Featured Student Entrepreneur: Ruben Gaona

Ruben Gaona, Founder of The Way Out, and Featured Student Entrepreneur.

Our featured student entrepreneur of the month is Ruben Gaona, Founder of The Way Out, and UWM junior pursuing a bachelor’s degree in social work. Get to know more about Ruben and his startup, The Way Out, in his interview with MJ Horinek, Innovation Intern at the Lubar Entrepreneurship Center.

MJ: What is The Way Out?
Ruben: The Way Out Is a comprehensive anti-bias job platform that aligns employers with qualified Justice Involved Job Seekers (JIJ’s) in their industry and provides additional services and technologies to help them integrate into their new roles successfully. The Way Out accomplishes this through a robust anti-bias employment platform and self-learning mobile app.

MJ: Could you tell me the origin story of The Way Out?
Ruben: In the Fall of 2019, American Family Insurance Institute for Corporate and Social Impact and gBETA hosted a panel discussion at Sherman Phoenix, in Milwaukee. Eli Rivera and I attended and heard a panel discussion by formerly incarcerated people speak about what we could do to reduced recidivism. We were broken into groups, and originally Eli and I were in different groups. Within the following weeks, Craig Wiroll who was a partner with Eli in another project reached out to me and ask me to share my vision and idea on what I was interested in doing. After that brief discussion, we wound out learning that we all shared the same vision and decided to get together and start collaboration. Craig ended up having to leave due to a job opportunity outside the country and Eli and I continue to collaborate and launch The Way Out.

MJ: Where do you see your startup going in the next 5 years?
Ruben: My Passion would be that we all work as a “One Team, One Fight” mindset and have all the Reentry Pipeline Organizations here in WI utilizing our platform and app. to successfully assist those who are re-entering from incarceration. To provide them with the needed supporting tools to be able to be successful to obtain sustainable employment and build careers while providing those supportive services that they may need. After we perfect our services in Wisconsin we can then focus on other states.

MJ: How can people help or get involved?
Ruben: We are currently seeking employers that currently work with formerly incarcerated people or those who are willing to hire formerly incarcerated people. We will use their feedback to help us in designing and building our platform and app with the help of Milky Way Tech Hub and Marquette University. You can also donate money to our GoFundMe page.

MJ: Is there is anything else that you would like to add about entrepreneurship or your experiences with collaboration in your entrepreneurial endeavors?
Ruben: One thing I would tell people who are going into entrepreneurship is to, “Bet on Yourself” do not be afraid to take a chance and never allow anyone to tell you that you can’t do something. “Dream, Plan, & Execute” and while you are executing do not be afraid to ask for help. There are plenty of resources and people who will help if you just ask them to do so.

Ruben is also working on moving forward 2ndChanceWisconsin, LLC – his Reentry/ Consulting business that was forced to pivot due to Covid-19. Ruben has also had the opportunity to speak with multiple companies: the State of Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development (DWD) Reentry Pipeline Program, UMOS TechHire CNC Cohorts Programs, Wisconsin Employment and Training Association (WETA), seating in a Panel Discussion for Reentering the Workforce: A discussion on Criminal Justice Reform at the Future Wisconsin Summit 2019 – hosted by Wisconsin Manufacture Commerce (WTC Foundation), and seating in a Panel Discussion: “No Going Back: Recidivism Prevention though Social Opportunity & Employment at the Milwaukee Community Growth Summit 2020 hosted by the Democratic National Convention Committee.

Ruben Gaona is an innovator and entrepreneur whose passion for his work serves as an inspiration to others seeking to change the world for the better – one step at a time. Click here to learn more about The Way Out, and to help support Ruben’s work.