While it may seem risky to turn down a job offer from a global financial firm or leave graduate school after a year, Brian Hill doesn’t harbor any regrets.
His drive to improve others’ lives has led him to start his own company, Edovo, with the sole purpose of helping those who are looking for a second chance—a passion he discovered through the Ballard Center for Social Impact at the BYU Marriott School of Business.
Shortly before graduating from BYU in 2008 with a bachelor’s degree in economics, Hill had a group of friends invite him to join them in the Social Venture Academy. This Ballard Center program provides training for students developing social solutions, allowing them the opportunity to receive funding and grow their potential businesses. Hill jumped at the invitation because he has always felt an internal drive to improve the lives of others.
The group entered the academy with an idea to design hostels that were owned by nonprofits. This would allow nonprofits to generate revenue by filling rooms with travelers while also having space to house organization volunteers. Hill and his friends partnered with Rising Star Outreach, a nonprofit that aims to improve education, medical care, and facilities for individuals with leprosy in India, and began planning hostels for the organization’s benefit.
After the team received a grant from the Ballard Center, Hill and his wife, Callie, spent the summer after his graduation in India, where they laid the groundwork to transform the idea into reality. After his time in India, Hill started a full-time position with General Mills back in the United States. The roles he shouldered there, as a business associate and customer account manager, allowed Hill to further develop his business skills. He also used the time to continue thinking about ways he could create a permanent career in social impact. As part of his career aspirations, Hill moved to Chicago to pursue a joint law and business degree from Northwestern University in 2012.
During his first year at Northwestern, Hill worked on a project for the local county government. The county’s goal was to decrease the population at the county jail, and while the project didn’t come to fruition due to legal constraints, Hill frequently visited the jail as part of his work. The experience planted the seeds for Edovo, a digital education platform for the incarcerated.
“My father taught in Folsom prison when I was growing up. He taught 20 students in a facility with 4,000 in custody, so I was familiar with the limitations of prison education. That is why it was so disappointing to walk through jails, 20 years later, and realize that nothing had changed—most of the incarcerated people were sitting around watching daytime television,” Hill says. “I just had this realization that if I don’t jump in, I don’t think anyone will. We too often disregard and fail to invest in the incarcerated.’”
So a year after starting at Northwestern, Hill left to found Edovo. The company uses secure tablets to provide educational, vocational, and treatment resources to incarcerated people. Only about one in five people in prison has access to rehabilitation and programming, Hill explains, so using technology is financially efficient and scalable. With over 600,000 people coming home from prison every year, Hill explains that greater access to relevant, quality training resources allows the incarcerated to meet educational standards and use their time in prison to prepare for life and employment upon release.
Through his now nearly 10 years of running Edovo, Hill has had plenty of experiences that have made the unconventional journey worthwhile. “A story that will stick with me forever was in a prison in Arkansas. A gentleman, about 50 or 60 years old, came up to me with tears in his eyes,” Hill recalls. “He said, ‘I have been in and out of prison my whole life. For the first time, I actually have a reason to stay out because my granddaughter was born a few weeks ago. I want nothing more than to be able to read her bedtime stories at night, but the problem is I don’t know how to read. I’m going to take every minute on this tablet that I can, and I’m going to learn how to read.’”
Moments like this are what Hill loves the most about running Edovo. He continues to work on Edovo to see lives changed, just like he did with his first social impact experience at the Ballard Center. “The Ballard Center lit my fire for social impact and was fundamental to how I think about ideas,” he says. “The things I learned allowed me to take a risk to start Edovo. Solving social problems is not easy, but it’s been rewarding to see the change in people’s lives.”
Writer: Mike Miller