Local businessman Will Avila could not believe that his business, Clean Decisions, had been selected as a participant in Unlocked Futures. The program, an 18-month business accelerator backed by musician John Legend, selected eight entrepreneurs affected by the prison system. Each winner received a $50,000 operational grant and a spot in the 18-month training and mentorship program.
It still wasn’t real for Avila when he received a phone call from Managing Partner of the non-profit venture philanthropy fund New Profit Tulaine Montgomery, telling him that his company had been selected. Montgomery invited him to come to New York City for a round table with John Legend, whose Free America campaign collaborated with New Prophet and Bank of America to create Unlocked Futures.
“I still was in shock,” Avila said, “I don’t know how that happened.” Avila said it all came together when he made his first trip to New York City last November, a trip he approached with some trepidation. “I hope I don’t get mugged,” he remembers thinking, “I don’t even know how to get a taxi in this city.”
Raised in Brightwood, Avila said that he only saw one way through life growing up. His brother and cousin were both in the system, the latter serving a life sentence. “I already had instilled in me that I basically, I was going to be incarcerated,” he said. Lacking family support, he said that at the age of 14, “I knew in my heart that going down the streets, I’d die in prison.”
Avila was incarcerated as an adult at the age 16. After eleven years in and out of the federal prison system Avila emerged determined to stay out. He said it only took four days to run out of money, and finding work was difficult. He applied for 22 jobs and was rejected for all of them before deciding to act on his plan to start his own business and employ himself.
At a poetry reading during the year of homelessness following his release, Avila met Graham McLaughlin. McLaughlin helped him get together the start-up funds to found Clean Decisions in October 2014. Avila founded the not-for-prophet Changing Perceptions a year later.
The business employs returning citizens to provide cleaning, event and landscaping services. The business has cleaned industrial kitchens for businesses throughout the District, done work at events for Events DC, and currently has a contract with the Department of General Services (DGS) to provide custodial services at Barry Farms Recreation Center.
In 2015, Rob Cronin joined the team to build the landscaping arm of the company. A 25-year resident of Capitol Hill, Cronin said that the company is able to provide personalized services and attention to the smaller yards of the neighborhood.
The not-for-profit arm, Changing Perceptions, provides support and training to returning citizens, including access to therapy and mediation services, community support and events such as pancake breakfasts and guest speakers. It also offers training in transitional skills and the promotion of entrepreneurial efforts.
The Unlocked Futures Program will allow Avila to take his business to the next level, he said. The program helps start-up companies in two ways. First, it provides an 18-month executive coaching program, which includes training on how to run a business. Avila, who has already started the program, said he has already learned how to identify his personal strengths and build on them, as well as how to manage and speak to his team.
Rob Cronin said that this training helps fill in some critical gaps for the company. “We know how to hustle around,” he said, “and we know how to do good, quality work and get good jobs. That doesn’t mean we know how to do a W2 of a W9 [form] or manage QuickBooks or all of the administrative back end that’s necessary.”
The other part of the program is an operational grant from Bank of America. The funds are dedicated to building business operations as the company sees fit. “The 50 K really helps,” Avila said, but adds that the program has given him and the company a boost in confidence.
“Just having Bank of America back you up, newprofit.org and Free America with John Legend back you up,” he said. “It’s amazing.”
2018 is a ‘breakout year’ for Clean Decisions, Cronin added. After winning a place in the Unlocked Futures Program, the company won the Barry Farm contract and is moving beyond cleaning and landscaping to provide custom service for any task, including emptying basements, providing manpower for a job underway, or any other job.
“We want to be a trusted partner to get things done,” Cronin adds.
Learn more about Clean Decisions or get a quote for a project at www.cleandecisions.com.