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Off The Cuff: Christopher Ratcliffe

April 25, 2022

CR1Our CCRI faculty and staff are a diverse group with many fascinating hobbies and interests that keep them busy during their free time off campus. In "Off The Cuff," we profile a member of our CCRI family to find out what makes them tick. Hopefully, their stories inspire others and help us develop new connections and friendships with our CCRI colleagues.

With decades of experience in business, marketing, and sales, Assistant Business and Professional Studies Professor Christopher Ratcliffe has directed a number of key initiatives at the Community College of Rhode Island, including revising and coordinating the relaunch of our Entrepreneurship Certificate Program in 2019. He is the co-founder of Triple M Productions, a marketing firm founded in 2002, and also served as the Vice President of MGP Media, a unit of Merv Griffin Productions.

Professor Ratcliffe also teaches sales and marketing for the college's Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses Program, which provides business education, support services and pathways to capital for growth-oriented entrepreneurs. As part of his latest endeavor, he is leading an initiative to teach entrepreneurship skills to inmates at the Rhode Island Department of Corrections (RIDOC) in an effort to reduce the rate of recidivism – otherwise known as a person's relapse into criminal behavior.

Professor Ratcliffe recently delivered a TEDx Talk entitled "Design Behind Bars" through the TEDxBryantU program at Bryant University, where he is also a Lecturer of Management. In this week's Off The Cuff, we caught up with Professor Ratcliffe to discuss how he is integrating the college's Entrepreneurship Certificate Program into classes at the RIDOC and how the COVID-19 pandemic has changed the course of entrepreneurship over the last two years. 

To summarize your TEDx Talk, how important is this initiative and how do we get companies to think outside the box in terms of hiring?

I believe that convincing employers to consider hiring formerly incarcerated people is the most important thing that we as a society need to do regarding this population. How we convince companies to hire these people is a problem that no one has been able to solve. Personally, I think there needs to be some way to make a connection between employers and inmates before they are released to get to know one another.

Everyone has a story and those stories can be extremely powerful, and lead to understanding as to why these people ended up being incarcerated in the first place, as well as what their strengths and weaknesses are. For example, I had a conversation with an inmate who told me that everyone he knew growing up had been incarcerated at one time or another, and that the only people in his neighborhood that had money were the drug dealers. He said “they were the ones driving the nicest cars, and we grew up wanting to be just like them.”  What potential employer need to know is that many of these inmates are extremely bright and very coachable/ trainable.

Lastly, I think that many employers are afraid of the perceived dangers associated with hiring people who have been incarcerated. However, I teach in the medium security prison, and from my experiences, these inmates are extremely well behaved and appreciative of the people who are trying to help them. As I said in my TED talk, all they want is a life on the outside that will allow them to support themselves and their families.

You’ve also played a major role at CCRI in launching the Entrepreneurship certificate program in addition to your work with the Goldman Sachs program. From your perspective, how has the pandemic changed entrepreneurship?

Interesting question. I think it has made existing entrepreneurs more resilient. They had to figure out how to pivot in a major way when the world basically came to a screeching halt. I believe it has made them stronger.  For those that aspire to become entrepreneurs, the enormous growth in the number of people buying products online has created opportunities for those that want to create and sell their products directly to consumers.  One of things we teach in the entrepreneurship program at CCRI is how to create small side-hustles to start with, and I think that opens the door to many other opportunities for our students further down the line.  Basically, they learn about entrepreneurship by becoming an entrepreneur.

Between the Entrepreneurship and Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses programs, can you speak to the quality of the education CCRI can offer a prospective business student?

I think the quality of the faculty in the Business and Professional Studies Department at CCRI is second to none. Many of us have real-world experience in the fields that we are teaching. Also, many of our classes articulate with four-year institutions. For example, all three entrepreneurship classes that I teach transfer to URI.

You’ve launched a lot of pivotal marketing campaigns through the years. What has been the most successful and satisfying?

I worked on Dunkin' Donuts Scholarship Program and was able to get ABC World News to run a kicker story about the program. For those who do not know what a kicker story is, it is the very last story of a newscast which is typically light and uplifting, and meant to leave the viewer with a positive feeling.

What is the best advice you can give to a young, budding entrepreneur?

I actually have five pieces of advice:

  1. Seek the advice of successful entrepreneurs. Reach out to them and ask them this very question. 
  2. Stop wasting time doing things that are not related to your success as an entrepreneur. Turn off your smart phone and video game console.
  3. Pay attention to things that customers struggle with and find a way to reduce their pain. The solution to their problem IS the opportunity.
  4. Work harder than anyone else.
  5. Believe in yourself. “Life is a self-fulfilling prophesy and you become what you think about most." – Dennis Waitley

We would love to hear your story, too! Email us at [email protected] if you’d like to be featured in a future edition of Off the Cuff or want to nominate a co-worker.

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