This week marks the midway point in The Mill’s latest program: ReBoot, an entrepreneurial development program for the formerly incarcerated.
“Entrepreneurship presents powerful opportunities for individuals and communities,” said Andy Lehman, Head of Accelerator Programming. “So we want to grow our startup ecosystem and create access for more people. And that means we not only open the door to the ecosystem wider, but also step outside and invite more folks in.”
Participants in the six-week program attend virtual classes that help them find focus for their business ideas, get customer validation, and practice presenting their business to potential investors. With those foundational skills established, at the end of the six weeks, participants become members of The Mill. Then they can take advantage of our extensive network of mentors, investors, and additional free programs to help grow their businesses.
This new philanthropic program was inspired in fall of 2020 during The Mill’s fourth annual Crossroads Pitch Competition. As part of our work with organizations around the state to identify rising entrepreneurs, The Mill sponsored a pitch night for REDi, the ReEntry Entrepreneurship Development Initiative run by the Indy Chamber. The winner of that pitch night won a spot to pitch at Crossroads.
“I was really impressed with the winner’s story and her scrappiness,” Andy said. “She had everything you want to see in someone starting a business.”
Afterwards, he reached out to local organizations and soon discovered that while Monroe County didn’t offer any similar programming, there was excitement around the idea. So The Mill developed ReBoot in partnership with New Leaf – New Life, which supports incarcerated individuals to make a successful transition back into the community, and Courage to Change, which offers low-barrier housing and services to individuals in recovery.
These organizations helped identify and refer candidates for the program. All participants met stability metrics we established with our partners—full-time employment, stable living situation, established sobriety—and have been vetted by The Mill and our partners.
“We couldn’t ask for better partners,” Andy said. “Stacy Flynn at New Leaf – New Life and Marilyn Burrus at Courage to Change have been instrumental in launching the ReBoot program.”
The first cohort of seven participants includes four men and three women with business ideas ranging from a stocked pay lake for sport fisherman and fishing tournaments, to a painting business, to a photography business focused on helping victims of domestic violence re-see and reclaim their sense of self.
A critical piece of the ReBoot program, according to Andy, is to help participants discover ways to use technology to scale and expand their visions. What starts as a small business today can become a startup tomorrow.
To that end, the inspiring guest speakers at the ReBoot program have included Mark Harsley, founder of Kitemail, who is himself formerly incarcerated. Kitemail uses technology to make it easier for people to send letters, photos, and money to inmates. Pete Yonkman, president of Cook Medical, presented to the group on leadership, and Entrepreneur-in-Residence Cy Megnin is slated to walk participants through opportunities to secure capital for their businesses through grants, investors, and other programs.
Participants are already leveraging their new access to the ecosystem. One person told The Mill, “Being part of your ReBoot Program has me doing more research on things I need and want to know about what I want to do, and reaching out to connections I now have for answers I need.” Another said, “I really just love your dedication to us. It makes me smile.”
ReBoot will wrap up in a few weeks with a demo night, when participants will pitch their businesses. The winner of Demo Night will take home a little seed money for their business, and all participants will be able to continue developing their enterprises as Mill members.
If you are interested in sponsoring ReBoot’s demo night, becoming a mentor, or contributing to The Mill’s philanthropic programming, please contact Andy.