DURHAM – Back in the day, shortly after the 9/11 attacks when the job market had dipped, Derrick Drakeford found himself in the unemployment line.

Determined to help himself, he decided to start up his own consulting business – in less than 24 hours.

Now he wants to help others do the same.

Enter Purpose University, an e-learning platform that uses augmented reality to guide users to launch their own “purpose-driven” business or nonprofit in just one day.

“The beautiful thing about America is that it’s free to start a business,” Drakeford told WRAL TechWire, speaking via Zoom from his office in American Underground. “Tomorrow, you can be in business doing your purpose in life.”

Derrick Drakeford

Thanks to a $225,000 grant from the National Science Foundation, Drakeford recently launched the app that targets recent college graduates, adult learners and, perhaps most importantly, ex-offenders re-entering the workplace.

“For a person who is reentry or an ex-offender, that’s a label. They’ve got to put it on every application,” explained Drakeford. “But once we move them to business owner, now they have a new label. I’m a CEO, and I’m moving forward. It changes their identity. Once you shift someone’s identity, they’re able to do things they weren’t able to do before.”

Starting a business – in less than 24 hours

The self-guided course is comprised of five steps: finding your purpose, setting up a free website on Weebly, getting a tax ID, setting up a business banking account and writing up a “lean business plan.”

“After they complete those five steps, they’re in business,” said Drakeford. “The quickest we’ve had a student get in business legally is 65 minutes.”

Other courses offered in the app include “Grant and Bid Proposals”, “Nonprofit Fundraising 101” and an “Inclusion Training Workshop.”

Drakeford said he decided to incorporate augmented reality as part of the curriculum because “it brings the educational experience closer to the student.”

“We’re trying to reach a different population, largely [one] that does not read a lot of books. Through the app, we bring in a 3D hologram in the space of the viewer. Now they have an actual professor that is right there with them. It catches their attention differently, and opens their mind.”

The course is currently free, but Drakeford plans to introduce a cost-share model after June 30. Inmates and people who are coming out of re-entry, however, will continue to receive the application for free.