Frederick Hutson has always been a businessman. He made many by doing odd jobs for neighbours as a child in Brooklyn. He started a window-tinting business as soon as he graduated from Brandon High School and started and sold a cellphone business.
At 21 years of age, he saw that his friends’ St. Petersburg-based business was struggling and he came up with a solution and identified a more efficient way to send and receive marijuana. He used the money that he had made from his other businesses to open a shipping centre. He initially planned to use the profits to start other legal businesses: “I thought I was smarter; I felt I was just fixing a business problem.” Soon, the business was making approximately $500,000 a year: “At first, I just wanted to make enough to start a few new legitimate companies. Then it was just about having fun. I was 21. Dumb. One of the UPS drivers rolled on us. The DEA showed up.”
Before he could act on his idea, the federal authorities arrested him and put him in prison. On the 15th of August 2008, Hutson was sentenced to four years and three months for trafficking marijuana. However, Hutson’s story is not one of sadness or hardship. It’s about perseverance, hard work and never giving up on something that you believe in.
29-year-old Hutson now heads a technology company, the idea for which he came up with while incarcerated. He has since pitched his product ideas to leaders in Silicon Valley and has gained $1 million in seed funding from names such as Lotus creator Mitch Kapor. “Frederick is a stellar example of entrepreneurs who pursue business opportunities that come out of their own experience,” says Kapor, of Kapor Capital at the Kapor Centre for Social Impact in Oakland. “You could hang out at Stanford University until the end of time and not find someone like Frederick, which is why it is so important to cast a wide net when it comes to funding,” he tells. “But simply put, he was one of the best founder presentations I’d seen in a long time.”
His main product, Fotopigeon aids loved ones in sending photos to their friends and family in prison and were experiencing growth of up to 37 percent every week. Hutson’s story is rare, Industry data points to the fact that merely 1 percent of venture-funded businesses are started by African-Americans. “It’s how I know our competitors can’t duplicate us tomorrow,” he says. “In my experience, staying in contact with family from prison is difficult,” Hutson says. “It costs about $70 a month for 300 phone minutes. To get photos, my mom would have to take time off work to drive to print the photos and go to the post office to mail them. Smartphones were just coming out, and I thought, ‘Why can’t this be solved?'” However, he solved the issue while in prison.