
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