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"Unlocking Potential: From Prison to Profitable Business" with Emily O'Brien


From prison bars to popcorn stars, this week’s guest on The UpLevel Podcast, Emily O'Brien, defies the odds as she turns her addictive past into a recipe for success, fighting to eliminate stigma and create second chances through her social enterprise, Comeback Snacks.

Emily is an embodiment of transformative potential and entrepreneurship. Her trajectory is a heartfelt tale of courage and diligence. While in prison, she discovered an innovative take on popcorn seasoning, sowing the seeds of Comeback Snacks.

Nurturing her project through handwritten letters and personal connections, Emily's enterprise grew and blossomed. Today, her popcorn business is revolutionizing attitudes towards people with prior convictions, demonstrating how adversity can be molded into significant opportunities. Emily's dedication to fostering change through her actions, mentorship, and advocacy for prison reform sets her apart.

In this episode:

  • Discover the powerful journey of overcoming addiction while establishing a successful social enterprise.

  • Dive into the inspiring stories of providing second chances and job opportunities for ex-convicts.

  • Understand the sensitive language used around incarceration and rehabilitation for a more empathetic approach.

  • Uncover the secrets of creating more inclusive and compassionate work environments.

  • Learn about empowering entrepreneurship and spurring economic growth for those with criminal records.

About Emily:

Battling back from addiction and a Federal sentence for drug smuggling to building a booming social enterprise, Comeback Snacks, Emily O’Brien’s evolution from convict to entrepreneur is a story about lessons learned, resilience, determination, forgiveness, and how to take a bad situation and turn it into endless positive opportunities.

Emily, while in prison, with no budget and no access to the internet, began developing Comeback Snacks (Cons & Kernels) after being inspired by the unique seasonings her fellow inmates used on their popcorn. Her entrepreneurial spirit has always been strong, having founded a social media business after University. Using hand-written letters sent via mail, Emily communicated with people who would assist her with market research, branding, and guidance. After her release, she hit the ground running, building her enterprise by offering her popcorn at festivals, shows, and events and networking with local business owners. Comeback Snacks is now available at major grocers, independent stores, and online retailers across North America and a new retail location at 302 Main St. W., Hamilton, Ontario, Canada which also serves as a story-telling micro museum of her journey. Emily uses her business and her voice to advocate for prison reforms and to eliminate the stigma attached to people with prior convictions. She provides ex-convicts and those needing a second chance, employment, mentorship, and a pathway to greater confidence and new opportunities. Emily works with a number of organizations, including the Elizabeth Fry Society, a not-for-profit social service agency that provides support for women and girls involved in the Canadian justice system. She has also raised funds through her business to support great causes like The Yonge Street Mission to help at-risk youths.

About UpLevel Productions: Founded by Christie Mann, MA, CPCC, PCC, and Rachel Baldi, CPCC, PCC, UpLevel creates, produces, and delivers Transformative Experiences, Workshops, Training, Events + Media that develop leaders who make our world a healthier, more alive, and connected place to be. As Associate CTI Faculty Partners, UpLevel is licensed to sell, produce and deliver Co-Active coach training and leadership development programs around the world to support the transformational growth of individuals and culture inside the workplace and organization. Instagram @uplevelproductions Facebook & LinkedIn @uplevelproductionscompany


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