The Self-Employment Training (SET) pilot was funded by the U.S. Department of Labor to test strategies for supporting dislocated workers interested in starting their own businesses. Unemployed or underemployed workers who proposed businesses in their fields of expertise were eligible to participate. Participants received free access to 12 months of case management, customized training, and technical assistance, and up to $1,000 in seed capital micro-grant funds for business start-up costs.

This report documents the impact of the Self-Employment Training (SET) pilot program which tested strategies for supporting dislocated workers interested in establishing a proposed business in their fields of expertise. The program operated in four sites—Chicago, Illinois; Cleveland, Ohio; Los Angeles, California; and Portland, Oregon— between 2013 and 2017.

These research questions guided the SET evaluation:

  • Did the SET pilot program work? What was the net impact of the SET program on participants’ overall employment status and total earnings, as well as self-employment? Did it attract participants?
  • Did participants find SET useful? Did local providers think it was worth offering?
  • Where did the SET program work, and for whom did it work? Were there differences across study sites, and were these differences associated with key contextual features of those sites? What types of participants did the program attract, and which ones benefited from the program? Did program outcomes and impacts vary by participants’ demographic and socioeconomic characteristics, work experiences, or attitudes?
  • How did the SET pilot program work? How well did the key features of the program work? How well did outreach and intake procedures work in practice? Were service providers able to deliver intensive and timely support with fidelity to the program model? Did the program successfully offer financial supports through the seed capital micro-grants? How did providers and participants perceive and engage with key elements of the SET program?
  • What will it take to operate the SET pilot program at scale? What were the lessons learned regarding partnerships and supports needed to implement this pilot program at scale? What are considerations for replicating or scaling this program, or both?

Major Findings & Recommendations

This report presents results from an evaluation of SET’s impacts on outcomes using survey data collected 18 months after the study enrollees applied to the program. The authors' estimated impacts based on the evaluation’s random assignment design, in which 1,981 eligible applicants were divided almost equally between the SET program group and a control group. Key findings were that, as of the 18-month survey date, SET led to the greater receipt of personalized assistance and seed capital; produced a sustained increase in self-employment activity; and led to modest increases in the rate of employment in any job (through self-employment or a wage/salary job). They also found that the SET program group and the control group earned similar amounts during the year before the survey. Hence, there was no discernible impact of SET on earnings over the period covering 7 to 18 months after study enrollment.

Other specific findings include the following:

  • Increases in key self-employment support for the SET program group.
  • Sustained self-employment activity generated by the SET program.
  • Maintained engagement with wage/salary work; modest reemployment impacts.
  • SET increased self-employment rates for each demographic subgroup by a substantial amount.
  • SET may have been particularly effective in promoting self-employment among those without recent small business experience.
  • The authors observed differences in site-level estimates of SET’s effectiveness in improving business development and work outcomes, but it is not clear what these differences reflect.
  • Evaluating impacts over a longer horizon could provide an improved understanding of SET’s effectiveness.