The Mill, Bloomington’s nonprofit center for entrepreneurship, has launched ReBoot, a new 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 learn how to focus their business ideas, get customer validation, and present their business to potential investors. At the end of the program, participants become members of The Mill, where they can take advantage of additional free programs to grow their businesses and connect to an extensive network of mentors and investors.
This new philanthropic program was inspired in 2020, when 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 The Mill’s Crossroads Pitch Competition. “I was really impressed with the winner’s story and her scrappiness,” Lehman said. “She had everything you want to see in someone starting a business.”
Monroe County didn’t offer any similar programming, however. 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 program candidates. All participants met stability metrics—full-time employment, stable living situation, established sobriety—and were fully vetted. “We couldn’t ask for better partners,” Lehman 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. Guest speakers have included Mark Harsley, founder of Kitemail, who is himself formerly incarcerated, and Pete Yonkman, president of Cook Medical.
Participants are already leveraging their new access to the ecosystem. One person told Lehman, “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 with a demo night of business pitches. The winner will take home a little seed money for their business, and all participants will be able to continue developing their enterprises as Mill members.
The Mill’s mission is to spark Bloomington’s innovation economy by launching and accelerating startups, and its vision is to become Indiana’s center of gravity for entrepreneurship. To learn more about ReBoot or becoming a mentor or program sponsor, contact Andy Lehman, Head of Accelerator Programming: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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