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John Legend backs start-up founded by former prison inmates

“I’m tearing up!” shouts entrepreneur Teresa Hodge. “I feel like a proud mom.” Hodge is beaming after a presentation by Marcus Bullock, the founder of Flikshop, an app through which family and friends can send photo postcards to inmates.

It’s a Wednesday morning, and I’m at an event in Lower Manhattan celebrating the inaugural class of Unlocked Futures, a 16-month-long accelerator for social entrepreneurs who have been incarcerated or impacted by the criminal justice system. The room is just big enough to hold the eight entrepreneurs selected for the first group, a videographer with a formidable body-mounted camera rig, and a smattering of employees from nonprofit philanthropic fund New Profit, who come and go as they please.

For much of the morning session, New Profit’s affable, deliberate managing partner Tulaine Montgomery holds court. But about an hour in, each of the entrepreneurs steps up to share their story through what is called a PechaKucha presentation, in which speakers are tasked with compiling a 20-slide photo presentation and can only spend 20 seconds explaining each slide.

Hodge and Bullock already know each other well, having spoken on panels together or otherwise crossed paths via their respective entrepreneurial journeys. (Hodge is the founder of the Mission: Launch nonprofit, which helps train formerly incarcerated people to reenter the workforce.) But other entrepreneurs in the cohort are meeting for the first time–and are laying the groundwork for partnerships just hours later.

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