Businessman Pete Kadens Nonprofit To Send 30K Students To College For Free ... I'm Paying It Backward!

He's made his millions, but now, businessman Pete Kadens is taking on the U.S. wealth gap by storm through his nonprofit ... saying he's not paying it forward -- but backward.

Kadens joined "TMZ Live," to talk about his nonprofit Hope Chicago -- which is on its way to being the largest scholarship program in the U.S.

Pete tells us he started the org to send 4,000 high school grads in low-income communities to college -- debt-free. Now, that goal is to send 30,000 students to college with scholarships over the next decade.

Pete was able to retire at 40, after starting 5 companies --- one of which is the 2nd largest marijuana company -- which rakes in billions. He was motivated to not pay it forward, but backward, helping communities that don't have access to proper education ... a pillar in helping him succeed.

Pete recognizes he's made his millions in an industry built by black and brown people -- with a product that has put many behind bars -- and says it motivates him to help.

Pete's pledged $15 million of his own money -- a disproportionate chunk of his net worth -- and hopes other people will also do the same to give back.

The scholarship covers tuition, room and board, books and other fees. And get this ... the scholarship also provides an opportunity for one of the student's parents or guardians to go to school and get an education for themselves.

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